Yesterday’s mad hotel rush left us drained and disconsolate. We know we’re spoiled when getting a room one block away instead of three blocks away is cause for sorrow, but this time, for the first time ever, we were DENIED, like so many others. Like bitter, angry con goers around the world, we experienced the agony of selecting our favorite hotel, putting in our credit card number and hitting confirm…only to be confronted with a spinning beach ball for the next two hours. While anecdotal evidence would suggest the Travel Planner servers melted, that is really besides the point. It’s a lottery, and it’s been a lottery for a few years now. Close rooms were undoubtedly gone within 15 minutes or so, and by an hour in, only the dregs of Mission Bay were left. The whole “your request will be answered in the order received” malarkey is a nice idea but no server can withstand that kind of assault for long. It’s random, it’s chance, and we all need to accept that.

Luckily we had an entire team manning the computer lines, and got another room at the new Hilton. Plasma TV and beach side cafe, here we come! Others were not so lucky. And we feel their pain. But, in the end…that’s how it is now.

Even the New York Times covered the big event with a blog post by Michael Cieply:

About 125,000 fans visit the convention over four days, almost triple the typical attendance at the Sundance Film Festival, which stretches over a week and a half. In the summer, San Diego hotels fill up with tourists headed for Sea World, Legoland or a weekend of debauchery in Tijuana. So there is an annual scramble to land one of the rooms set aside for the convention by about three dozen hotels.

But clawing your way into an overpriced room in the Gaslamp Quarter is only half the fun. The really hard part is figuring out how to crack the security-barred doors of the convention’s giant Hall H, where the film studios preview their blockbusters, without standing in line with several thousand fans for several hours.

As of The Day After, outside hotel booking sites show a few rooms available, even some downtown: you can stay at the Marriott for $530 a night, for instance. The same room a week later goes for $269.

All this comes at a time when, believe it or not, San Diego is faced with a hotel room glut. San Diego County added more hotel rooms than any other place in California last year, with 2,049 new rooms opened in 2008. But the bad economy has made that a problem:

“With the economic fallout from the recession, there is probably no worse time for California to have a record number of new hotel rooms entering the market,” said Alan Reay, the report’s author. “Obviously, all those new hotels were planned during the boom years of 2005 to 2007. Unfortunately, they opened in what many are calling the most difficult economic climate in living memory.”

Since 2005, the state has added 24,000 new rooms, and as before, San Diego led other counties with 17 percent of that total.

Expensive corporate retreats are OUT in the new spartan economy.

Which makes our annual look at the money spent on Comic-Con even funnier this year. The 2008 Visitor report from the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau shows that the Single Can of Tuna Theory is still in effect. We’ve excerpted the report for easier viewing — the columns represent months from January on (click for a larger version):
As you can see, despite having 153,000 visitors in July, these pilgrims managed to spend a mere $32 million, far less than June’s 43,000 visitors who spent $79.5 million. That works out to the con’s 125K visitors spending exactly $272 each. Or, $68 a day. Obviously, they all slept in their cars and bought a single $5 footlong from Subway to see them through the day and a lone caramel frappuccino as a rare escape from their miserable existence.

Exactly how this jibes with the city’s 16,000 or so downtown hotel rooms all being booked solid at $300 a night is hard to explain, but we’re sure that someone at the CVB can tell us.

Maybe the CVB can also explain this search result for the term “comic-con” among their events:

Obviously, the non-existence of the con to city event planners has nothing to do with the hotel room shortage. But it is fun to point out every year.

As Tom and Mark and everyone else point out every year, you need to just bite the bullet and book your room for next year when you leave the show. The hotel lottery is too stressful and arbitrary for the needs of the very important people who actually make the comics. And everyone gets that now.

UPDATE: Oh PS, for all you number crunchers, lest we forget, David Glanzer has said many times that the con’s own economic impact study showed $60 million in spending:

In regard to dollars spent; the city has figures based on an economic impact study that shows Comic-Con spending at roughly $40,000,000. I’m not sure of their formulation, but our own survey, showed that attendee spending alone (this does not include our own expenditures for center rental etc., or exhibitor expenditures) topped $60,000,000. And that was just for attendee lodging, food, and purchases. Again, that figure does not include exhibitor expenditures, movie studio expenditure, or our own expenditures in putting on the show.


