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Spring General Booking 2013: An Apology

Some bookers experienced problems with the ROH website when booking opened last week.

By Rob Greig (Chief Technology Officer)

22 January 2013 at 11.26am | 35 Comments

Spring booking opened last Tuesday 15 January and the Royal Opera House website experienced a record volume of visitors to its booking pages. As a result, a number of people trying to book their tickets for our productions found it difficult or impossible to complete their bookings (4.8% throughout the day, 7% in the first hour). This is extremely disappointing to them and to us.

We work hard to provide services appropriate to our reputation and believe it is unacceptable that any of our audience cannot purchase tickets through the website because of technical shortcomings. Every single error matters to us, and we apologize to everyone who encountered a fault when trying to book.

The upgrading of the website technology to make your booking easier has been developed with your expectations in mind. The booking failures faced on Tuesday were the result of the volume of people trying to book tickets as soon as booking opened.

The first ten minutes after booking opens are extremely busy, with thousands of people all over the world trying to buy the tickets they want. On Tuesday this period lasted for several hours. On top of this the number of people trying to book was almost double the number who tried when the last booking period opened in October. We had planned for an increase in visitors, but we did not expect the volume to be as large as this.

The previous booking website held bookers in a virtual ‘waiting room’ before allowing them to purchase tickets, which caused huge delays for most visitors before any selections of tickets could be made at all. The new site allows a far larger number of bookers to buy tickets at the same time. It does this by holding the tickets and other product information for each visitor until all their purchases are complete. You pay once, only after selecting everything you want. However, with such an enormous volume of people trying to use the website, the amount of information to be retained as people completed their purchases was enormous – greater than even our upgraded systems could retain. That is why some people found their basket was empty even though they had selected tickets.

We do understand the incredible frustration for everyone who encountered a problem and who were unable to complete their purchases on Tuesday, especially since the high demand meant that tickets rapidly became unavailable. We promise that we are doing all we can to ensure that by the next booking opening we will be better prepared for this increase in volume.

By Rob Greig (Chief Technology Officer)

22 January 2013 at 11.26am

This article has been categorised Off stage and tagged booking, spring season, website

This article has 35 comments

  1. Stuart Mellin responded on 22 January 2013 at 12:16pm Reply

    I initially had the aforementioned "empty basket" glitch as I attempted to buy tickets at 10am. However, by 10.20am, I had managed to purchase the required tickets and had my confirmation e-mail within the hour. Even with the website error, this was far quicker than the several hours queuing I encountered with the old website. Thank you, I look forward to May.

  2. You should have separate start booking dates for Opera and Ballet. Isn't this what Friends have?

    • DaveM responded on 23 January 2013 at 2:53pm

      YES! Splitting ballet and opera opening booking days makes huge sense, as its mainly the obsessives of each artform like me (for ballet), that create the problems in the first few mins

  3. Kevin Darnell responded on 22 January 2013 at 12:38pm Reply

    You would probably reduce the number of people simultaneously attempting to access the web site if you had separate initial booking days for the ballet and the opera. Kind regards.

    • Chris Shipman (Content Producer (Social Media and News)) responded on 22 January 2013 at 1:14pm

      We have opted against separate booking days as we believe it would inconvenience public booking customers even more by asking them to book on two separate days (though some Friends levels do have split booking days, we are looking to unify these). The issue was caused by exceeding available memory and the server issues were a symptom of the problem rather than the cause. We are working hard to resolve this for the next booking day.

      Thanks for your comment,

      Online Content Producer

    • Jody Brookes responded on 22 January 2013 at 6:24pm

      I think clearly you're going to have to have separate initial booking days if you can't accurately predict the demand for tickets. I think if you'd had staggered the opening of booking for diff events you would not have had this problem on this occasion. I think it's more of a frustration not to be able to get tickets you want than come to a site and find out booking hasn't opened yet for the show you want.

  4. Beth Martin responded on 22 January 2013 at 1:01pm Reply

    I found the whole experience deeply frustrating and preferred the old system where at least you knew that you would ultimately be part of a straightforward process! I had to try repeatedly to buy tickets and, having logged on first thing and seemingly secured excellent tickets, these then reverted to "empty basket". I subsequently got several different error messages and it took me about an hour to finally get some tickets - but not as good as I'd hoped.

