CCI, onPeak Offer Insight to San Diego Comic-Con General Hotel Sale 2016

Convention Center Hilton Bayfront Hotel Coronado Bridge Traffic Street ViewSecuring a hotel to San Diego Comic-Con is a crucial piece of the puzzle for any attendee, but it may just be the most difficult one.

Although Comic-Con International works to secure reduced rate room blocks for those at the convention, there are simply more attendees than there are rooms in that block, and that rooms outside of that block go for a premium. That means that the San Diego Comic-Con General Hotel Sale, which took place on April 5, can mean the difference between paying $300 per night, and $1100 per night.

onPeak, who merged with the former hotel sale vendor Travel Planners  in October of 2014 when they were both acquired by GES, handled the actual housing accommodation sale and process for 2016.

The sale worked somewhat similar to previous years — with a few major changes. Unlike in former years, when attendees refreshed like mad until the form went live and then raced to fill out their information as fast as they could, this year utilized a randomized waiting room, similar to badge sales for Comic-Con.

We spoke to both onPeak and Comic-Con International to find out more about the changes, and some issues that cropped up this year.

“A waiting room was utilized this year to introduce randomized access to the hotel request form and manage the high traffic and system stability,” Kristina Simkins, Director of Product Development at onPeak, said. “The decision to utilize a waiting room and randomized access to the form was made in order to make the submission process more efficient and fair for those requesting rooms. This decision also aligns the hotel process with many of the other Comic-Con sale processes.”

Users could access the waiting room between 6AM to 9AM PT on the morning of the sale, and at 9AM they were promptly placed in a random order in the waiting room and granted access to the form in that order to submit their requests. Any user who joined after 9AM PT was placed at the end of the randomized line.

“The only timestamp used when processing reservations was the time at which the user was granted access to the form. Using this timestamp allowed us to keep users in the order,” Simkins said. “To maintain the fairness of the randomization process, users who submitted via the phone on Tuesday morning were assigned a random order and combined with all online submissions prior to processing.”

“When requests were processed – users were placed based on their selections on the request form. If a user’s top six hotel options were not available – the request was processed based on the alternate instruction selected on the form. If an alternate hotel choice was available, the user was booked and waitlisted according to their instructions. If we were not able to place the user, they have been placed on the waitlist and will be contacted should rooms become available,” Simkins said.

Although you might not know it from looking at social media, at least in some regards, this year’s sale was a success.

“Not only did more Comic-Con users get one of their top six choices than ever before (38% last year vs. 49% this year), but more people got their first hotel choice than last year (18% last year vs. 25% this year),” Simkins said.

However, not all aspects of the sale went off without a hitch. When hundreds didn’t receive an e-mail on Thursday or Friday, onPeak customer service phone representatives began issuing a general warning: Odds are, you were flagged as a duplicate.

We confirmed with onPeak that duplicate submissions were based on three factors: phone number, e-mail address, or a unique identifier associated with the user’s queue/waiting room session (likely the QueueID at the bottom of the waiting room).

In the case of all three, if submissions with any of that information were duplicated, onPeak took the final submission with the last time stamp, and tossed any earlier submissions.

One of the biggest issues of the sale, though, was the lack of communication before and after the sale — both of exactly how the process would work, and some confusing ‘all requests will be processed in random order’ wording on the final screen, which onPeak had to later clarify on Twitter.

“There were obviously communications issues in getting the proper messages out,” David Glanzer, Director of Marketing and Public Relations of Comic-Con International, said. “But it appears that more people were able to secure their first choice in rooms this year over last year.”

When asked who was responsible for aspects of the sale like that text and the communication processes, Simkins said, “All decisions regarding process and communication are a joint effort between onPeak and Comic-Con.”

“We reviewed many of the messages and documents and work very [closely] with onPeak,” Glanzer said.

In regards to providing attendees with a technical, thorough guide of how the process works beforehand for the future — it doesn’t seem to be on the horizon for 2017. “I’m not sure a technical guide would help secure hotel rooms for attendees,” Glanzer said.

Another factor impacting this year’s sale was the loss of one of the options for if your top six hotels weren’t available. In previous years, users had been able to select ‘book me into available downtown hotel’, though this year, that option was removed. This led to attendees with later timestamps being slotted into downtown hotels over some attendees with earlier timestamps, as no preference was given to area this year, much to some users’ confusion.

“With the limited number of downtown hotel rooms – onPeak and Comic-Con wanted to provide additional options to allow as many requests to be processed as possible if a user’s top six choices were not available,” Simkins said, about the loss of that processing option. “onPeak and Comic-Con have already begun reviewing potential improvements for 2017 and alternate processing options will be carefully reviewed prior to next year’s sale.”

Even if Comic-Con International and onPeak had been more transparent prior to the sale, though, some still would have walked away unhappy.

The reason is pretty simple: There are simply more attendees requesting rooms than there are rooms available. According to Simkins, there were “approximately 2.5 requests submitted per room available”. As we discussed last week, the very best case scenario (if every single room at each hotel was included in the hotel block), would have 19,487 rooms up for grabs. That would mean 48,717 attendees were trying for those rooms — though we know the total number of rooms available isn’t actually that high (and thus the total number of attendees trying in the sale isn’t either).

The Voice of San Diego quoted Elaine Shea, director of sales and marketing at the Crowne Plaza, as saying they offer up roughly 81% of their hotel inventory — though some downtown hotels, like the Manchester Grand Hyatt and the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, said they offer closer to 90%.

