AMS expects changes to room booking system in April, following years-long criticisms from students

While the Nest recently closed its doors and cancelled room bookings until at least April 14 to prevent the spread of COVID-19, student clubs and constituencies said room bookings remained a challenge throughout the year. But the AMS said changes are coming soon.

During the 2019 AMS Elections, current VP Administration Cole Evans ran on making changes to the Nest booking system as one of his biggest priorities.

While Nest booking problems persisted throughout the school year, Evans said the introduction of CampusGroups as the Clubhouse replacement software and changes to the Operations Committee Policy Manual will put his office on track to finish the revamp by the end of his term.

“We’re continuing to work on all of our outlined goals for the year, and with the introduction of CampusGroups as new software for managing things in the VP Admin portfolio - as well as recent changes to the Operations Committee Policy Manual - we’re looking forward to finalizing changes to improve clubs’ experiences booking space in the Nest,” said Evans in a statement to The Ubyssey.

Complaints from clubs and constituencies

Science Undergraduate Society’s (SUS) AMS Representatives Michelle Marcus and Danny Liu raised the issue of Nest bookings at a recent AMS Council meeting. They brought up students having problems with double booking, extremely limited room availability and long wait times for processing requests.

Feedback from club representatives confirmed their descriptions.

UBC C4 Choral Composition Club President Naoreen Kabir said her club has had trouble with getting the right booking times from the AMS.

Last semester, when she attempted to book rooms on days other than her club’s regular Monday and Friday meetings in order to avoid holiday dates, the AMS ended up only booking Mondays and Fridays for the whole semester. For those days, she ended up having to book lecture rooms at UBC for rehearsals.

“[It’s] not ideal, because we couldn’t bring our club piano there,” said Kabir.

Booking Representative of UBC Latin Dance Club Laura Luo said her club has problems with receiving responses from the AMS for booking requests. To ensure her club’s chances of getting a room, every time she makes a booking request, she also goes to the AMS office to make sure the requests are going through.

“Usually when you get confirmation from AMS, there’s still some things more or less that you need to fix with them,” said Luo.

Both clubs mentioned constant double bookings, a problem which has been present since at least two years ago according to Kabir’s experience in first year when the room her club booked turned out to be Vance Joy’s dressing room. According to the representatives, bookings also have to be made as early in the year as possible due to the competitive availability of rooms.

What can be done?

Marcus and Liu said that they’ve requested a report from the AMS for statistics on Nest bookings, including data on the number and room size of bookings as well as the ratio of bookings between student groups and commercial activities.

Evans said student groups currently take up 90 per cent of booking space at the Nest, while businesses take up the other 10 per cent. According to him, the “primary root cause” of all the booking problems is simply that the AMS needs a better booking system.

The AMS stopped using Clubhouse in January — after the company discontinued operations — and moved bookings to their website.

The processing procedures are relatively the same. Students submit booking requests in various forms such as online form or email. The requests are then handled manually by AMS staff, from inputting bookings into their backend system to sending out confirmation emails.

Booking problems are caused by this current system in place and the volume of requests. But Evans said he has been working on the booking system since the beginning of the year and has identified a solution.

According to him, the new online booking system will simplify the booking process, enhance the detail of requests and improve the AMS’s backend system.

Specific methods include offering multiple preference options in booking request forms and staggering intake of requests to reduce staff workload at a given time. Evans said automation is not an option as the AMS wants to retain current booking staff positions.

To solve the issue of limited room availability, Marcus suggested that the AMS has the capacity to reduce the ratio of commercial space to make way for more student bookings, as the society had a large surplus revenue last year.

In response, Evans said the AMS has already taken action to reduce commercial bookings and that currently “the AMS is utilizing all of our spaces that are viable for booking while simultaneously balancing the needs of our services.”

At a club’s suggestion to have feedback for rejected requests, Evans said he will be working with relevant personnel to try and integrate that into the new booking process. The revamped platform is also expected to replace the Clubhouse club management system.

Evans said he has submitted a proposal for policy and procedural changes and is now waiting to hear back from the Operations Committee. According to him, making the changes is taking a long time due to the size of the AMS organization.

He anticipates the changes to be ready by the end of the school year in April.

“I’m really excited about this new potential online solution for bookings, because we really see it as a win-win across the board for everybody,” he said.