  5. Simon Pascal responded on 22 January 2013 at 1:51pm Reply

    I agree with others that there should be separate booking days for opera and ballet. I would not consider it an inconvenience, and surely it would help to control volumes. Unless of course you are 100% confident that the problems will be resolved before the next booking day!

  6. francois responded on 22 January 2013 at 2:31pm Reply

    I really appreciate your "mea culpa" and efforts to improve the service, it shows great concern for customer comfort and you are one of the very few Houses in the World to show such a transparent customer-oriented approach.

    However, just to inform you, I had another kind of technical issue when I tried to book for Nabucco/Domingo last October: my mouse-click on the seating plan just did not react, looking paralyzed during two full minutes (though there were still about 30 seats available), probably because we were dozens of people trying to simultaneously click on the same seat (I never have this issue when I book off peak-periods, the process is very easy and fluent)... When I tried again 2 minutes later the performance was sold out. It was really frustrating...

    I recently read on a French blog that someone faced the same issue for Don Carlo booking, so perhaps there is some bug to fix regarding the clicking process at peak booking periods

    Kind regards

  7. Robert Wall responded on 22 January 2013 at 2:49pm Reply

    "We PROMISE that we are doing all we can to ensure that by the next booking opening we WILL be better prepared for this increase in volume."

    I thank you for your PROMISE, Mr. Grieg on behalf of, I'm certain, many hundreds of others. This last booking period was for many, certainly myself, an exercise in frustration. (Certainly MORE frustrating than any previous booking period I have known - and there have been a goodly few.) In no way can such an experience be said to be befitting of a Royal Opera House. When I called the ROH box office - after spending THREE HOURS trying to get the tickets I wanted - and finally spoke to a lovely ROH assistant as I wanted to ensure that all the items in my 'upcoming events' listing weren't going to disappear or reappear in a differing number (as had been happening for hours in my account's in-basket), he (it was a male) said that he and the other ROH staff around him had been so frustrated themselves that they 'had their hammers ready' to deal with the system in their own unique way. Believe me, I knew how he felt. I, of course, not being employed at the ROH had also to make up for the considerable length of time I had to take out of my work day to attend to this booking (which certainly I saw as a priority). In light of ALL, I CANNOT THANK YOU ENOUGH for your personal PROMISE Mr. Grieg to see that this WILL not happen again. Bless you. BLESS YOU BIG TIME.

  8. Damian responded on 22 January 2013 at 2:52pm Reply

    Frankly, for a world class organisation to have this sort of technical issue is a joke. I saw my tickets disappear from the basket, only for me to recapture them when the half-hour moratorium expired; and then for them to disappear AGAIN!
    I'd rather have a stable platform - even if this means time in the waiting room - rather than end up, as I did, on hold on the phone for over an hour after an extremely frustrating hour on the website.
    Deeply disappointed customer here...

  9. Simon Heartfield responded on 22 January 2013 at 3:02pm Reply

    A huge venue like the Barbican sells thousands of tickets with no problem presumably because they don't put all their film, theatre and exhibition tickets on sale simultaneously. I've encountered a problem EVERY time I've tried to buy tickets from the ROH site.

  10. Lee McLernon responded on 22 January 2013 at 3:17pm Reply

    An interesting response on the suggestion that ballet and opera are separated. The ROH took the decision not to inconvenience members of the public but it's perfectly acceptable to inconvenience Friends (who have paid for the privilege).

    • Stephen Follows responded on 22 January 2013 at 8:59pm

      I note also, Lee, that the response from Mr Shipman is the one post on this page which does not have a reply button. Do you think he's afraid of what those replies might contain?

      Excellent point about the Friends, by the way.

    • Chris Shipman (Content Producer (Social Media and News)) responded on 23 January 2013 at 1:16pm

      Hi Stephen,

      The lack of a reply button is due to the Content Management System the site uses omitting this feature, rather than a moderation option that can be turned off. We do very much value the feedback and comments and, as previously stated, are very sorry for the recent Public Booking experience.


      Online Content Producer

  11. David Crayford responded on 22 January 2013 at 9:11pm Reply

    Being a Friend, my heart sinks at the proposal regarding separate booking days. You say "Though some Friends levels do have split booking days, we are looking to unify these days." I have had the same problems people are complaining of here, such as choosing seats apparently available but which are not, even with separate booking dates.
    Given the history of problems with booking at peak times might it not be helpful to ask Friends what they want before making yet another change to put more pressure on your system? As I also book sometimes as a member of the public I support those opting for separate days, on the basis of past experience.

