by: the Moleman
This is why you should test a system before implementing it.
Let’s go back to the beginning of all this. For some time now Chris (my Asst Editor) and I have been prepping for San Diego Comic-Con hotel reservations. It’s a ritual he & I go through each year as we do all we can to insure we are booked at our favorite hotel downtown- Embassy Suites San Diego Bay. Each year we’ve been quite fortunate over the last 4 years he’s been at it with me. Before that Scot (Chris’ predecessor) and I booked it with no issues each year since 2001. Now before I go on I should state that Comic-Con International does not handle the hotel bookings for the show, nor do they manage the process by which we all book/ reserve our room. This is a task that is farmed out to a company called Travel Planners. This year Comic-Con stated new measures were being put in place to help insure everyone was able to get a room. The key complaints over the last 2 years have been:
- the apparent lack of rooms considering how much the show has grown in the last 4 years
- the crappy online booking service that crashes/ locks up when you try to access it on booking day
- the incredible booking of every single available room in the SDCC system inside of 5 minutes
- phone lines that NEVER get through to Travel Planners
I’m sure there are a few others, but those are the key sticking points. After looking over the measures that had been put in place for this years “booking” system (because it’s not called “reservation” anymore) it appeared that there had been some well thought out changes put into effect.
- More Hotels- A total of 52 hotels available to choose from this year (38 downtown and 14 in Mission Valley & Mission Bay/ Seaworld areas)
- You would have to list 12 hotels in order of preference that you would like to “book”.
- You would have to put how much you were willing to pay for a room in case all 12 on your list were taken up already.
- As each “booking” was placed each would be timestamped. My guess is this was done in order to keep the system from getting bogged down with people making reservations. In effect all they had you do was fill out a webform.
- Each timestamped booking would then be taken by a Travel Planners associate and a reservation would be made on your behalf.
- You would then receive an email 3-5 hours after you had made your “booking” with your reservation confirmation.
- From that point you would have 5 days to pay for the first night of the hotel room as a deposit/ guarantee in order for that room to be held for you. This was done for two reasons. 1) to cut down on people booking multiple rooms and just holding them til the last minute (typically not using them) and 2) to make sure that people that booked a room were in fact paying for said room for the event.
So Chris & I spent Wednesday night scanning the hotel list thoroughly. Checking distance to the convention center on Google Maps and familiarizing ourselves with where our potential 12 choices were located in San Diego. After about 90 minutes of research and jibber-jabber we had our 12. Chris & I wished each other a good night and prepped for the next morning.
Thursday morning- Chris & I are up and conferencing by 8:30am PST. Our computers are all fired up, internet has been speedtested, phone (land not mobile) lines are clear and we go over the final details of our hotel choices. We hang up and open up our IM boxes to keep each other up on our status. For a moment at 9:00-9:01am it looks as if the Travel Planners site will get bogged down like it has for the last 4 years, then BAM! The site comes up and runs smoothly. Chris confirms it on his end as well and we start furiously filling out the form. Exactly the same all the way down, the only things differing are our names & email addresses. I finish at 9:07am and Chris at 9:10am. We both get the message letting us know our “booking” has been accepted and “timestamped” and that we will receive an email in the next 3-5 hours with our reservation information. Confident as can be Chris and I hang up our IM to get some much deserved breakfast. From here you would think things went smoothly… only they didn’t.
Even though I completed my “booking” first Chris received his reservation email first at 2:13pm. Travel Planners had booked Chris into a hotel that was not one of his 12 choices. Add to that it was not blocks away, but MILES away (5 miles to be exact). He called me to see how things faired for me, only I had not gotten an email yet. I gave it a day and figured I would call Travel Planners after I got out of work today (Friday). When I arrived home from work I saw that I had an email come in today at 9:48am and found that I had been booked into a hotel that was not only NOT one of my twelve choices, but was 7 miles away. I found it strange that I was booked at a hotel 2 miles farther away than Chris especially when you consider that I had finished filling out my “booking” form 3 minutes prior to him. According to the system they setup each “booking” would be timestamped and processed accordingly. Yet, when you look at these two instances:
- we were not notified within the specified time: 3-5 hours
- he received his email over 12 hours before I had and I had processed my “booking” 3 minutes prior to him
- he had a reservation made on his behalf by Travel Planners in a hotel that was 2 miles closer to the convention center than mine
How is any of this possible if Travel Planners was working this new system they had put into place?
I thought I would call Travel Planners to find out. A young man by the name of Ricardo came to my aid after holding for about 8 minutes. I explained to him my concern that I did not have a reservation made on one of my 12 choices and was baffled that in 7 minutes every hotel in the downtown area was completely booked. He completely ignored that and simply stated to me that I was booked in the the closest hotel that was still available in the system after my 12. I then asked Ricardo of Travel Planners how it could be that my friend who also booked a hotel was placed in one closer than I. His response was that it was based on his 12 hotel choices and preferences. A-HA! Then I informed him that was not possible because he & I had the exact same choices straight down. The only things that differed were our names & email addresses and on top of that I completed my booking 3 minutes before him. There was a brief pause, then an apology, and something to the effect of
“those are the rooms we have booked for you and that’s the way that it is”.
Now if I’m going to be 7 miles away I have no problems with that, but as a consumer I would like an explanation as to why things worked out as they did. You see my thinking was if there was this much of a discrepancy between just Chris and I, what if it was the same for hundreds of other people and due to Travel Planners mis-managing (of this new system) the same result was the case for others as well? So I asked Ricardo from Travel Planners to explain how it was possible to me but he could not because as he stated:
“I do not have a full understanding of how that system works”
That’s fair, so I asked to speak with a supervisor or manager above him that could break it down for me. He said “sure, no problem” and I was transfered… to the Comic-Con Manager’s Complaint Voice Mail. I damn near fell out of my chair laughing. A freaking voice mail, are you kidding me? Now I knew I was on to something. I called Travel Planners back and patiently waited my 8 minutes on hold and got another Service Rep on the phone. I began to explain the situation again and realize (Oh Snap!) it’s Ricardo from Travel Planners again. I let him know that I didn’t appreciate being transferred to a voice mail and that I would like to speak with a supervisor/ manager on the phone regardless of how long I have to hold (cause at this point I have all day). He tells me that there is no one available at that moment. I ask him to confirm that he has no superior there that is above him to which he replies:
“Yes, I do have a supervisor here but not one that can deal with this problem. For anything related to Comic-Con hotel booking I must transfer you to the voice mail.”
I continue to demand to speak with his supervisor because at this point it’s the principle of the matter. I am a consumer that is upset. I only want one of two things: A) Make the situation right or B) Explain to me how this happened so I can understand for myself. Resolution or explanation, not that hard. I have been a customer service manager for over a decade. It’s not hard to make the customer happy. He dismisses me and transfers me over once again to the Comic-Con Manager’s Complaint Voice Mail.
Then about 3.5 hours later Comic-Con posts the following on their Twitter page:
“To those who logged in yesterday for hotel opening, we apologize. The new system implemented by Travel Planners worked for some but for a significant amount it did not. We really do know how frustrating it is. We’re working to address this. We hope you’ll bear with us.”
I guess Ricardo from Travel Planners was wrong. That wasn’t just the way it is. At least Comic-Con International had the decency to apologize to it’s patrons. Let’s see if Travel Planners can exercise the same ethics here. We’ll keep you posted when we finally get a response from Travel Planners.