  1. All strong arguments for moving it to Vegas. Why bend over year after year for the city, travel planners and unappreciative businesses?

  2. I hate to be the one to tell you, but “unappreciative businesses” was really just the city again disguising his voice.

  3. I can drop $272 by just shaking hands with Bud Plant before the show opens – and twice that if I eat at Con concessions.

    I ended up with a room at the resort on Shelter Island (but I drive anyway, so no big deal to me).

  4. I didn’t even bother this year after having such a hard time last year. I ended up staying at my mom’s who lives 20 miles away and taking the trolly in to downtown. I have been going to the con since the 70s and that’s the first time I’ve done that since my first San Diego Con in 75

  5. “I hate to be the one to tell you, but “unappreciative businesses” was really just the city again disguising his voice”

    No…no…it can’t be…THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE! Wauughhhhhh!

  6. Maybe Congress can give the comics industry a Con Bailout? You know they must be comic book fans, all this talk of “crisis” this and “crisis” that…

    Seriously, there must be some racket to the hotel thing. It smacks of a dirty scheme somewhere. I don’t understand why it is so hard to book rooms– good rooms or otherwise- year after year.

  7. Hard to fault the businesses for being unappreciative when the income per visitor for SDCC is so much lower than for other events.

    Also, I did a little math: $300/night times 16,000 comes to $4.8 million per night, or $19.2 million for four nights. So the hotels get the lion’s share of that $32M leaving less than $13M for everyone else. Including the hotel bars, which I suspect get most of that remainder.

    And unless I miss my guess, that $32 does NOT include any of the exhibitors (and perhaps not even the event-licensed food vendors) inside the Convention Center, who are mostly from out of town. SDCC, being the type of consumer-oriented show where attendees buy stuff at the show, is different from a trade show such as CES where the focus is making deals and showing off products to be sold elsewhere. As such, it can never be as good a deal for the locals.

    In the past I’ve thought the show should move to Vegas, but — have you ever been to Las Vegas in July? Yarrg! You can’t even perspire — the dry air sucks the moisture straight out of your skin. (Although ironically I am going there in July, for a political conference, although it’s in a hotel and I plan to never leave there during the daytime.)

  8. Has anyone pointed out that something like half the conventiongoers at SDCC are “local” residents who don’t usually stay in hotels for the show? That was the figure bandied about several years back, so save your [citation needed] comments.

    The fact that the CVB doesn’t engage with the show on their website is kinda troubling, but not at all surprising.

    As for me, assuming I go (2-3 year wait on exhibitor space puts a chill on my enthusiasm), I’ll do what I’ve done every year since moving out of SD and book a hotel on the internet then trolley in to downtown (though you can park in Little Italy for 5 bucks all day and then move to another spot if you’re feeling brave.)

  9. _If_ they’re not counting hotel rooms, just cash spent in local businesses/etc _outside_ the convention center, $68/day might not be unreasonable. $10/lunch, $30/dinner, $28 booze. (OK $10/lunch, $10/dinner, $48/booze)

    A medical/pharma show would be $80/night just on dinner with the companies wooing potential customers.

  10. I seriously had a major panic attack waiting for the TP Housing site to not load. It just kept spinning endlessly. And I called both phone numbers every two minutes and couldn’t get anyone to pick up.
    After an hour I had to give up. Luckily my wife was able to get into the system later in the day and get SOMETHING.

  11. These days, there’s really no excuse for “servers melting down” when they know how heavy the traffic’ll be. You can easily buy time on Google or Amazon’s (or several others) cloud servers and scale up to any demand the hotel reservations will demand for a few hours of real time.

    As Heidi notes, it’s basically a lottery though. So the other alternative is to acknowledge that and do it via a time-distributed lottery system that removes the chokepoint. Two possibilities;

    1) You register over a several week period, entering your personal info sans credit card when you register. At time X, the system takes all the entered registrations and randomly orders them. Emails then go out to, say, the first 200 saying their hotel selection and credit card entry time will be date Y at 0900. Emails go to the next 200 saying their time will be at 0910. Continue until all are assigned a time. The email includes a unique password they use to get into the system, and said password is deactivated once a reservation is made.