  12. Anne responded on 22 January 2013 at 10:12pm Reply

    As a friend I like the fact that there are separate days for opera and ballet. It gives me the opportunity to concentrate on one group of bookings at a time. Also if I an not free to book on one of the days, all is not lost , I can still priority book for the other events, In addition, as you say that the problem was caused by the large number of tickets being purchased, surely friends are buying a large proportion of the seats so if you were to bring the two days together the situation would be even worse than last weekfor general booking..
    As well as apologising for the loss of tickets we experienced, it would also be appreciated if you apologised for the fact that when it happened we were told that the fault was ours for having too many baskets open!

  13. Matt Durcan responded on 23 January 2013 at 8:53am Reply

    Could you assure me that the staff payment system at the RoH is as bad as the booking system? - it is evident what the RoH considers acceptable to customers. Why aren't you using a web service - the bookings may be a big deal for the RoH but on a world scale just a tiny blip. Promises cost nothing, did I read "or I'll resign/get sacked" in your statement. So why should anybody say thank you for failure/nothing?

  14. Elizabeth Brookes responded on 23 January 2013 at 10:07am Reply

    This is embarrasing for a so called world class venue - as others have said you are not the only people who sell large amounts of tickets in one go. I wonder at what stage you will realise that its not acceptable to have any errors at all, its not a one off - you have had problems at other times such as putting us a in queue then kicking us out after four hours or so when we were about to go through. We missed 20 mins of Les Miserable at the cinema trying to work through this pitiful rubbish, and then we discovered that my husbands account had been " merged" with another account! The MOST we have had for this in terms of an aplogy has been a weak " sorry". I think you should go to John Lewis which is the pinicle of customer service and learn some lessons from them., I am uttlery disgusted. We only kept going as we had promised my daughter the tickets to see alice in wonderland. Embarrasing.

  15. Hi! I still think you should reconsider separating Opera and Ballet booking. It works for the Friends.

  16. I had problems when I booked a ticket for Nabucco, problems with the Friends Booking and especially problems with the spring public booking. I never had such problems with waiting in the queue.
    Disappearing tickets in the basket was only one of the several problems. I finally got tickets but not those which I wanted.
    On January 16 I noticed that nearly 300 tickets for the already sold out performances of Don Carlo with Jonas Kaufmann became available, just wondering where these tickets came from? Held back by the house or eaten up by the booking system the day before.

    • Chris Shipman (Content Producer (Social Media and News)) responded on 23 January 2013 at 1:11pm

      Hi Marion,

      These tickets would have been from the Public allocation and were released on 15 January.

      Sorry to hear about your experience, as Rob says above, we are working very hard to ensure this doesn't happen again.

      Online Content Producer

  17. Nick Edwards responded on 23 January 2013 at 1:27pm Reply

    There seems to be a difference of opinion here regarding the separation of ballet and opera booking. Perhaps you might consider adding it as a question on your email questionnaires as to whether the customer would support two separate booking dates. That way, you are collecting information from only people who actually go to ROH and the extra hassle from an office admin point of view of collecting the information should be minimal

  18. Lawrenson responded on 23 January 2013 at 1:45pm Reply

    After abandoning the disappearing website and vanishing tickets I opted to phone but the best I achieved was 48th in the queue. I so decided I should not pay more for my phone call than I would for my ticket

  19. John Rose responded on 23 January 2013 at 5:00pm Reply

    Please DO NOT combine Friends' Ballet and Opera application days into one. In the light of all the above comments,it makes no sense whatsoever.
    Please also re-establish the "Waiting Room". At least we know where we are in the pecking order.

  20. Alison responded on 24 January 2013 at 10:14pm Reply

    Another option which nobody has mentioned would be going back to what you used to do and having more booking periods. It used to be that there were half-a-dozen, so no more than 2 months' worth at any one time. It would make things a little less painful on the credit-card front, too.

  21. Mark Bennett responded on 25 January 2013 at 6:27pm Reply

    Well, unlike some patrons I didn't get what disappeared from my basket, and ended-up with inferior tickets and not on the nights I wanted. But at least now I know it was 'the system'; I've spent an entire week beating myself up because I thought I'd done something wrong and emptied my basket MYSELF! I've started to get nervous whenever I access the RoH website - dreading to see what has gone wrong or who is ill next. Here's to a stable season with no nasty surprises.

