Hooray! Hong Kong gets ticket booking apps fit for the smartphone era

Hongkongers who have endured years of frustration using web booking services such as Cityline that were conceived in the desktop era can finally buy tickets via their phones using apps with benefits too for event organisers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 December, 2015, 5:46am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 December, 2015, 5:46am

When it was announced that last month’s Hong Kong-China World Cup soccer qualifier would be staged at Mong Kok Stadium, the first question asked by fans was how many tickets would be made available, and the second was how could people get their hands on them.

And that’s when reality struck.

With a stadium capacity of just 6,000, numbers were always going to be restricted (about 3,000 were eventually offered to locals) and demand was always going to outstrip supply. But when fans looking for online purchases were directed towards Cityline, the air of resignation was palpable.

History has shown that the service simply fails to rise to the big occasion – the annual Hong Kong Sevens, the biggest gig in town, took its custom elsewhere after countless complaints from disappointed customers.

The Cityline service was down or sketchy from 9am on November 4 when tickets for the qualifier went on sale, and by the time they had all been sold – not long after midday – normal service had still not resumed. Disappointed fans took to social media to vent their collective spleens.

“Cityline fail at major sales event without fail, as usual”, was one posting that seemed to sum up the general mood.

But market demand is, thankfully, almost always met by supply, and the past few years have seen an expansion in the platforms on which the Hong Kong public can buy tickets to major events.

It’s a welcome revolution that’s meeting the growing demand for simple, instant and reliable service.

Clockenflap – staged just over a week after the soccer qualifier – was a case in point, with smartphone access to ticketing, smartcard access for food and drinks over the weekend, and barely any complaint.

The Ticketflap platform grew out of Clockenflap’s expansion from its origins at Cyberport to its current home on the West Kowloon waterfront, as festival organisers identified a gap in the market.

“Ticketflap was created to make it as easy as possible for people to buy tickets and for event promoters to sell tickets,” says Martin Haigh, the company’s chief executive. “There were no modern ticketing solutions available in Hong Kong. So we created one.”

The “paperless ticket” concept has been a success elsewhere in the world but was new to Hong Kong. The operation also fits out events with Wi-fi services for venues and promoters of other events, including The Great European Carnival on the Central Harbourfront. It maintains access control and can help event organisers expand their contact and databases.

This is good news for customers and virtually eliminates the wait between purchase and delivery. At the moment Cityline, HK Ticketing and Urbtix are yet to embrace mobile-friendly sites, despite the ubiquitous use of smartphones.

“If you’re looking at YouTube and that YouTube video doesn’t render in a few seconds, you go elsewhere,” says Haigh. “We’re in a world that’s all about instant gratification. So one of the features that we’ve found people really like is that you get your ticket immediately. You don’t have to wait for the post.

“You don’t have to go to a retail outlet – unless you want to, as we are working now with 7-Eleven and about 900 outlets. The world is digital now. Most people surf the web by mobile so we’ve a mobile-friendly website.”

For promoters and event organisers the service offers digital marketing services before the event, assistance with setting up, and cashless payments onsite that help eliminate queues.

“We can basically do everything,” says Haigh. “The world has changed and we recognised that you have to expand the services you offer to stay ahead. And that’s not to criticise anyone else; it’s just a different model of operation that we are developing that is proving to be successful.”

Another relatively new service in town is Pelago, which is also exploring the options available via smartphone technology to those who put on the events, and the customers who attend them.

Co-founders Bob Bunger and Paul Hitchens both come from performing as well as corporate backgrounds and say that ticketing is just a part of the service now being demanded, and delivered.

“Asia is the fastest-growing social events market in the world,” says Bunger. “Particularly festivals. We noticed there is no service that covers Asia, while more and more organisers are holding events across the region.

Even before someone buys a ticket, we aim to improve their experience by ensuring they get invitations to the right events. We want to ensure that organisers’ marketing dollars are spent as effectively as possible
Paul Hitchens of Pelago

“Our goal is to provide these organisers with an Asia-wide solution that addresses their pain points and removes friction. The other important aspect is [being] mobile-friendly, with most consumers preferring to discover and purchase tickets on the go, and organisers who want control and flexibility to manage their events while on the move. Asia first, mobile first – that’s where we see the demand.”

For organisers of events, among the innovations Pelago offers is real-time ticket-sale updates that allows such concepts as “flash sales” to help fill houses, and discounted, last-minute tickets. Again, databases can help target the people who are most likely to want to attend.

“On Pelago you can buy a ticket in an instant and you can’t do that on any other platform,” says Hitchens. “It’s about aiming for the best user experience possible.”

“We’ve been online since May and we’ve never gone down,” says Hitchens. “We are genuinely aiming to revolutionise event ticketing and promotion. Our platform has been built for scale and we’re trying to create something that is effective and suits the needs of both the organiser and the customer.

“Even before someone buys a ticket, we aim to improve their experience by ensuring they get invitations to the right events. We want to ensure that organisers’ marketing dollars are spent as effectively as possible to maximise the audience attendance and to do it as profitably as possible. Our focus is to make the whole process more efficient and effective for both sides.”

While both services stress they don’t want to be seen as critical of previously existing services – it’s less competitive more alternative, they both say – the lack of urgency from Cityline when it comes to supplying information for this article speaks volumes.

When asked to explain the failure of the service for the World Cup qualifier and whether Cityline had any plans for an expansion of its services, a spokesman for the company’s customer service department replied: “We would love to share with you Cityline’s latest development, but our management is extremely busy with various big projects until mid-January 2016. Can we touch base again after this busy season?”

When informed there was a need for a quick response, the answer was: “We regret that our management cannot arrange the meeting with you before your article [is] filed.”