The Beat‘s Wednesday couldn’t have stuck to a better schedule. Whereas on some days we struggle to get up before noon, we woke up before the alarm clock even went off, refreshed and energetic. By 11 we were showered, fed and caffeinated with a brisk cup of Vietnamese coffee. All of our computers were up and running, the modem line was secure, the phone charged, the credit card was near at hand. At 11:55 we had the San Diego convention site loaded up and ready to refresh. At 11:58 we put on “Come With Us” by the Chemical Brothers for that added little boost, and then…it was showtime.
The hotel site live, we loaded it up in four or five windows, waiting for the little blue bars to fill up. We didn’t hit refresh because that way lies disaster. A sip of coffee, and then…success! The hotel form! We hit our preferred housing site — The Omni, home of free wifi and movie stars — and waited…NOT AVAILABLE.
Just like when you’re hunting for an apartment in New York City, at moments like these you have to make a snap judgement. There’s no “think about it”. There is only “do”. We hit our sentimental favorite hotel, The Horton Grand, which is sort of out of date and yes, the staff is cranky, but, hell the toilets have pull chains. Old skool. We hit it again. Rooms available. Name, address, credit card…we kept forgetting to check the boxes to approve everything, so had a nerve wracking wait. A bad feeling crept over us. The blue bar moved so slowwwwwly. Would THIS be the year? Could this be the disaster we’ve avoided for so long? A shadow of fear furrowed The Beat‘s brow. And then…sweet, sweet confirmation. A HOTEL ROOM! WE ARE SAVED. The time: 12:30.
Our personal mission accomplished, we attempted to go back in to upgrade…and turned on AIM. And there the sorrows began.
Crashing…freezing…timed out. Everywhere the story was the same. Good people, good friends. Five miles out. Unhappy face.
The great San Diego Cow Race For a Room is now as much a part of the con experience as stormtroopers and $5 convention center cokes. This poor fellow has a minute second by second account of his agony…but why bother reading it when so many people had the same experience? Even superstars of the comics, like Paul Dini:
We called on automatic redial from three different phone lines and got three solid hours of busy signals. When we got on the site via computer, it noted our room choice, told us it needed to take our credit card information, then put up the goddamn spinning ball on our screen for forty minutes. Then the goddamn spinning ball stopped spinning, the screen asked us for our credit card info again, then the ball went back to spinning for forty minutes. At no time were we allowed to actually access the screen to give our credit card info. Madness.
Now you’d think that the showrunner for COUNTDOWN would know he has a room waiting for him in DC’s doubtless large block but…no one wants to get left out.
The situation was a bit better with exhibitors, as it should be. One of our good pals emailed with this tale:
At SDCC 2007, Comic-Con gave exhibitors the chance to sign up to have the show organizers handle your hotel reservations. Since then, I’d get e-mails from them saying they couldn’t confirm anything until after hotels went live to the public, so we’d still have to go the same route as everyone else with calling over and over and reloading the website etc. But late last night I got an e-mail from Travel Planners confirming our reservation for our hotel. I believe it was our first or second choice, from the list we gave them at the end of last year’s show. All I had to do was call and give them a credit card for the deposit, and after 3 mins on the phone this morning (Travel Planners is in NYC, no need to wait till noon), I was set.
Now before anyone cries foul, this is exactly how it should be. Exhibitors must be at the con center early, and they don’t have time to suffer through an hour drive through horrible traffic and no parking. They have to load and unload. They are there to make money, yes, but also as the star attractions of the show. They are what puts the comic in Comic-con. We polled a few exhibitors on this year’s Hoteloween and heard no major horror stories–the con seems to have handled this properly.
To be blunt, some of the whining and crying in the comments section of the San Diego hotel blog is just crap whining and crying — so many people got hung up, there were NEVER going to be that many rooms available. That said the the Travel Planners website is good and fucked and became an instrument of exquisite torture yesterday. It should not have dashed the hopes of so many people who thought they were in, only to get kicked off. That was cruel and unnecessary. If a web site is overloaded it should just time out and not lead right up to the confirmation before dropping you like a hot potato.