    2) Distribute it even further. Register as above, but also rank all of your acceptable hotel choices. The lottery program selects the first person, makes their hotel reservation, then selects the second person, and so on. If your first choice is taken when your name comes up, it checks if your second choice is still available, and so forth. You get an email giving you a day or two to go to a site to confirm and enter credit card info.

    These aren’t particularly hard to code. I’m sure you could find open source types to do it for, say, getting priority on hotel booking and/or a line pass to Hall H/Room 20.

  12. Suggestion to anyone concerned about “unappreciative businesses” — make a point of going to at least one nice dinner in town, and tip well. There are dozens of good restaurants in the Gaslamp district right across the railroad tracks from the convention center.

  13. They could make Heidi the Hotel Queen and give her a giant throne and people could come and ask for their preferred hotels offering gifts in return and she could either grant their wishes or wave her scepter and banish people to Hotel Circle.

    It’d be worth staying in Anaheim if this could happen.

  14. You need to learn from the efficient Germans. 125,000 people at a US comic convention? That’s nothing. The Essen toy fair in Germany – (a country with a population that is a fraction of the US) attracts roughly 160,000 people who play test the new board games. And you know them Germans – I bet every single one gets a hotel room, and a clear autobahn direct to their hotel, with ample parking!

  15. “Oh Mistress Heidi, I come seeking shelter for the Gathering of the Tribes…preferably withing walking distance. I bring as an humble offering a VG copy of Amazing Fantasy #15, a Hal Foster Tarzan original, and a locket bearing the ashes of Whitney Ellsworth…”

    “Mission Valley La Quinta Inn, single, next to the laundry.”

    “…Plus a bootleg copy of the next three issues if Miracleman, which I stole from the lavatory of Jonathan Ross.”


    This pleases me. Go thou now to the Presidential Suite at the Hyatt, and give thy keys to the valet.”

  16. I like San Diego more than any other city in the US to which I’ve gone to cons, by a wide margin. That’s about a dozen. I don’t think there’s anything nefarious going on with the hotel rooms. I think they’re grinding as much money as they can out of a audience that wants a very specific subset (walking distance) of the county’s hotel rooms, but that’s the case in Louisville during Derby weekend, too. When the balance tips against the show, I’ll stop going. I don’t have a right to a specific con experience that I expect San Diego to provide.

    The city may undercount the money spent, but whether they do or not is somewhat debatable, too — comics fans are notoriously reluctant to spend money outside of the show and hotel rooms are either not used or shared and there’s a limit to them. And so on. Mostly I’m not really sure why that’s important. Do the other conventions get breaks based on their per capita spending that CCI doesn’t? Do they open up a special reservations hotline to Oceannaire when the bio/pharma convention hits town? I’m not sure what the return is supposed to be.

    I guess you could say that the reputation of the con bringing far less to the city than it really brings money-wise fuels a general contempt from the locals, but 15 years of witnessing the most horrible, fundamentally anti-social behavior from comics fans while in San Diego makes me think that if you’re engaged at all with the con you or a friend probably has a personal anecdote that trumps any vague feeling you might have received from trickle-down off of convention bureau statistics. On the whole I’ve had enormously positive experiences with locals while functioning in a normal manner, and (surprise!) less positive experiences when I was acting like a jackass. No one in my wider circle of friends every got it from a local when they weren’t, say, urinating outside a hotel or leaving their tip in the water glass. And since I’m no longer 12, I don’t care what the hotel clerk says to the other one about our Sapphire and Steel costumes when we leave the lobby.

    So for me: Like the con, like the city!

  17. After dealing with the spinning ball of doom for a half hour, I decided to try my luck at calling the phone number instead. Busy signals be damned, I got through by about 12:40 EST or so. Gave them my hotel choices, and wound up with my first choice: the Gaslamp Westin! Right across from the Ralph’s, walking distance from the con, $189 a night. Had I not decided to call instead, I would have dealt with spinning ball of doom for another hour I’m sure. Hooray for talking to real human beings!

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