Many years ago, I attended the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. I had such a good time I have always spoken highly of it to Jessi. So we decided that 2022 was the year to finally make the trip. We were going west so Jessi could experience this amazing festival.
Tickets always go fast if you are looking to reserve a spot to camp at the balloon fiesta, which is a highly desirable way to attend for the week.
I planned and charted out the moment. The seconds ticked away and on the right date at the exact moment reservations opened, I clicked the button and…crickets. Nothing happened. I hit the button again and I see a dreaded error message that the site is unavailable.
Pop goes the Balloon Fiesta website
Apparently, we now know, the balloon fiesta website crashed seconds after opening to accept reservations.
I spent more than two hours on the computer trying to refresh the screen to gain access. In the meantime, I went to the balloon fiesta’s Facebook page to see if there was any information available. The only thing I found was dozens of other people saying the site was down and wondering what to do.
There was no information provided by the organizers for quite some time. Eventually they just posted that they knew something was wrong and their IT folks were working on it. Then we heard nothing more from them.
So I kept refreshing the reservations page, finding different error codes rotating through. I assumed the IT folks were trying different things to get the website working again.
I refreshed the fiesta’s homepage a few times, too, to see if there was any access there. But the entire website had crashed. Not wanting to continue burdening their resources, I stopped refreshing the home page. Instead, I concentrated on the page where they had sent everyone for reservations.
After an hour or so of no activity, I went back to the Facebook page to check on any status updates there. I happened to stumble upon a post from someone excited that they finally landed a reservation, by using the new link. New link? Huh?!
Apparently, the IT team restored the home page for the balloon fiesta and dropped a new link to a completely different reservation page. Those of us who were trying to access the original page were apparently just out of luck. Those who happened to go to the home page instead found a new link and were able to get reservations.
There were many unhappy people posting to Facebook at this point, and that’s quite an understatement.
I finally got the new site to load after several access delays, again I’m assuming due to the load put on the website. Finally! I thought I was going to be able to fulfill Jessi’s wish to see the balloon fiesta this year.
I chose the location of the area we wanted to camp in and it said there were 15 sites available. Phew, I got in just in time! I entered our rig info and clicked the button to find a site. The website announced it was searching…and then just sat there. After a bit of time had passed (while I was afraid to refresh and lose my site in “line,”), Jessi went to the new link on her computer. The site informed her nothing was available and provided a link to a waiting list.
I finally refreshed the page I was on. It said nothing was available and provided a link to a waiting list.
Waiting on the waiting list
So, Jessi and I decided to both put our emails on the waiting list, hoping some cancelation might occur. But we never received any confirmation by email so we weren’t even sure the system was working.
Days later, the organizers sent emails saying we were on the waiting list. It included an ominous warning about how if notified of availability, we have only 72 hours to act or they will bounce us from the list.
We also found out (via Facebook) that some people were stymied at the payment processing portion of the reservations. The system would time out or they never received confirmations so they tried again. Across Facebook there are people with anywhere from two to eight reservations trying to figure out refunds.
There was still no official communication from the fiesta organizers until mid-evening, and when they did post, there was no apology for the confusion regarding the delays or changing the process mid-way through.
What could Balloon Fiesta do?
So many failures occurred with the balloon fiesta reservation system this year:
- They should have known that, especially with it being the 50th anniversary, the demand would be high and to beef up the web server for heavy traffic.
- When the site did go down, they should have anticipated people flocking to the Facebook page. They should have had an active presence there with ongoing conversations to keep people posted on what was happening.
- They should have fixed the existing reservation site rather than creating a new one and putting the link in a completely different location.
- If they had to create a new one, they should have announced that on Facebook, as well.
Really, what they should have done after hours of people waiting in frustration was simply announce they were postponing reservations for a day and that we could all try again at the same time one day later. That would have put us all back on equal footing to snag a much-coveted camping spot.
Instead, the balloon fiesta website crashed and their customer service popped. It sounded a lot like the air rushing out of our dream of camping at the festival this year. Maybe we’ll try again in 2023. And maybe by then the organizers will have figured out how to run a website, or at least a customer relations program.