But, in the larger sense, as we’ve written here each and every year, unless Fae Desmond and David Glanzer pick up a pick axe and steam shovel, and personally start building a hotel, there are just not enough hotel rooms to go around.
That’s just the way it is.
Oh sure, if we’d gotten screwed we’d be weeping as hard as anyone. We had a back-up room booked which we’ll give to some deserving pal. But we wanted to be where we like to be, not at the Marina or Airport.
As we write each and every year, the keys to understanding the San Diego Problem can best be understood by perusing the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau website. Particularly the reports to be found on the media page. According to various reports, there are just upwards of 54,000 hotel rooms in San Diego county. We’ve lost the spreadsheet we once had, but there are probably around 16-20,000 hotel rooms that could be considered “close” to the convention center, in the downtown area. (You can’t get on the TP site right now, or we’d do a fresh count.) This report shows planned hotels, which add up to perhaps about 1600 additional “close” rooms next year.
Actually, there are some oddities regarding these facts and figures, although just what they mean is open to question. We’ve cut ‘n’ pasted a report on last year’s convention attendance. You can view that below. Click for a larger version. We’ve highlighted June and July.
What’s really interesting is that according to this, the 150,000 visitors from July still spent $19 million less than June’s 8 conventions with 92,552 attendees. Who are these high rollers? Sadly we haven’t figured out how to go back in time and look. We can look at the 2008 schedule for the SD Convention Center which lists several shows in June and July, none with more than 23,000 attendees. Interestingly, the Comic-Con is listed but no attendance estimate is given.
There’s something slightly shennaniganistic about all this — although it still doesn’t mean you should have gotten a hotel room. This story from a San Diego business paper says the biggest show in ’06 was for The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, although it allows that Comic-Con is part of the cultural “fabric”:
Our ongoing success is bringing new challenges. Many of our most valued clients that generate the largest economic impact and tax revenues are outgrowing our facility. In 2006, HIMSS was our largest event in economic terms as it generated nearly $82 million in economic impact and $1.75 million in taxes and attendees used 63,000 hotel room nights. But HIMSS has outgrown our current size. Comic Con International is another example. What started as a small show in a hotel ballroom now uses the entire Convention Center. Without more space, Comic Con will outgrow our current facility resulting in a significant loss to the cultural fabric of San Diego, as well as an economic loss to local hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions.
Tensions between the townies and the furries continue to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the evolving cultural fabric of the convention, and we can’t say we’re entirely unsympathetic to it. No one likes a big parade going over their front lawn. San Diego, the city, has an uneasy relationship with the con; far from claiming it as a signature, star-studded event, it is generally considered an afterthought. This PR from the mayor’s office admits that Comic-Con is an important piece of return business for the city, but says the Environmental Systems Research Institute show is an even BIGGER part of the city’s economics, attracting approximately 15,000 specialists in geographic information system software.
These 15,000 map-muddlers generated some $46.5 million in economic impact for San Diego in 2006. Comic-con? A mere $32.1 million. Doing the math, a geographer computer nerd spends $3100 in San Diego. A stormtrooper, a scant $267 (based on an estimate of 120,000 attendees in 2006.)
Something about these numbers seems a bit wack. For instance, say only 20,000 of those 120,000 stayed in hotels. Let’s say they averaged $1000 for their hotel stays. That alone is $20 million. Now, say each of those 120,000 people had subsisted on a single can of tuna fish a day from Ralph’s. That’s another million dollars right there.
Perhaps the comic-con attracts a ton of locals who don’t book hotels and buy their nightly rations at a Ralph’s over in Carlsbad? Whatever. Considering the mayor’s reported low opinion of the con, it’s tempting to read an agenda into these numbers, but there could also be some other factors at play we’re not aware of. And yes, people with an expense report do spend a lot more than an indie cartoonist who lives on hummus.
So the crisis continues. The laws of supply and demand continue in logical fashion. Fewer people will go to the show this year, perhaps, because of the hassles and pains. And things will ease up. A little. And then more people will go again and the cycle begins anew. The bucket is only so big.
We do know one thing: we’re willing to bet any amount of money that if we polled those 15,000 geographer computer nerds they would much rather be at Comic-Con than ESRI.