Report: Utah reaps millions from Sundance Film Festival
The Sundance Film Festival pumped millions of dollars into the state economy in January, but the exact figures are tough to pin down, according to officials who compiled a report detailing the economic impact of the event.
The most noteworthy figure included in the report, released by the Sundance Institute in late June, indicates that the statewide gross domestic product the festival generated this year, just more than $72.5 million, was down nearly $11 million from 2015.
However, Juliette Tennert, director of economic and public policy research at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, which created the report, said methodology changes to how the gross domestic product was calculated means the figure isn’t “directly comparable” to data from previous years. The study does not draw the conclusion that there was a large disparity between the economic impact of this year’s festival and those held in the past.
The drop in gross domestic product measured by the report comes despite more people attending the festival this year than last — 46,660, to be exact, including 31,262 who came from out of state. That bests 2015’s figure of 46,107.
In addition to the methodology change regarding the gross domestic product, the study likely failed to show the entire scope of visitor spending on lodging at the festival, said Sarah Pearce, managing director of the Sundance Institute. The surveys used to compile the data are taken on the ground in January, and Pearce speculated that people may not remember what they paid for lodging if they booked it months in advance, as most attendees do.
In all, the report pegged lodging spending at roughly $24.8 million, down from $28.9 million in 2015. Tennert said she is working with the Sundance Institute to find better ways to ensure the study paints a clearer picture of lodging spending totals in the future.
“When we compare the numbers we were getting out of the survey to some of the numbers we know about, like increases in occupancy and lodging rates, we’re not sure that we’re capturing that full amount,” she said.
The study also doesn’t measure spending from sponsors who attend the festival.
“They rent spaces on Main Street, they entertain clients in restaurants, they buy lodging,” Pearce said. “None of that is captured in this report.”
The inclusion of an entirely new number to measure the economic impact of the festival is also noteworthy in this year’s report. The study says Sundance generated more than $143 million in economic activity in Utah, a figure that encompasses the money that ends up in the pockets of hotel and restaurant employees, who then patronize Utah businesses themselves. Tennert said the figure is designed to be a measure of complete economic activity.
“That’s really how each dollar is spinning through the economy,” she said.
Much of the economic activity is centered in Park City and Summit County. The report doesn’t break down economic impact by city or region, but Tennert said, while Salt Lake City and Ogden reap some of the benefit of the festival, most of the dollars are spent here.
She said it’s a remarkable amount of economic activity in a short timeframe for a small town.
“The fact that this activity is taking place over a two-week period, or the 10-day event plus a little bit of time on either side,” she said, “is very substantial.”
A study pegged the number of Sundance Film Festival attendees at 122,313, with the event generating an economic impact of $182.5 million. Both numbers represent a slight decrease from the 2018 festival.