Sundance move online delivers considerable hit to Park City lodging industry
Hotels will attempt to fill rooms with skiers after festival cancels the live event
The Park City-area lodging industry is expected to endure a difficult stretch later in January at a time when some of the largest, highest-paying crowds are normally filling rooms for a week-plus.
The cancellation of the Sundance Film Festival as an in-person event for the second consecutive year out of concern for the spread of the novel coronavirus will ripple through the Park City economy, but hotels, inns and other sorts of accommodations will likely be especially impacted.
Sundance crowds typically spend millions of dollars on lodging, a particularly lucrative period between the holidays and the traditionally busy times later in the ski season. Sundance crowds in 2022 were not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels, but the numbers almost certainly would have provided a boost in lodging.
“Events like Sundance are critical to our economy and, for the most part, irreplaceable,” said Dan Bullert, the president of the Park City Area Lodging Association.
The lodging industry, alongside the rest of Park City’s tourism-driven economy, hopes to attract more people traveling for skiing and snowboarding during the dates that Sundance crowds would otherwise have booked many of the available rooms.
“Everybody’s going to try to fill that void,” he said.
Lodging accounts for much of the spending during the festival. A Sundance-retained economic firm issued a report after the 2020 festival finding that the crowds spent nearly $63.4 million on lodging. It was by a wide margin the largest spending category. The report found the average person from outside of Utah spent $1,439 on lodging, or $266 each day they were at Sundance. Lodging rates during Sundance are usually some of the highest of the year.
The lodging industry, meanwhile, broadly influences the wider economy since people who are visiting typically also spend in other sectors like restaurant, transportation and retail.
Economic numbers in Park City in January of 2021, when Sundance was moved online, were weak compared to the previous January, but they beat City Hall projections by a wide margin.
Sundance is scheduled to run from Jan. 20 until Jan. 30. Check-in dates usually start several days prior to the opening as people with direct ties to the festival begin arriving. They are followed by the large crowds during the normally jammed first several days of the event. Hotel lobbies buzz with lines of people checking in, trading stories of their trips to Park City and talking of their plans for screenings and parties.
Bullert also addressed the sensitive topic of cancellations of bookings that were made for the Sundance dates. He said there is not a standard practice in considering cancellations in the Park City lodging industry. Cancellations are weighed on a case-by-case basis and individual properties have their own policies, he said.
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