Next week, tens of thousands of people will descend upon the Texas capital to partake in the multimedia boondoggle known as South by Southwest (SXSW).
What started as a 700-person music festival has expanded to include dedicated programming for film, tech, and education. Last year, the multi-week extravaganza attracted over 300,000 participants, many of whom skip the expensive SXSW badge in favor of networking and party hopping at the bevy of unofficial events (the preferred strategy of yours truly).
An event that increases the capital’s population by a third has a tremendous impact on the city—SXSW 2012 injected nearly $200 million into the local economy. But as SXSW attracts more and more people, it leaves us with a troubling predicament:
Where are we all going to sleep?
The issue of SXSW accommodations (or lack thereof) has been, hands down, the most popular topic in my email inbox this week. I routinely see emails that say things like, “I’m on a startup budget and need something cheap” and “I’m quiet as a churchmouse and take up no space” and “Worse comes to worst, you could shack up in our RV.”
Suffice it to say, things are grim out there, particularly for last-minute attendees.
If you’re hoping for a hotel during SXSW Interactive, you may be out of luck. As of Wednesday night, the only downtown hotel with vacancy on Kayak.com was the three-star Hampton Inn and Suites, which still had a few basic rooms available for (gulp!) $849 per night. At least there’s free breakfast.
Luckily, SXSW attracts a large pool of tech startups, so it makes sense that if you’re looking for last-minute SXSW accommodations, you’d turn to technology for help.
Enter WeHostels, a NYC startup housed at General Assembly that’s hoping to make a big splash at this year’s SXSW Interactive. The social booking site for hostels (think Expedia for millennials on a budget) emphasizes its inventory of cool, inexpensive accommodations even at popular events where cities get really crowded.
The travel app is already quite popular in Europe and South America, where the company has capitalized on the hoards of young travelers searching for inexpensive lodging and new friends. When WeHostels co-founder Diego Saez-Gil thought about where to launch to get attention in the U.S. market, SXSW was an obvious choice.
“I’m a last minute planner,” explains Saez-Gil. “So when I went to SXSW last year, I tried desperately to find a room. I ended up paying a lot of money to stay in a sh*tty place, which I had to share with a lot of people. I thought: ‘This is a problem. If we prepare, we can solve it.’”
And so they did. Last week, WeHostels announced its partnership with Firehouse Hostel, which they’ve renamed “Hackers Hostel” for SXSW. For a bootstrapper-friendly price of $60 per night, guests get a bed in the heart of downtown Austin.
With an emphasis on popular events like Oktoberfest and Coachella (Saez-Gil says they still have space!), WeHostels definitely understands the needs of its customers. Accommodations at the SXSW Hackers Hostel include all of a cash-strapped entrepreneur’s favorite things: free food (complimentary breakfast served every morning), free booze (handcrafted cocktails are served at the Saturday night happy hour), co-working space with reliable Wi-Fi, and access to the other guests described by WeHostels as “VCs, entrepreneurs, and other must-meet geeks.”
To those frantically hunting for a place to rest their heads, WeHostels’ announcement was a welcome surprise. Saez-Gil says the company has received numerous thank you notes from grateful guests.
“We do the work so last-minute travelers don’t have to,” he explains.
Another company “doing the work” in advance is HotelTonight, a last-minute hotel deals app that releases each city’s nightly hotel inventory at noon local time. The company’s Hotel Relations team has become expert at handling tight inventory situations in various cities around the world, but even they are no match for the clusterjam that is SXSW.
“We will absolutely have rooms available,” assures HotelTonight COO Jared Simon, though he also warns that “they will be very limited, and we expect prices to be high.”
This year marks HotelTonight’s first SXSW since its Austin city-launch in April of 2012. Last year, the HotelTonight team geared up for the launch by renting out nights in their Airstream trailer for $199 (proceeds went to the Austin Children’s Center). Simon describes the promotion as a “wild success” but says they won’t be bringing it back this year. “Users have come to expect better digs than an Airstream from HotelTonight.”
It’s true—HotelTonight partners with top-notch Austin partners like the zen boutique Casulo and the hip B&B Gateway Guesthouse. Last-minute travelers who enjoy the thrill of the hunt should download the app and stand guard at 11:59 AM, ready to make moves once the clock strikes 12.
Even though inventory is limited, Simon has some words of advice for SXSW revelers: “March is always a tricky time for weather in Austin,” he says. “When rain threatens, hotel rooms tend to open up. So be sure to check us out if you're in a bind, and enjoy the conference!”
Photo of Austin hotel courtesy of Shutterstock.
TopicsTravel , The Download by Anneke Jong , Business Travel , Tech , Syndication , Startups , Travel Tips , Hotels
Anneke is a founding executive and leads the business side of Reserve, one of Fast Company's Most Innovative companies of 2016. She joined Reserve from the Google Creative Lab where she led teams building the future of tech. An advisor to NPR and a startup veteran, she is an experienced entrepreneur and storyteller who speaks and writes on topics related to technology and culture. She lives in Brooklyn and can be found online at @annekejong.More from this Author