Hotelpocalypse 2016 Recap: The Great Randomizer [UPDATE]

hilton bayfront hotelOh, Hotelpocalypse. Please don’t come back for another year.

Although Tuesday’s San Diego Comic-Con General Hotel Sale seemed to clear up the technical issues that plagued last year’s sale, the new system of randomization brought with it a whole new slew of questions β€” namely, just how was it going to work?

Comic-Con International only offered two real sentences of insight into the process:

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When we reached out to onPeak, the company actually holding the sale, we were told that timestamps for when you hit submit would actually be the determining factor, though obviously the waiting room was going to determine a large part of that. Though we reached out to Comic-Con International at the time for clarification, their offices were closed. So, onward we went into the sale, assuming that though we’d be randomized, we still needed to speed through the form.

Unlike last year, the process seemed to go off without a hitch. There were no bad forms, no major technical issues, and even a practice form while you waited.

However, then attendees started to quickly notice something on the final confirmation screen. It stated, “All requests will be processed in random order“. So where were we being randomized in the waiting room, submitting, and then being double randomized? What would possibly be the point of that?

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After a lot of commotion on Twitter, someone over at onPeak seemingly realized that social media is a tool that exists to communicate with the masses, who then tweeted this:

So great! Questions answered. After the sale, granted (and really, can anyone give us a solid reason why we can’t have a guide for the hotel sale the way we do for badge sales?), but at least we didn’t have to worry about the dreaded “double randomization”. If there’s anything Comic-Con attendees hate, it’s feeling powerless. Nerves were somewhat calmed, and we all began the long wait of finding out which, if any, hotel we were placed at.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait long. Early this morning, just two days after we filled out the form, e-mails began to roll out. And for awhile, it all seemed to be really good news, with most of the big hotel confirmations going out first to seemingly those who had gotten into the form first.

However, as the day went on, things got a lot murkier. We witnessed hundreds of tweets sharing very similar circumstances, but very different results. Some who reported getting access to the form at 9:01 were being placed in Mission Valley. Some who got access to the form at 9:04 were being placed in the Westin Gaslamp downtown.

For this part, at least, we think we may have somewhat of an answer. Attendees obsessed with every minutia of the convention (also known as just, y’know, every attendee) noticed that this year’s waitlist options had changed. Here’s a look at last year’s waitlist options versus this year’s:

Missing for 2016 was the “Book me into any available downtown hotel. If NO downtown hotels are available, discard my request” option for those whose original six choices were full.

While it may seem clear to an attendee that if your first six choices aren’t available, that preference should be given to downtown hotels β€” it’s pretty obvious this isn’t what happened. Instead, onPeak likely lumped all hotels in all areas together, looked at availability by request, and slotted you somewhere at random in that case. This explains how some with later timestamps were still getting downtown, while some with earlier were getting closer.

So in a way, attendees were technically double randomized.

However, this isn’t really that different from any other year, as the availability at the most in demand hotels (the Hilton Bayfront, Marriott Marquis and Marina, Hard Rock Hotel, Omni, etc.) are all very limited, and fill up extremely fast. It’s just that without that waitlist option, more folks with earlier timestamps were likely being kicked out to Mission Valley than usual.

However, that doesn’t explain everything. To get more confusing, several who reported being let into the form within the first minute reported getting nothing, and some who reported being let into the form much later reported getting big, very popular downtown hotels.

So what in the world happened? And maybe more importantly, how did it happen?

As if they learned nothing from Tuesday, onPeak once again used the very confusing “All received requests were processed in random order as outlined on” wording in their rejection and waitlist e-mails sent out this evening. The only problem (okay, who are we kidding, there’s not just one problem here) is that onPeak had already had to clarify this language once, Comic-Con International didn’t clarify it at all on their site, and whatever else they’d said before didn’t really seem to be what actually happened. Confused yet?

[UPDATE April 9] As Friday rolled around, and thousands were left without e-mails, a possible answer started to ring out through the onPeak customer phone lines. Customer service representatives for the company began telling attendees without an e-mail one of two stories: That there would be a second batch of e-mails sent by 5PM or 7PM (and to be fair, we did see two folks who reported getting an e-mail late into the day), or that their information had been flagged as a duplicate, and only the last entry was kept, while any earlier entry was dumped.

“But I only submitted once,” most attendees explained. And here’s where customer service reps began giving any number of possible scenarios for why a submission may have been dumped: You having the same address as your spouse or parent may have flagged the entry. Same phone number? Same thing. Same last name? Same thing.

So could that explain some of the seemingly impossible results of the hotel sale, and why many who reported being in the form within the first minute of the sale were left out in the cold? It could. However, just like with the rest of the sale, the factors that marked someone as a supposed ‘duplicate’ appear to be random, as for every person who reports one set of circumstances causing them issues, there’s another with the exact same circumstances (using same address/etc.) that didn’t have an issue.

To be honest, while we think that some folks info was marked as a duplicate and dumped, we also think that the customer service reps were overworked, frazzled, and left without much information from their higher-ups β€” so “you were duplicated and dumped” seemed like an easy answer. And maybe it is that easy. Maybe simply having the last name as someone really is enough to flag you as a duplicate in the system, though that’s a very terrifying thought.

But it’s also clear that CCI, onPeak’s higher-ups, and the front-line onPeak CSR’s weren’t communicating very well. Reps were still telling callers that another batch of e-mails would be sent long after onPeak and CCI both tweeted out that all e-mails had gone out.

The short version of Hotelpocalypse is this: There are always more attendees who wish to stay downtown than there are rooms downtown, so not everyone was ever going to walk away happy today. We’re okay with that β€” we know that. But it’s the uncertainty of these sales, that stems both from the lack of communication about how any of it runs as well as the contradiction of what little information that’s presented that drives attendees absolutely insane. The randomization and new system may have fixed the technical issues from last year’s sale, but in terms of explaining the process, and being candid in how rooms were being assigned, onPeak and CCI didn’t provide attendees with what they really wanted: Answers.

For all of the “we tried to make it fair” and “there is no perfect system” answers we’ll undoubtedly get down the line, there are steps they could take to make this process run at least a little smoother. Having the payment deadline on a Sunday, when onPeak’s offices are closed on Saturday and Sunday, is ludicrous (especially if onPeak was trying to tell folks that e-mails would go out all the way up to after they were closed). Not having a proper guide or instructions for this sale is beyond our understanding.

For those that didn’t score a hotel today, there are other options, and hotels do open up off the waiting list. And for those whose first year of attending Comic-Con is this year: Please don’t judge the convention by this sale. The rest isn’t as big of a mess, we promise.

E-mails to Comic-Con International have not been returned in the last week.

What were your thoughts about Hotelpocalypse? How did you fare? Let us know in the comments.

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