  22. Stephen Diviani responded on 25 January 2013 at 6:31pm Reply

    I would prefer not to go back to the 'Waiting Room'. I take John Rose's point about knowing where you were in the pecking order but it used to drive me bonkers. The current system, when it works properly, is far and away the better option.

  23. Given that the majority of people above (including Friends) DON'T seem to want the same booking day for ballet and opera, why on earth would the ROH consider unifying the Friends booking days and not consider separating public booking into opera & ballet? What's the point of allowing feedback via comments but then ignoring that feedback?

  24. Valerie Knight responded on 26 January 2013 at 8:21pm Reply

    Having read the above comments out of interest I am dismayed to learn that you are planning to unify the ballet and opera booking dates for Friends. Please don't! Fortunately, I've been lucky with the new booking system so far but I always find it a nerve wracking experience. Unless you are going for 3rd or 4th cast (ballet) telephone booking is hopeless.

  25. ema responded on 27 January 2013 at 1:47am Reply

    When you have opened the booking for the spring season I had many problems with the website,I AM VERY DISAPPOINTED as i spent almost 2 hours trying to book tickets for Don Carlo and Alice in wonderland, wasting my time because my basket was, at the moment of the check out, always empty. I have always had problems with your website but this time it was too much. The result ? I could not buy ticket for Don Carlo and i have got quite bad seats for Alice in wonderland plus 2 hours wasted.

  26. Sebastian Petit responded on 28 January 2013 at 10:03am Reply

    I would like to sound a positive note. On the whole I have found the new booking system vastly better than the old one. My recent bookings on bog standard Friends' days have gone through in a matter of minutes instead of having to section off hours to allow for the waiting room. However I would ask that you don't combine the booking days for Friends?
    And going on my experience of other major opera house booking sites the RO leads the pack by some distance! And the comparison with the Barbican is absurd - They don't host anything like the number of events or to anything like the audience levels! Also very few of their events attract the sort of worldwide interest that a Kaufmann Don Carlo or a Domingo Nabucco attracts!

  27. Richard Glassberg responded on 30 January 2013 at 9:12pm Reply

    It's more than 'unacceptable' it's misplaced for an institution with the prestige of the Royal Opera House, in this, the 21st century, when plenty of other companies manage to run websites that don't implode as soon as booking demand is too high. What I think made people, including ourselves, especially irked, was the constant failure of the system to acknowledge 'purchased' seats. By the time the seats were in the basket and details were needed for payment, the seats had mysteriously vanished and this happened (to us, as I imagine it probably did for the many) on not one, but THREE successive occasions until we were obliged to book for seats on a day we were less keen to take!

    While I accept that an increase in demand double that of last year might not have been entirely expected, you would have thought that it might have been anticipated, or tested, to ensure that balletomanes received tickets for which they were entitled by virtue of having, technically, booked them?!

    Let us hope that this kind of grand glitch is avoided as the booking process is nearly always a fraught, tricky, cumbersome and sometimes downright unjust chance of persistence against technology!

  28. Edward Brown responded on 2 February 2013 at 3:51pm Reply

    I second the comments that combining Ballet and Opera bookings is a very silly idea - they are separate for Friends and given the problems that have occurred far from combining them for Friends they should be separate for public booking as well. However, on a positive note I did find the new booking system better than the waiting room where even if you logged in at c.10.01 you rarely got through the waiting room until 10.45 at best!

  29. Wirz responded on 5 February 2013 at 1:41am Reply

    I definitely find the new booking system better than the old one with the waiting room. And I had in the past, with the old system much more problems than with the new system.

    We also had problem this time, but were lucky to get cards.

    In the big picture I can only make a huge compliment to the ROH. Compared to other opera houses booking tickets is soo much better and easier. The overall approach of ROH to always keep a certain contingent of tickets available for people without an abandonment or friends card is GREAT! In some opera houses you have nearly no chance to get cards if one is not going over very expensive resellers or has a season card.

    As “friend of the ROH” I am used to have two different days to book Opera and Ballet (and a third one for “Packages”) and I definitely prefer it this way. It helps to concentrate one day on Ballet and another on Opera – So, please NO COMBINATION OF BOOKING DATE FOR BOTH OPEAR AND BALLET. For me this would not increase the comfort but decrease it quite a lot (besides creating additional peak time and a bigger challenge for IT :-).

    Also with this last problem – in general I am very happy with the service delivered from ROH and I always get friendly support by phone. THANKS for all the people working on making this happen and to continuous improve the service.

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