Editorial: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Hotelpocalypse?

#Hotelpocalypse is probably not the hashtag that Comic-Con International was hoping would trend, or be written about by San Diego’s own Union-Tribune.

But it was — and for good reason, as every year, even with very slow progress (thanks for offering attendees more insight into the process this year, CCI!), the San Diego Comic-Con General Hotel Sale process is still a mess that drives attendees crazy.

Ultimately, the biggest problem is that the demand — particularly for downtown hotels — far exceeds the number of available rooms. When there are 130,000 attendees (though not all participate in the sale) trying for less than 20,000 rooms (and less than 12,000 of those are downtown), someone is always going be disappointed. That’s just math, and a problem that Comic-Con and onPeak can’t really fix.

But there are issues with the hotel sale that they could solve, if they really wanted to*. And yes, we say “they”, because ultimately, onPeak is a vendor that Comic-Con International has hired. If CCI doesn’t like the job onPeak is doing, they have the power to change vendors, or make recommendations, or changes to the process. If they really wanted.

*Before you say, “Make it badge holders only” – Comic-Con International has stated (and we agree) that this simply isn’t a viable option. There are too many badge groups – including panelists, the media who help attract the studios, long-term staff and volunteers, and other groups who often don’t get their badge until a later date. We have NEVER seen or heard widespread evidence that there are a large amount of people who have no intention of attending the con at all who are taking away hotel rooms from attendees. The real problem is 130K attendees vs 20K hotel rooms.

The biggest, and most frustrating, issue is the apparent lack of transparency. Although CCI took some steps this year to improve communication about the sale, there’s still work to be done. After all: How and why are there multiple hotel placement e-mail dates this year? We can assume that it’s to offer returned inventory from Group 1 to Group 2, but that hasn’t been made clear.

More than that, there has also never really been a clear answer on how hotels are actually assigned. Yes, Comic-Con and onPeak say that it’s based on the timestamp for when someone enters the form, but the results don’t really seem to match up with that. For example:

Maybe there’s some algorithm on onPeak’s end that makes all of these results make total sense. Maybe all of this timestamp weirdness comes down to a multitude of factors and variables that we just don’t understand, including human error in reading the clock, clocks being wrong, check-in and check-out dates having an effect, the room type you select having an effect, and more. But it doesn’t feel like it makes sense. And that’s ultimately the most frustrating part, as if you give someone parameters, they’re going to assume that the results fit within those parameters. This sale, every single year? Never seems to make any sense.

There’s no way to make everyone happy — we know that, and CCI and onPeak know that. But I’d like to offer two possible alternatives to the madness of Hotelpocalypse.

Option 1 – Randomize After

Why do we really need a waiting room to fill out a form? Unlike with badge sales, there’s no live inventory waiting on the other side – it’s literally just a form, that we fill out, after we’re all randomized.

However, knowing roughly what “timestamp” you get into the form doesn’t really seem to be making things any easier. It’s mostly just causing confusion, as everyone sits around and compares their timestamps to their hotel placements, and tries to make 2+2=4, when it clearly doesn’t.

There’s really no reason why the randomization needs to happen on the front end, though. Why not simply open the form up for a period of time – say, somewhere between 2-24 hours – and state up front that it doesn’t matter what time you fill out the form, because it’s all going to be randomized on the back end later. There would no longer be a need for a waiting room to funnel people through, because it wouldn’t matter if you refresh at 9AM on the dot, so thousands of attendees wouldn’t be overloading the form all at once. Instead, while it’s certainly stressful waiting to see what hotel you got — it takes some of the tension out of the process.

We know onPeak has the capability to essentially shut the form down — and how hard can it really be to randomize on the back-end? This one shouldn’t cost anyone any more money (in fact, it might even cost less, as you’d be doing away with QueueIt), and it makes so much more sense.

Then, if onPeak feels like just sticking all of our forms to a wall and throwing darts at them to decide placement, at least we won’t know.

Option 2 – Timed Live Inventory

If onPeak and CCI were really serious about wanting to improve the hotel sale in a substantial way, while also not overwhelming any servers, why not move to a timed live inventory?

Before you have a heart attack, no — I don’t mean just putting everything up at 9AM and letting everyone log in at once to grab their hotel. It would be an unmitigated disaster, and you’d either have a total system failure from everyone trying at once or have to let people through in a waiting room so slowly to ensure their choices didn’t sell out, they would be sitting in a waiting room for a week.

So instead, why not just have everyone sign up beforehand who is interested in the hotel sale, randomize us on your end, and then e-mail each person a unique link/login and a specific time where we can login and see live inventory, and book it then and there? No longer would you have multiple roommates submitting multiple forms in the hope that one gets that downtown hotel — they would automatically know who is getting through first so they can plan accordingly, and they can book exactly what they want from what is still available. This would, in turn, open up more rooms to other people, rather than rooms being returned and re-allocated on the Waitlist.

Yes, this process would take days. But if you know ahead of time what your “timeslot” is, and you’re not just sitting in a never-ending waiting room, that’s really not that big of a deal.


There are ways to improve this hotel sale. It’s just a matter of whether or not anyone with the power to do so is interested.

