Photo by Shelley Hiam

Tech and culture festival South by South West (SXSW) has laid off a third of its workforce after being forced to cancel its 2020 event due to coronavirus. The news was first reported by Wall Street Journal reporter Elizabeth Findell, and accounts for approximately 58 people.

The organization previously talked about its difficult financial situation following the cancellation. SXSW 2020 could not continue due to emergency measures taken by the City of Austin to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19.

“Due to the City of Austin’s unprecedented and unexpected cancellation of the SXSW 2020 events in March, SXSW has been rigorously reviewing our operations, and we are in the unimaginable position of reducing our workforce. Today we said goodbye to approximately one-third of our full-time staff,” a spokesperson later told Business Insider.

Cancellation and Refunds

The measures prohibit events larger than 2,500 people, which SXSW certainly exceeds. Organizers are able to continue if they can show the public health department that mitigations for infectious diseases are in place.  However, an advisory panel also takes into account other factors, such as the likelihood for extended close personal contact, crowd density, and the number of travelers from areas that are experiencing spread.

As people travel from all over the globe to attend SXSW, it was likely considered too dangerous to continue. Still, the messaging of Austin Public Health has been contradictory, with it previously claiming that there’s no evidence closing public gatherings would make the community safer.

In the wake of the cancellation, SXSW has set up a fund to aid businesses that heavily rely on the event for sales. Unfortunately, one of the employees says they were told not to look for new jobs as early as Saturday, only be hit with an about-face.

Attendees have also been told that they will not be able to receive a refund on their tickets, which can cost thousands of dollars. They may also struggle to get refunds on hotel rooms, so this is a big blow to pretty much everyone.