Traditional over-the-counter purchases rather than online applications appeared the best plan of attack yesterday as the third round of sales of Olympic tickets kicked off.
About 50 customers had bought tickets by 2pm yesterday at each of the four Bank of China outlets in Chaoyang district. Eighty people expected to get their tickets at each branch by the close of business.
A BOC branch manager said the ticket sales took up a lot of resources.
'Everyone could buy up to six tickets, and our people had to go through the selection process ticket by ticket because some of the tickets may have already gone. It took much longer than everyone expected,' the manager said.
Bank sales accounted for a fraction of the 1.38 million Olympic tickets available yesterday, but going to BOC branches was a better bet than the Games' official ticket-sales website. Customers could log on to the site and select tickets, but the next steps tended to lead nowhere, with error messages saying 'the system is under maintenance' or 'could not find the tickets you want to buy'.
'It's a total mess. None of the 50 people working in my office could get a single ticket despite repeatedly trying to get on to the website the whole morning,' said Xia Jun, an employee of a Beijing broadband company.
The Olympic ticketing system has a history of failing to deal with demand. The second round of sales came to a halt last year when the online system collapsed, sparking public criticism of BOC and Olympic ticket sales organisers and costing the Games' ticketing director his job.
The bank appeared better prepared this time.
Olympic ticketing officials could not be contacted, but one ticketing source said congestion on the website may have been deliberate to give people camped out at the bank branches higher priority.
'To be fair, you have to give people lining up all night some priority; otherwise, you may just reward the wrong person,' the source said.
She said the number of tickets for online sales was also limited because of the huge gap between demand and supply. She denied that the computer system running the ticketing operation had broken down again.
Comments in online chat rooms supported the view that at least some people had success in buying tickets online in the morning.
'I tried three times, and then bought my tickets,' one contributor at a Sina.com chat room said.
Online purchasers still have to go to appointed BOC outlets within three days to pick up their tickets.
Despite repeated attempts to contact them, the organising committee and Gehua Ticketmaster, which helps run the ticket sales website, were not available for comment.