SXSW, Ultra Music Festival will not offer refunds after coronavirus-prompted cancellations
The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has prompted (and is continuing to prompt) numerous festivals, artists, and even films to postpone or call off their scheduled events over health concerns. Miami's Ultra Music Festival and Austin's SXSW have both called off their annual events for the first time ever, and to compound fans' disappointment, it seems they will not receive refunds from the festivals.
An email sent to Ultra ticket holders, posted on Reddit, says that "ALL tickets purchased" will "be honored at either the 2021 or 2022 Ultra Miami event," giving ticket holders 30 days to choose which event they will attend. The email evidently makes no mention of refunds. (One Reddit user claimed he obtained a refund by visiting Ultra's Miami office in person.)
Meanwhile, a letter to SXSW badge holders said refunds will not be issued, and that 2020 registrants "can opt to defer their registration to 2021, 2022, or 2023." The festival's public refund policy states, "SXSW does not issue refunds under any circumstances," including "failure to use Credentials due to illness, acts of God, travel-related problems, acts of terrorism, loss of employment and/or duplicate purchases."
Representatives for Ultra did not immediately respond to EW's request for comment. A SXSW spokesperson says, "We are also working on other ways to add value to their deferred registration so not only will they be able to take advantage of a future SXSW but there will be extra benefits included, as well.” Ultra's email also promises 2020 ticket holders additional benefits, including discounts on merchandise and a free ticket to another Ultra event.
Mass refunds may simply not be financially feasible. SXSW, LLC has laid off about a third of its 175 year-round employees in the wake of the cancellation, and co-founder and CEO Roland Swenson told the Wall Street Journal that the company's losses could reach tens of millions of dollars. “I am most worried about my people and what this means for their future, and I don’t know what that is yet,” Swenson said. “We are planning to carry on and do another event in 2021, but how we’re going to do that I’m not entirely sure.”
Swenson also told the Austin American-Statesman that the festival's insurance coverage does not include cancellation because of “bacterial infections, communicable diseases, viruses and pandemics," noting, “it’s not unusual for insurance companies to exclude coverage for specific circumstances.”
As the coronavirus epidemic continues worldwide, it's likely that more high-profile festivals will be postponed or canceled. On Tuesday, Coachella and Stagecoach were rescheduled from their scheduled April dates to October, in the wake of a March 4 declaration of a state of emergency in California over the viral outbreak.