SXSW Expansion Into Sydney Means New Planner Opportunities

Skift Take

Since 1987, South by Southwest (SXSW) and Austin has been a convergence of film, music, education, and culture, a global destination for creative people to connect, collaborate and think outside the box. As SXSW expands into Sydney, this annual gathering offers many new and expanded possibilities for groups.

SXSW is more than just an event; it’s a conference, trade show, and festival for creative industry professionals that offers a unique convergence of original music, films, and emerging technologies that continues to draw a global crowd of hundreds of thousands who inject over $300 million into the Austin economy every year. It is also a community of like-minded people who continue to connect all year long.

“South by Southwest is always a big shot in the arm in terms of the amount of commerce that goes on in Austin, particularly in the downtown area,” said SXSW Chief Programming Officer Hugh Forrest. “We know that in 2019, the event had a $350 million economic impact on Austin, which is, you know, a sizable percentage of what a Super Bowl does.”

This legendary event has also been an inspiration to many meeting and event planners. Meeting Professionals International (MPI) has offered behind-the-scenes tours of SXSW to help planners discover elements they can apply directly to their own meetings and events and further developed this into an Experiential Events Series certificate program.

SXSW Going Down Under

Such opportunities — and more — will soon be available across the globe as Sydney, Australia prepares to welcome SXSW for the first time ever as host city for this renowned event. Why Sydney? “So much of what has fueled the growth and development of SXSW over the last 30+ years is the creativity of Austin, Texas,” Forrest said. “We believe that Sydney’s similar, future-focused, fast-moving culture that celebrates and cultivates creativity across many different industries, artistic endeavors, and entrepreneurial projects, makes it the perfect destination for an extension of our event.”

The inaugural SXSW Sydney will be held October 15-22, 2023, and will span seven days and nights. In addition to the exhibitions, festivals, and activations SXSW is famous for, the conference component will feature more than 200 keynotes, panels, and sessions featuring inspiring thinkers, industry leaders, innovative ideas, and startup pitches.

“We are excited to expand the event to Australia, with its culture and focus on the future. Sydney is the ideal city to bring the professional opportunities and unexpected discoveries that make our event unique,” said Roland Swenson, co-founder of SXSW.

Sydney is a natural extension for SXSW, said Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO of BESydney. SXSW will be an annual event, so the opportunities that exist to build this into programming for business events in the future is enormous, she added. “Beyond the marketing and tourism benefits for Australia’s creative industries, from music to tech to screen, gaming, and culture, the legacy that this event will contribute in terms of knowledge sharing, global collaboration, networking, and awareness will be felt for years to come.”

Unbeknownst to many, Sydney is known for its technology and innovation, strengths the Harbour City will lean into with its Tech Central precinct showcased during the event. “SXSW provides a money-can’t-buy endorsement of our tech, creative arts, and gaming scene,” said Lewis-Smith.

Just one of many high-profile events Sydney hosts, Vivid, the largest festival of light, music, and ideas in the Southern Hemisphere, attracted 2.58 million people this year. The 23-night festival featured the Vivid Light Walk of Sydney’s streets, buildings, and public spaces transformed into an urban wonderland after dark, in addition to concerts and talks.

“Vivid was an event grown to fill a quieter winter period and now is a much-anticipated annual festival loved by locals and visitors alike. We hope that SXSW will become the same,” said Lewis-Smith.

The city’s unique landmarks, national parks, and legendary beaches are all on the agenda, as well as a demonstration of the city’s unwavering focus on social impact, diversity, and inclusion. A global conversation with Australia’s first nations peoples will also be featured. “As with every part of Australia, Sydney has a powerful story to tell, and this event is the platform to bring that to life,” said Lewis-Smith.  

Timing is Right

A recently launched research report concludes this is the perfect time for this new SXSW in The Land Down Under. Undertaken by Tourism Australia’s specialist business events unit, this report predicts a strong outlook for Australia’s business events industry.

The 2022 Business Events Consumer Demand Project (CDP) delivers insights into the determinant factors influencing decision makers when choosing a destination for events, including how Australia is perceived, and the impact COVID-19 has had on the decision-making process.

The research reveals that decision makers are feeling increasingly confident with traveling and hosting events abroad, with many expecting the number, size, and budget for events to be equal to, or greater than pre-pandemic levels, said Robin Mack, Tourism Australia Executive General Manager of Commercial and Business Events Australia.

“It’s fantastic to see that decision-makers remain optimistic about the future of events and that there is a strong intention to visit Australia for an event over the next two years,” said Mack, adding that for association decision-makers, Australia is considered an appealing destination with several positive attributes, including being ranked number one in the world for quality of business events facilities. “Amongst incentive decision-makers, Australia is the global leader in consideration, and we have experienced significant increases in appeal and intent over the last 12 months,” Mack concluded.