Mar 4, 2022 - Business

Hotels and vacation rental bookings rebound ahead of SXSW

Jack Antonoff of Bleachers performs live on the rail during SXSW on March 16, 2019. Photo: Jim Bennett/WireImage

Get ready to shake your fist over traffic, loud music and plenty of out-of-towners. South by Southwest is back.

The big picture: While SXSW organizers say they don't expect participation to return completely to pre-pandemic levels, city officials and vacation rental companies report promising signs in booking rates as the festival approaches.

By the numbers: Vrbo reported a nearly 50% increase in demand for vacation rentals in the Austin area for this year's event compared to 2019, according to Expedia Group spokesperson Nola Lu.

  • Hotels.com — also part of the Expedia Group — saw a 35% increase in searches last week compared to the week prior. Meanwhile, the current average nightly rate for Austin hotels this March has increased by about 5% compared to 2019, Lu added.
  • Austin is trending on Airbnb, according to spokesperson Haven Thorn, adding that 2019 Airbnb hosts generated more than $11 million in income, with the average host making over $950.

Yes, but: Vacation rental bookings aren't entirely back to their pre-pandemic levels for SXSW, according to research firm AirDNA, which collects and analyzes short-term rental data.

  • "When we look where we are compared to the total nights booked in 2019, demand is down about 30%," Jamie Lane, vice president of research, told Axios. "But, when we look at 2019, with bookings as of March 1st 2019, then demand is only down 8%."
    • As of March 1, revenue for short-term listings was down nearly 20% compared to the same time in 2019.
  • And prices remain significantly higher than in 2019, Lane added.

Airbnb and Vrbo did not disclose their latest booking numbers or revenue for short-term rental hosts.

Zoom out: Visit Austin officials couldn't provide details on hotel bookings for this year’s festival, but said last October's Formula 1 numbers could be a good indication of travel for SXSW.

  • Citywide occupancy during Formula 1 was up 7% compared to 2019, and the average daily occupancy rate was 50% higher than 2019.
  • Total hotel revenue for the event days that Visit Austin measured — Thursday through Sunday of Formula 1 — was 22% higher than 2019 figures.

Of note: Annual event totals at the Austin Convention Center are close to pre-pandemic levels, too.

  • The convention center hosted 99 events through 2019, which includes SXSW and beyond.
  • So far in 2022, the convention center has 79 definite and prospective events on the schedule, according to convention center spokesperson Derick Hackett.

Plus, recent trends show rising confidence among travelers.

Flashback: We recently reported on promising hotel occupancy numbers from the Downtown Austin Alliance and the metro area's rebounding travel industry.

What to watch: It's likely to be a busy spring break. The same travel report also found that 90% of American travelers report plans to go somewhere in the next six months, with 23% planning to travel in the next two months.

  • Expect Visit Austin to release hotel occupancy numbers roughly two weeks after the festival concludes.
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