Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Gordian Knot - ISC Trip Tickets Sales and what next?

On Monday I opened up the ISC Lounge and was fortunate enough to witness the spectacle that followed. As every Monday, Saturday Trip tickets went up for sale, this time for a trip to the exquisite piece of architecture named "Culzean Castle". I was highly impressed by how patiently all of you queued for your tickets - I have been involved with the ISC for over three years and to be honest, this was not always the case - so well done and keep up the good work!

ISC Trip to St. Andrews [see full album here]

Another issue that caught my attention was the speed with which all 69 tickets disappeared - 42 minutes must be our new record! Those of you who arrived after 12:42pm could not have therefore purchased any tickets and your reactions varied - disappointment was common, bitterness occasional, and in some cases our ticket sales system as such was questioned. These reactions are understandable - many of you are in Edinburgh only for a short period of time, be it a semester or two, and you are keen to explore this wonderful country. I am writing this short article in order to to clarify our current ticket sales policy, outline the reasons for it and allow you to express your opinions and take on any suggestions you may have - because all of us are the ISC!

Demand & Supply
Ticket Prices & Availability
As all of you hopefully know, the ISC is a non-profit organization that relies entirely on the eagerness of its dedicated volunteers and the generosity of the International Office. Our philosophy is to enable you to enjoy your time  in Edinburgh to its fullest possible extent, and therefore we strive to make out trips as affordable as possible and ensure that a sufficient amount of tickets goes on sale every Monday.

The latter often becomes rather contentious - available tickets  do sell out quickly. Nearly 150 tickets went up for sale for the St. Andrews Trip during the Freshers' Week and disappeared in three days; 100 Stirling tickets were gone in about two days, while 69 Culzean Castle tickets found its owners in record-breaking 42 minutes! Why do we keep selling less and less tickets, while demand remains high?

The answer is simple - capacity. We work closely with Historic Scotland and National Trust for Scotland to provide you with an opportunity to broaden your horizons outside the classroom. Each venue does, however, have only a limited capacity of large groups that can be admitted in - the smaller and more confined the venue is, the lower the capacity. In St. Andrews we were able to divide you up into three separate groups in order to get around this problem - one group went to see the castle, another one the cathedral, while the final group was given time to roam freely around St. Andrews. Unfortunately, what applies for bigger tourist attractions such as St. Andrews or Stirling does not apply to the likes of Culzean Castle - therefore only a limited number of tickets goes on sale, so your experience does not get spoiled by pointless waiting & queuing.

ISC Trip to Stirling [see full album here]

Ticket Sales Policy

Our Ticket Sales Policy is by far the most controversial issue in our functioning and has been an appearing and re-appearing point on the Core Committee agenda for as long as I can possibly remember. Saturday Trip tickets go on sale on Monday at 12 o'clock noon and can be purchased by matriculated University of Edinburgh students only - which would be alright if they did not sell out with such an astonishing speed. Some are lucky enough to have friends or flatmates queuing - please bear in mind that each person can buy two tickets - others are not that fortunate...

It is this speed that generates a lot of emotions, especially from those who for one reason or another failed to turn up at 12 o'clock and sometimes even queue before the actual sales time. We realize that not all of you can make it on Monday at 12 o'clock - you might have lectures at KB, have a training, a practical or be at work.

We have therefore gone through a number of suggestions. Some of you have suggested reserving tickets beforehand - unfortunately, this cannot be accomplished. We are not a tourist agency and therefore cannot afford to run an online or telephone reservation system and accept legal responsibilities that such reservation systems carry [to name just one - storing and processing your debit and credit card information]. 
Another suggestion has been releasing one half of tickets for sale on Monday and another half, let's say, on Tuesday - this again is not a solution, as it does not address the problem itself - what if someone turns up on Monday, only to realize that all the Monday tickets have been sold out and he/she cannot make it on Tuesday.

One final idea revolved around a ticket quota system, i.e. allocating a certain number of tickets to people that study in KB and/or medical and veterinary science people, who might have their practicals on Monday and cannot make it to George Square on time. Such a quota system give rise to another problem - how to allocate these tickets fairly and how to re-allocate them if, for example, there are some left over medics tickets? This clearly is not a solution...

Alexander cuts the Gordian Knot, by Jean-Simon Berthélemy from Wikipedia Commons

We therefore have no other option than keeping the current ticket sales policy and release trip tickets for sale on Monday at 12 o'clock [noon]. We do realize that the current sales policy is not entirely fair, but please recall Churchill's famous dictum: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." Our situation is somewhat similar and our current ticket sales policy is like democracy - or maybe even like the legendary Gordian Knot - if you feel like Alexander the Great, please send us your suggestion using the "Post a Comment" feature on the bottom of this page and I can guarantee you that it will be considered.


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