- AUSTIN, Texas
Due to concerns over the coronavirus, Amazon Studios is among the latest companies to pull out of attending the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, which is scheduled to begin March 13. This comes on the heels of such firms as Facebook, TikTok, Intel, Twitter, Vevo and Mashable canceling their SXSW plans.
Amazon Studios had two panels planned for SXSW--one promoting Upload, a sci-fi comedy satire TV series, the other for Tales from the Loop, a drama series inspired by the the wondrous paintings of Simon Stålenhag. Both Tales from the Loop and Upload are slated to debut in April.
Additionally, Amazon had a consumer brand activation on the SXSW schedule.
The Associated Press reported that an Amazon employee in Seattle has contracted the coronavirus, as have two of its workers in Milan, Italy. Amazon and other big companies are trying to keep their employees healthy by banning business trips, dealing a gut punch to a travel industry already reeling from the virus outbreak.
The Seattle-based online retail giant has told its nearly 800,000 workers to postpone any non-essential travel within the United States or around the globe. Amazon is also conducting some job interviews on video conference calls instead of in its offices.
Twitter announced in a blog post that it has similarly banned “all non-critical business travel and events” because of concerns over the coronovirus. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey canceled plans to be a featured speaker at SXSW.
Facebook’s decision to not be at SXSW is in line with a company policy which has seen it pull the plug on two of its own events, an advertising conference last month as well as F8, its biggest annual gathering, which had been scheduled for May.
The hit on SXSW attendance is symptomatic of an overall landscape which has seen companies restrict, if not end business trips, and major events alter their plans. For example, Swiss food giant Nestle told its 291,000 employees worldwide to limit domestic business travel and halt international travel until March 15. French cosmetics maker L’Oréal, which employs 86,000 people, issued a similar ban until March 31.
Other companies, like the aforementioned Twitter, are telling their employees worldwide to work from home. Google gave that directive to its staff of 8,000 at its European headquarters in Dublin on Tuesday. Google is also canceling its annual developers conference, Google I/O, that was to be held starting May 12 in Mountain View, California, due to concerns about coronavirus.
Major business gatherings, like the Geneva International Motor Show and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, have been canceled. And the 189-nation International Monetary Fund and its sister lending organization, the World Bank, announced they will replace their regular spring meetings in Washington — scheduled for mid-April — with a “virtual format.”
The cancellations and travel restrictions are a major blow to business travel, which makes up around 26% of the total travel spending, or around $1.5 trillion per year, according to the Global Business Travel Association.
The association estimates the virus is costing the business travel industry $47 billion per month. In a recent poll of 400 member companies, the group found that 95% have suspended business trips to China, 45% have cut trips to Japan and South Korea and 23% have canceled trips to Europe.
“It’s a big deal,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst in San Francisco who estimates that airlines get 55% of their revenue from business travelers, since they’re more likely to sit in pricier business or first-class seats.
“On a long-haul flight to Europe or Asia, a business-class traveler can be five times more profitable than someone in coach,” Harteveldt said.
Figures from the Airlines Reporting Corp. indicate that airline ticket sales fell about 9% during one week in late February, compared with a year earlier.
Hotels are also worried about declines in business travel. In the U.S. alone, hotel bookings for business travel were expected to reach $46.8 billion this year, according to Phocuswright, a travel research firm.
In the week through Feb. 22, San Francisco saw an 11% decline in hotel occupancy, according to STR, a hotel data company. AT&T, Verizon and IBM were among the companies that pulled out of the city’s RSA cybersecurity conference, which began Feb. 24.
AP reporters contributed to this story, including business writers David Koenig and Dee-Ann Durbin