SDCC Hotel Lottery: Reflection on the aftermath

Like many of SDCC attendees, I need a hotel during my stay in San Diego and the hotel reservation process is the last major step in my SDCC trip plan. While the sale itself went rather smoothly, the result I received has left me in a virtual limbo with regard to my hotel. I decided to delay writing this article so I can reflect on constructive and objective recommendations that the collective team of CCI and OnPeak may want to consider if this process is to be used again.

My Experience
Leading in to the sale my targets were the downtown hotels. A very generic FAQ with very little specifics accompanied the announcement of the sale and the new queuing system. After reading the announcement, the reason for the change to randomize access to the submission form made sense but questions remained on the process OnPeak would use to rank and fulfill our request. My roommates discussed and debated our interpretations of the announcement as well as the information provided in the FAQ. There was no definitive answer or details provided to inform us how our submission would be ranked and processed. I referred to FoCC forum to gauge the reaction and after reading a few posts it became apparent that others had similar concerns. Forum members pointed out that the tweets from OnPeak and answers provided by their customer service reps were inconsistent.

Thankfully, the folks at the SDCC Unofficial Blog took point to obtain answers to the unanswered questions for the collective community of convention attendees.

The submission experience for me and my roommate was on par with everyone else. The process this year was relatively smooth – with the exception to the wait. I got in at 12:04 PM Eastern Time and my roommate got in at 12:10 PM. Overall, the submission process was an improvement over my experience last year, where I ran into the form issue which caused me to have problems in my selection of the six hotels.

As the news broke amongst the community about hotel confirmations going out I paid close attention to my email alerts to see where I would end up. Judging by the results of the hotel allocations and various comments from hotel seekers on the forum as well as on Twitter there is a lot of ambiguity on how the submissions were handled. There are too many unknowns: a) how are requests fulfilled in a “fair” fashion, b) determining what a true duplicate request is, c) prioritization of the wait list, and d) why emails were sent to some while others were left in the dark? This calls into question what actually happened behind the scenes at OnPeak. Was there a second randomization?

After several hours of waiting for any news I received the email I was dreading – “the wait list” email. The wait list email is nothing new for me because I haven’t had much luck in my years participating in the lottery.

Editors’ note: A poll and discussion thread has been created on the forum for members to report their result from the lottery and their satisfaction.

Recommendations
1) Create transparency into the new process to reduce the fear of the unknown. As Alyssa mentioned during the Cup o’ Tea hangout some of us are “hyper-planners”. We like to know what we are doing and prefer to have some degree of control in the plans we create.

Our concerns are caused primarily due to the lack of information. SDCC is an important trip for most of us and the less control over a major aspect of our trip is a big concern.

Shortly after the announcement of the lottery was released, there were many questions about the queuing process and how the submissions would be processed. The FAQ was very high-level and it lacked specifics. I would recommend additional details be provided with examples to reduce ambiguity.

2) Communicate what will happen and when in advance. Going into the sale we knew of the waiting room and the submission time but nothing else specific related to confirmations or when the direct booking would be allowed again. It would have been nice to know in advance precisely when the confirmations would be communicated. The collective community of hotel seekers had anticipated Friday would be the day of confirmations being distributed. But the confirmation emails started going out much earlier to everyone’s surprise.

A concise email, Tweet, or note on the CCI Hotels page would be a good way to keep everyone in the loop so we can prepare appropriately. It doesn’t take much to put some of these in place and it gives us all a better understanding when things might happen.

Simple way to address this next time would be to publish an outline of key event milestones with estimated times. For example:
Tuesday 6 AM – Submissions window begins.
Tuesday 9 AM – Submission processing begins.
Thursday 9 AM – Communication of confirmations begins.
Thursday 9 AM – Waitlist communications distributed.
Monday 4 PM – Deposits are due.
Friday 9 AM – Direct hotel bookings commences.

If there were a change to the time of important events, I would recommend communicating it. We would not be upset if there is a need to change timeframes.

3) Ensure accuracy and consistency of outbound information. A very important aspect of communication is accuracy of the information provided to those who need it. The changes implemented in this years’ lottery were significant and Twitter is not the right vehicle to communicate that type of information. It is also important to ensure the outbound messaging or answers are accurate, reliable, and consistent.

4) Determine and communication options & next steps. For those of us on the wait list or those who had their request discarded we do not know what we can do at this time. It would be nice to know when the hotels will rooms available would be allowed to accept bookings. This goes back to communication. If CCI/OnPeak establish and communicate a tentative date within the waitlist email or on the CCI Hotels page we would at least have an idea what we can do.

5) Address the direct hotel booking blackout. This has been a major concern from my perspective for some time now and I think that this should be addressed to some degree. I think the “early sale” of the far-off hotels is no longer an acceptable option judging by the astronomical odds and effort it takes to obtain a downtown hotel room. Why are we prevented from booking rooms at downtown rooms at reasonable rates?

In my opinion I think CCI should arrange for a small allocation of downtown rooms to be available for direct booking once the badge sale is concluded. My suggestion would be 10 to 15 percent of the total number of available rooms. The offerings can be made pre-paid / non-refundable to ensure commitment by the attendee if there is a concern about cancellation. OnPeak is in the business all year-round so this can easily be facilitated through them. If there is additional cost I don’t think attendees wouldn’t mind in that block of rooms are at a slightly higher rate to offset the costs. Better yet sweeten the pot and insert a charity fee into the price where the proceeds go to local charities – everybody wins.

6) Have OnPeak staff on hand and available during the weekend and off-hours during the deposit processing period to assist issues processing deposits. Although notifications of results started Thursday OnPeak and CCI should take into consideration that the deadline of processing a deposit should not be due on a day or time when the OnPeak office is closed. A simple solution is to align the deposit deadline with OnPeak business hours.

Overall, I totally understand that the needs of everyone cannot be addressed due to the popularity of SDCC and the overwhelming demand for hotel rooms. What I am looking for, however, are improvements to the process and some control if we desire a downtown hotel room at a reasonable rate.

DRWHO42

Kevin aka "DRWHO42" watches a lot of TV and avoids spoilers like the plague. He is an avid Whovian, Trekker, fanboy, gamer, traveler, planner, self-professed gym rat, and Starbucks espresso loyalist. When not plotting out his schedule for the next tent-pole movie or watching his favorite shows he is on the hunt for pop-culture TV & Movie media news. More importantly he is a frequent attendee of San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) and New York Comic Con (NYCC). Follow him on Twitter @kevinDW42 @FoCCBlog