Thank you for reaching out to us.
We understand your concerns. We recognize the disruption that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused, and we sympathize with all affected.
Safety is a top priority for SXSW. We are working closely with local, state, and federal agencies to plan for a safe event.
The SXSW 2020 event is proceeding as planned. The World Health Organization’s recommendation is that travelers practice usual precautions. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will provide updates as necessary.
Please also see the City of Austin’s Public Health Reminders from February 6, February 14, and February 25, and their COVID-19 FAQ, updated February 28.
We have a no refund policy as part of our terms and conditions, so we are unable to reimburse you for your purchase. However, you can transfer your registration to another person.
We hope to see you at SXSW 2020, but understand that the decision to attend is yours to make.
Most fan-run conventions run on a barely-above-breakeven budget at the best of times.
I'm not intending this as an excuse, merely an explanation for people who may not have been involved in the organisation of a convention, or been close to people who have.
With that perspective in mind, I find it hard to blame them. A wave of panicked attendees demanding refunds could well render them insolvent.
All of that being said, they are probably still operating at at near break even. It's still a lot of volunteers (even if some of them are paid or offered by companies). If there's any left over for these conventions, it usually goes straight towards the deposits for next year (or other stuff the organizing committees do throughout the year to raise funds and advertise for the next year).
Even really big festivals usually run like this. It's a labor of love and resume building for organizers. But I agree, there's usually no money to refund. If less than half the people show, it will be just a lot of half filled venues.
Not to mention, by renting to SXSW, they are choosing not to rent to someone else. By locking in the dates, then pulling out, the organizer is costing the venue money.
So no matter what, the money paid to the venue is gone. The organizers cannot pay that back. And like you say, they probably were only able to pay that much because of ticket sales. There's likely very little profit from the event after the books are balanced.
They likely know it would be the nice thing to do and that these are extraordinary circumstances. But, like you said, it would likely be them choosing to go out of business.
If you purchased something as a consumer, and it wasn’t delivered, someone is liable. As others have speculated some of the conferences may end up going bankrupt. A 100% refund is unlikely but at least partial ones are due. Given the lost revenues from hotels, flights, and conference fee, this is billions of dollars. Large enough for law firms to work on it. On the business side, for losses to exhibitors, it’s all based on what the contracts say.
Second, yes, some of that money is gone. It's likely paid to people for services either already rendered or promised.
That's kind of the hitch here. The attendees cannot go after the venue for the money. The venue acquired the money legitimately from the organizer in a completely separate transaction.
The organizer is the focal point. And if they don't have the money to pay people back, it's not like they can will it into existence. And even if law firms get involved, what's the outcome here? "Yes, they owe money."
Cool. It still doesn't exist.
Insurance, if underwritten correctly, just turns a crippling loss into a moderate loss, not into a break-even.
So how does a highly contagious virus with that’s already killed thousands not qualify for the above? I understand the mortality rate of the young and healthy is very low with this illness, but anyone who goes risks transmitting it to loved ones who aren’t in good health.
Couldn't a conference like SXSW buy insurance to cover refunds? It's my understanding that you can buy a policy at Lloyd's of London to cover pretty any kind of unique risk.
Pandemics like this one seem rare enough that the premiums might not actually be too bad.
Ya, I've had local races get cancelled due to weather, and they also have a no-refund policy. Much of the revenue has already been spent, so I understand.
But they can go ahead with multi-100k person event in the midst of a pandemic, knowing that doing so carries a credible risk of thousands of deaths (or even creating an outbreak throughout Texas and surrounding states).
This is deeply, deeply disappointing, considering the power, influence and connections they have.
Edit: To clarify, I'm just suggesting a possible cause for misaligned incentives; I also added that holding them liable isn't necessarily a good solution either.
It's still deeply disappointing (to me) that the organizers have so few internal incentives to put lives ahead of profits. The entire value of an ethical framework is in the times when following is not what's most personally beneficial in the short term.
To quote Deus Ex: Human Revolution:
"I managed to hang on to my humanity -- but the temptation to ignore it was always there. It's that temptation that so worries Taggart. He's not afraid of freedom. He's afraid of the chaos that erupts when individuals have nothing but morality to constrain them."
Why is that a "but" rather than an "and"?
I'm disappointed in the organizers and would like to see better incentives.
Laws and ethical frameworks are synergistic in well-functioning systems.
Darn that right of free association.
You don’t have to go
* Or don't lie & perhaps someone else can do it
I wonder if they change their tune if enough people say they are coming from effected areas / experience symptoms.