By Wes Smith
Eager attendees to the annual San Diego Comic-Con International convention received word on Thursday on their results for the hotel registration period known as #Hotelpocalypse.
Attendees waited online Tuesday to complete hotel reservation forms in a matter of minutes (even seconds in some cases) for the chance to snag one of the roughly 59,000 hotel “room nights” available near the San Diego Convention Center blocked out for the convention each year. Because of the demand for both SDCC and places to stay near the Gaslamp District, the day has become infamous among users for its stress and waiting periods.
As with previous years, attendees fill out a form online via the Travel Planners reservation company, listing their top six choice for hotels. Their selections are then prioritized first-come, first-served with submissions within three seconds of each other going into a randomized priority. Then, attendees wait for Travel Planners to confirm or deny reservations within the next two days. Numbers and exact figures are rarely given out, leaving attendees to collaborate via forums and social media to figure out the exact process and timing for the reservation system.
Typically, using information shared among attendees, the 48 room options in the historic Gaslamp District around Petco Park and the convention center have sold out in around two minutes of the submission form going live. Rooms near Hotel Circle and farther along SDCC’s complimentary shuttle route often have options well into the summer, but require longer wait times to get to and from the convention.
Such issues are common in the world of technology, especially in video game circles, and can be the result of internet browser plugins or insufficient testing. But with seconds becoming precious to making-or-breaking a person’s vacation plans, frustration was swift and loud in response.
According to several Twitter users and forums who called Travel Planners directly after submitting the “bad” forms, the company supposedly contacted Comic-Con International to resolve the issue. Users with bad forms would receive emails asking for a relisting of their top six hotels, and the timestamp used would be based off their original form so long as the address and info had been completed. Of course, with many users completing a bad form much faster than those using the traditional method, conflicts occurred and Travel Planners was met with more frustration, this time from those with legitimate forms.
With a near-blackout from Travel Planners P.R., hotel hopefuls were left waiting for any sign that their submissions had even been received. The company sends out a receipt confirming a submission had been sent before handling the actual reservations. With the glitches in the system, however, even these automatic receipts went out later than normal, with many still getting receipts in the afternoon on Thursday.
By late afternoon Thursday, reservations were doled out, but not until the phone lines at the Travel Planners office were closed for the day at 7 p.m. EST. As opposed to previous years where hotels were confirmed in alphabetical order, with denied applications going out first, the 2015 Hotelpocalypse emails were sent out in a seemingly random order, leaving many users waiting throughout the afternoon.
Final emails and rejections have largely been sent out, with the principle rush ending around 1:45 a.m. Though hotels farther from the convention center usually reopen their cancelled rooms, with April 8th set as the current relisting date, it is unlikely more Gaslamp hotels will be confirmed.
This year’s Hotelpocalypse highlighted growing frustration among attendees about CCI’s use of Travel Planners as a booking company and, by extension, the general growth of the convention since its explosion during the Twilight film era. Due to the current system, attendees of all types (Regular, Press, Professionals) are placed in the same pool, with only exhibitors receiving a separate block of hotels. Even well-known attendees, such as Crazy 4 Comic-Con’s Tony B. Kim are not immune to the shortfalls of the reservation system.
With the size of SDCC reaching sell-out rates every year as the country’s largest Pop Culture convention, CCI has few options available. Some have suggested switching to a different reservation company, and talks of the convention moving out of the city happen on an annual basis. The sheer demand for hotel rooms near the hotel create a bind to the non-profit organization, as the current system, while creating issues like this year, does provide housing at a discounted, contracted rate via an agreement the convention has with local businesses.
With the city of San Diego estimating a minimum economic impact of $135.9 million, the convention has become one of the highest driving forces in terms of yearly revenue. With such money at stake, every aspect of SDCC is scrutinized to a higher level, with the Hotelpocalypse being no exception.
CCI has given few hints as to their future plans in regards to the reservation system. For those lucky few who landed a hotel, however, the focus is on having survived yet another year.