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.