Fringe chiefs stage crisis talks as ticket system chaos hits 150,000
CRISIS talks were held yesterday by Fringe organisers after box office glitches meant up to 150,000 festival-goers were still awaiting tickets with only two weeks to go.
The four-hour meeting was held at the four-star Apex Hotel in Edinburgh's Grassmarket to find a solution to a printing problem that caused deadlines for posting tickets to be missed.
But after the talks ended at around 5pm, the Festival Fringe board apparently left by a back entrance without telling staff in the hotel foyer, where a reporter was waiting, until several hours later.
Attempts to learn what happened during the meeting or whether any decisions had been made drew a virtual blank.
One board member said two more meetings would take place involving other parties "before we can move forward".
Organisers earlier promised to ensure everyone who bought a ticket would receive it in time.
Venues expressed concern but said every show would go ahead.
Jon Morgan, the Fringe director, said all bookings would be fulfilled. "We are still experiencing problems with the Fringe box office system. However, we want to be absolutely clear that the Fringe will run as planned.
"All ticket buyers who are currently expecting tickets from the Fringe box office will be contacted early next week with information on ticket collection."
About 150,000 tickets have been sold so far, compared with 160,000 at this point last year, but few have been printed successfully. The target date for ticket printing was Wednesday.
The failure is the second major crisis in the Fringe's ticketing and computer system this year. It crashed on 9 June, the day the Fringe opened for bookings, and sales were suspended for more than a week.
The four biggest venues on the Fringe – Assembly Theatre, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly – have continued to print and sell their own tickets directly to the public.
William Burdett-Coutts, the director of the Assembly, which has its own box office, said: "We are still waiting to meet the Fringe office to resolve how to handle everything and establish quite what the problem is.
"Thankfully the system that we are using has been working fine. We have no problem printing tickets."
Although tickets can still be bought on the Fringe website, the option to have a postal delivery has been suspended. Customers can still opt to collect tickets from the box office.
However, there have also been problems with the online booking system itself. Esther Scoburgh, of Edinburgh, said she had received a bill for 30 tickets for a performance of Circus Oz at the Assembly Rooms, even though she only ordered five.
In a letter to The Scotsman she said: "The message 'Payment Provider Authentication Failed' came up when I booked the tickets and my basket of items was emptied. The website informed me that I should try again later.
"I did try again, five more times over the course of Saturday and Sunday but this time using my credit card instead. I was met with the same message on each occasion.
"The following day I checked my bank account and noticed that the full value of the tickets was taken out of my account. I phoned the credit card company who confirmed that the payment was taken out five times."
A spokesman for the Gilded Balloon said he was sad that the ticket problems had occurred but his venue was working with the Fringe to get them sorted out.
Tommy Shepherd, director of the Stand Comedy Club, said: "With any new system on this scale there were bound to be problems, but there are very good people at the Fringe working hard on this and I'm confident they will get it sorted out."
A source close to the Fringe said: "Larger venues have the facilities to sell their own tickets. I'm more worried about the venues that don't have box offices and rely on the Fringe to sell tickets."
Another source said: "They set themselves very tight deadlines and if they broke them it was always going to cause problems.
"That said, we have to put it into perspective. Anyone can get a ticket for any event, it's really not the end of the world."
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Number of performances this year.
Number of performers taking to the stage in August.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
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Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
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