Though some  have been scratching their heads for years wondering why this limited, in-demand sale isn’t a closed system only available to badge holders and certain badge types who haven’t completed registration yet (like professionals and press), Simkins said that option has been discussed and dismissed.

“onPeak and Comic-Con discussed a variety of options for the hotel sale before finalizing the process used for 2016. Restricting the sale to badge holders presents unique challenges as not all participants in need of a hotel room are registered badge holders at the time of sale (for example – program participants),” Simkins said.

For better or worse, thousands of Comic-Con attendees now have their rooms booked or they don’t — though as rooms are canceled and opened up, those on the waiting list will begin to hear. All that attendees can do at this point is hope that communication improves for 2017.

“I think what could benefit everyone is a clear method of communication to make sure we are accurate and consistent in how best to serve those looking for rooms and that is something we are currently working on,” Glanzer said.

“Every year we look at what worked and what didn’t and have already begun discussions with Comic-Con regarding how to continue to improve this process in future years,” Simkins added. “We truly enjoy our partnership with Comic-Con and look forward to interacting with the guests on-site at the event this year.”

About Kerry Dixon

Kerry Dixon is Editor-in-Chief of The San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog and the site’s resident panel guru.

  • Dennis Urech

    Perhaps the hotels should offer rooms to badge holders at a discounted price if they did not get one via the hotel sale. Maybe not as much of a discount, but something. For example Bayfront I believe was $304/night in the sale. Perhaps a discount room rate for badge holders of $320-$340

  • Brian Wargo

    How many times in this article can you cite, “Simkins said”?

    Why would the concept of allowing the paying attendees of the convention to go first for hotels be dismissed? Who is CCI trying to serve, if not the paying attendees? What other convention negotiates a block of rooms for its attendees then opens up that block’s pricing and availability to people who can’t even get in?

    I find it utterly ridiculous that CCI goes through so much to limit the acquisition of badges with Member ID’s and previous attendance code numbers, but a family of three that spends $500 on 4-day badges cannot even get a hotel within 6 miles of the venue. The statistics in this article are meaningless because they are tainted with the successes of non-paying non-badge holding people wanting to attend outside venues to the detriment of actual “attendees”.

    It is shameful that CCI claims to have 62k room nights negotiated for “attendees” when they do not limit access only to those attendees. If they did, then simple math tells us there would not be 2.5 requests per room. Also, you would have far fewer families who already paid for their badges, but now have to request refunds because they don’t have a place to stay. Or, do I consider that $500 the price to participate in the 2017 Preregistration? It still doesn’t solve the hotel problem.

    SDCC has obviously outgrown the convention center, but increasing the size of the building isn’t going to solve the problem with accommodations either. CCI, through it’s decision on who has access to hotel rooms, is seemingly pushing SDCC out of San Diego by allowing it to grow uncontrollably. Whether you agree with these statements or not, if any of them are false please correct me.

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  • naurmohd

    Hate this. I’ve never had a problem before. I’ve gone to comic con every year except last year (stationed overseas for work) for the last 10 years. This year I got permission to travel and it’s costing me 2000 dollars to get there, and now I don’t have a place to stay. I think I was kicked to the back of the line because my internet sucks and probably restarted. But the system didn’t make any sense to me at all. I sat there for 3 hours and then somehow I didn’t get a message I got in, until I got a message that I’d been timed out and had to restart the process. My sister and friend didn’t have that problem, we all logged in different times, and none of us got rooms. I don’t want to give up on this, but the lack of respect or loyalty to those of us who have been going since before it got so crazy is just disheartening. I’m glad 49% of the people got their first choice, but it sucks that it went from there to so many of us not getting anything at all.

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  • TD57

    I agree this doesn’t get it I was number 1144 in line for filling out my form I was in at 9:03, I was organized, had everything alphabetically, what they should have done was gone back and readjusted to reflect those of us who had an earlier time stamp but it would have cost them man hours to clean up their mess, and customer service apparently isn’t that important to them, I ended up on the shuttle route 30 minutes away. Before they started with Travel Planners and now OnPeak, rooms were easy to get, being a Hilton Diamond Member I got whatever I needed as long as I booked in advance. I had as they put it a “unique situation” and actually have a confirmation for BayFront and Omni but it was taken away from me, and even though they got me a hotel, it’s still not the Omni or BayFront. This has been frustrating for me due to the fact that I have a medical condition that may require me to get to my hotel room quickly. OnPeak should have made this right it was their error, but I have found this company to be far less than cooperative and doing the right thing just isn’t in their business model!

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  • Hot Mama

    “Not only did more Comic-Con users get one of their top six choices than ever before (38% last year vs. 49% this year), but more people got their first hotel choice than last year (18% last year vs. 25% this year),” Simkins said.

    Baloney.

    Also a lie:

    David Glanzer, Director of Marketing and Public Relations of Comic-Con International, said. “But it appears that more people were able to secure their first choice in rooms this year over last year.”

    It’s sad that these two think we are that stupid and gullible.

  • Hot Mama

    Exactly. Both Glanzer and Simkins are so bad at lying,

  • Hot Mama

    You are entitled to your opinion, but come on….we aren’t dummies here…

  • Hot Mama

    Don’t fool yourself, the celebs get any room at any hotel they want….

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