A shake-up of the way bookings for city amenities, facilities and parks may be coming in the next several months.

Brad Anderson, Manager of Recreation for the City presented on Tuesday to the Community and Corporate Services Standing Committee about what plans for a centralized booking system. Anderson noted that for 50 years the city has had a booking system, but that booking system has been quite fragmented.

"There remains no single front door for the city, for user groups and residents; they bounce from department to department, depending on the season or the venue. While this approach has served the city for a great number of years, scenarios and situations have arisen from time to time that shed light on the inconsistencies and gaps that exist between our different processes and departments."

He noted that with the various projects and facilities being built, including the Northeast Regional Park, the new Library and Multi-use Facility, as well as the facility and the Southwest Recreation Center, the time to make the city's booking system more streamlined is now. There are four key pillars to the initiative including creating a customer-centric culture and approach.

"Currently, there are many front doors into the cities process and bookings in different venues and facilities and that comes with frustration, because people can encounter different response times, inconsistencies on how we do pricing, how we respond or how we do allocation," Anderson explained. That centralized booking approach now allows for a single department to develop and execute a common commitment to service standards and excellence."

Anderson said because of the multitude of departments managing bookings, there is a risk of knowledge loss.

"Only a handful of employees work within the bookings field and each department does not have redundancy or succession plan. By consolidating all bookings and relevant employees into one department, naturally, a subject matter expert team will emerge, and we'll be able to build strength and service to our community through that enhanced single doorway into the city's booking processes."

The City's IT department has been working on the integration of all departments to be amalgamated into one cohesive user-friendly system, and Anderson said by the fall of this year there should be functionality for online bookings, specifically for the Town and Country Centre before other facilities and amenities come online. 

"It is expected in 2024, that online tools or applications should allow customers to not only view facility/amenity availability but also facilitate many more steps along the process right up to a firm booking. Administration has been working with IT to map out booking software enhancements that will dramatically increase self-serve options," city documents further stated.

Allocation procedures 

Councillor Candice Kolson however questioned the potential issues surrounding allocation.

"In the past, we've heard from places like the [Airdrie] Food Bank when they lose their weekends. Are you moving towards what you do with the sports fields which is the first right of refusal for those regular bookings? What will happen with say sports fields if Airdrie Football knows they have all East Lake Park? Will they get that opportunity before everybody else does to book those fields?"

Anderson said that one of the top priorities for this initiative would be priority allocation.

How will this impact the hockey league ice times?

Councillor Ron Chapman asked about whether a centralized booking system would impact ice times for the Airdrie Minor Hockey Association (AMHA).

"Airdrie Minor Hockey books X amount of ice time and then all of a sudden they have a block that they don't use, and it becomes available; it's frustrating when you walk by the arenas [during] primetime and there's nobody on that ice. What happens at that point? Is there a waitlist if somebody is looking for ice time that they call?"

Anderson explained that there are intricacies when it comes to the AMHA, as they pay for their ice time ahead of time. 

"We have a work plan on that with the leagues and working with AMHA, because I can't put it all on them. They are at the mercy sometimes of the league they play in, but we need to apply more pressure upstream into these leagues to be a bit more efficient with how they are scheduling their games," Anderson said. "We've identified that, and we know that that's something that we need to address in the future as well as the whole metro/rural ice time length, length of games. The AMHA is prepared to help us work with the leagues in the future on how we can maximize the limited amount of ice that we have here in the city."

Drop-in days vs. bookings on outdoor sports fields

Anderson also said that one of the other initiatives they are looking at is to discern between booking times and drop-in times that are more spontaneous.

"At Nose Creek Park let's say, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are all drop-ins; but on the sign, that's above the chain link fence - it will say that Tuesdays are all bookings, so then you know that if you show up on Tuesday it's all bookings," he added. "That's what our goal is; how do we schedule the outdoor amenities, so we facilitate opportunity." 

Timelines and roll-out

documents provided by the city show that by June 2024 the Workflow/process mapping, as well as online functionality, and resourcing review will be complete. By the fall of this year, the transition of Parks and Town & Country Centre bookings to the new centralized bookings department will occur, while during the winter of 2025, there will be a review of special event processes and venues, as well as the integration with centralized bookings departments. By the fall of 2025, the system will be ready for the Airdrie Multi-Use Facility and Library.

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