Hello! I’m Rebecca Throne, aka nimbus, and I manage Ticketing for Burning Man, including Box Office operations on the playa. 2014 was a tough year for the Box Office, and if you were one of the many people picking up tickets at Will Call you may have had the misfortune of experiencing that firsthand. For some context: the Black Rock City Box Office operates 24/7 for 11 days. In 2014, some participants on five of those days experienced excessive wait times of up to seven hours or more, which is unacceptable by any standard.
- As has been our policy in previous years, all tickets sold through the OMG Sale, STEP, the Low Income Ticket program, and those sold to international participants were held for Will Call pick up at the Box Office. This is in addition to tickets bought in our other sales by those who choose Will Call pick up.
- In 2014, the Box Office was faced with even more volume than ever. We were able to add some late-season ticket releases, which were all distributed via the Will Call-only channels of STEP and the OMG Sale in August.
- With the change of ticketing partners in 2014, we had to get up to speed with learning a new system and training the Box Office team, some of which took place onsite.
- The introduction of vehicle passes in 2014 meant we were handling twice as many physical things, so each transaction took a bit longer.
- We were understaffed for the flow of tickets and people coming to the Box Office for tickets.
A tremendous amount of information-gathering, research, and strategizing has taken place since the event. In addition to collecting input from community discussions we’ve been monitoring online, we’ve also conducted our own in-depth debrief process, and hosted a cross-departmental forum to gather potential solutions. We’ve gotten a ton of valuable input, and we’ve incorporated much of it into our approach for 2015.
So what are we doing to fix it?
It’s important to understand that there is no single silver-bullet panacea that will fix the problem. Just as the long wait times were a byproduct of numerous systems buckling under increased stress, the approach to solve it will also need to be multi-pronged. Here are a few of the changes we’re working on:
- For the first time, you’ll be able to choose to have your STEP and OMG Sale tickets shipped to you. This alone can reduce volume by thousands of orders, and has the potential for the largest impact in reducing overall traffic to the Box Office. We are also investigating alternative shipping options for international ticket buyers.
- We are increasing staffing levels at the Box Office. With more people to assist participants, we’ll be able to process more requests in a shorter period of time.
- We’re designing a better model for Box Office operations, including changes to our roles, reengineering our training process, and expanding the number of days the Box Office is open to take care of Early Arrivals and staff.
- And finally, we’re redesigning our physical infrastructure (adding more windows and shade, implementing some ‘queue theory’ best practices, increasing informational signage, etc.) so it can better handle the load and make for a smoother experience for everyone (it wasn’t fun for us, either!).
While print-at-home tickets has been floated as a possible solution, there are a number of practical reasons we believe this is not the best fit for Burning Man, the most important being our commitment to preventing counterfeiting (there is no way to prevent print-at-home tickets from being photocopied). Other, more cultural reasons, include the fact that gifting physical tickets is a longstanding tradition in our community. We’re positive we can address the Box Office’s challenges without that solution right now, but we will continue to revisit the idea as necessary.
We are learning from our experience in 2014 and making changes in order to get it right in 2015. We’re using this as an opportunity to optimize our systems, and to ensure you have the best possible experience at the Box Office in the future. All told, we hope to cut the number of transactions at the Box Office down by nearly half.
How can you help?
There are a number of things you can do to help both before, and when you arrive, at the Box Office:
- If at all possible, have your tickets shipped to you. Choose the delivery option that works best for your travel plans. Last year we expanded our offerings to include UPS 2nd day, which is especially helpful for those traveling long distances who leave home long before the event begins, and have opted for the security of Will Call in the past. This option gives more people the viable option of delivery instead of Will Call.
- If you or anyone you know (like somebody in your vehicle, for instance) is expecting to pick up an order from the Box Office, encourage them to be prepared, with their order confirmation and valid legal ID handy. This will speed up processing times.
- Join us! We’re greatly increasing our Box Office staff this year. We screen folks heavily for accountability and specialized skillset, and so we frequently rely on personal referrals. If you are looking for a new playa family and have great in-person customer service experience, are savvy using point-of-sale systems, are the epitome of grace under pressure, and/or are a front-of-house ninja, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and fill in/update your volunteer questionnaire to indicate that you want to work with Box Office. (Keep in mind that because we make a significant investment in training people, we require our crew to work a minimum of four 6-hour shifts.)
I hope this helps give a better understanding of what created the situation we faced in 2014 and what we’re doing to address it. Please know that we are keenly aware of the problem, we agree that what happened in 2014 was unacceptable, and we are confident the changes we are implementing will significantly improve the Box Office experience for 2015.
I invite you to leave your thoughts in the comments below – we look forward to reading them and continuing the conversation.