About Kerry Dixon

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

    What other options might there be instead of hotels…rv dry camping nearby and I remember one year talk of a cruise ship.

  • Live timed inventory or “real time” inventory solves way more problems than it creates. Individuals can make their own decisions on paying for an upgraded room or changing hotels. Select your distance, price, dates etc without having it translated (weeks later) by someone else.

    On peak would get way less phone calls, far less rooms would be swapped, and canceled, and everyone could plan their own fate.

  • JamieCoville

    Badge holder is difficult because San Diego has made the decision to wait until after hotels are sold to do the press passes. They could decide to do it before. Same with all other badge groups.

  • Not panelists. Panel confirmations don’t typically go out until late May/early June. Sure, studios can front the cash for rack rate rooms for movie/TV stars — but there a lot of folks who present awesome panels and helping to make the convention what it is who are footing their own bill.

  • Jm5150

    got to the form a little before 9:02. needed one room with two beds. got no top 6 which were all the closest 6. I did get the wyndham bayside which is almost 2 miles away AND they gave me one king bed. so if i requested 2 beds at the MMM and they give me 1 bed at the Wyndham, why wouldnt they give me one bed at any of my top 6? later forms got into my top 6, one bed or two it apparently doesnt matter if they gave me one bed anyway. Same thing happened to friends. requested 2 beds and only got one

  • alphadawg7

    I’m a little confused as to why people don’t do the early bird hotel sale. Is it the non-refundable part, no downtowns, or minimum night stay. I have never stayed at a downtown hotel, and it’s mostly because of the price. I’d rather know I have a hotel room immediately than do all this just to not have to take a shuttle or Lyft.

  • Annabella G

    Yes and is why I only put DT hotels. I knew I’d be disappointed. I had a 9:02 timestamp and never got an email. I assume its because I’m on the wait list.

  • TomWitwicky

    i think the hotel rates are way too expensive comapred to AIRBNB. I dont understand why the apocalypse is still on with this stuff

  • Investigatin Detective

    There’s very little rhyme or reason to much of what CCI does.

  • moodindigo

    Yeah, that does sound super frustrating. My group was told in the past that some hotels consider the 2 beds option as either 2 queen beds or 1 king bed. Our reservation at Westgate one year was for 2 beds, and they told us when we checked in that our room would be 1 king bed as they considered that their equivalent.
    We were at the Renaissance downtown last year with a 2 bed reservation and they actually gave us the option of either having 1 king or 2 queens when we checked in (we checked in earlier in the week than normal).

    While the variation from hotel to hotel is frustrating, it really highlights just how bad onpeak is about communication. If they contacted the hotels and knew exactly what each was offering, they could say up front what to expect. As it is now, they do say “Two beds not guaranteed” under the two bed option, however, that doesn’t specify what happens if you choose that option but don’t get two beds. Does that mean you’ll be in a king bed room, or just be placed in a smaller room, or whatever other option the hotel may provide? Do room size requests even matter at all past the 9:01 mark?

  • Kristi Sk8

    Was down with mine by 0903 and got nothing. Is there a place we can park overnight and sleep in our cars?

  • Jm5150

    well I booked the days before and after the con through the hotel directly for half the price and requested 2 beds, so since we will be there before anyone else and already in a 2 bed, hopefully the hotel wont make us move..famous last words though

  • moodindigo

    I know for a fact this worked for some people last year at Town and Country. No idea how other hotels will deal with that.. Wishing you the best of luck, I hope that works out! Getting there a day earlier definitely gives you an advantage.

  • garfeimao

    Like me and my group. I actually emailed programming the other day to ask when panel confirmations are going out because I needed to get a hotel booking either confirmed, or not. Looks like the last week of May, but he also expressed confidence we would be back for the 16th year in a row.

  • garfeimao

    I got an email on May 8 with one of the non-DT hotels, it was officially the 8th option for me, and it’s over by the airport.

  • zakin

    If moving to Vegas puts an end to 24 hour hall H lines, then I’m 100% in favor of moving to Vegas.

  • zakin

    Airbnb has many of the same issues and some additional ones.

  • Anne Bay

    i like Comic-con staying in San Diego. i cringe every time someone mentions Las Vegas as a possible site. I have been to Las Vegas a few times when I was younger, but it is no place for SDCC. Absolutely not a friendly venue for families, the weather in July is unbearable, and I think the gambling atmosphere would not be conducive to the focus on the panels, the guests, the Exhibit Hall, and the other off convention site special events. I have been to conventions in a variety of cities and in my opinion San Diego is the best for climate, transportation, convenience of trains/buses to get where you want to go. Also, there are plenty of eating places and it’s easy to get around to the various events during the convention. It looks like San Diego is going to increase its facilities and that would be putting icing on the cake if that happens. There will always be challenges and problems at any convention, but i think San Diego CC can work them out.

  • Imecoli

    But the press and pro people have a confirmed ID already, they get notification of hotels. I also think it should be linked to a unique user ID.

  • ekeyes

    Exactly – at least this year I got screwed up front and was able to participate in the hotel sale. Airbnb let the host cancel, his property was listed back up for $150 more a night, and offered me a $200 credit (which doesn’t really help when everything is $500+ a night).

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