It’s been quite a while since we started this project, but we’re finally in a position to launch our online bookings service! I’m going to explain a little bit about what’s taken so long first, but for those who just want the details, feel free to skip to the end…
A couple of years ago, Cheshire East Council started a project to merge all of our sites in to a single leisure management system (Xn Advantage), this was a huge task which involved merging over 30,000 membership records, recreating all of our sites, redesigning the membership scheme, changing how we run swimming lessons by introducing Direct Debits with continuous assessment and more. The whole project took nearly 2 years from start to finish.
As part of that process, we found a mixed approach to online bookings, some sites had nothing online at all, others had 1-2 areas available, so we had an opportunity to rethink the whole thing from scratch, and that’s where the “payment at the time of booking” came in. With the online booking service, we wanted to make it truly self-service, so if you’re making an online booking, it made sense to capture the payment at the time of booking, otherwise you still have to queue up at reception anyway to make payment, but if you’ve already paid, you could just go straight through to your booking (or check-in at sites with self-service kiosks) and avoid the queue. At the point of planning that system, we had no idea it was going to take so long with the payments side of the system. In the mean time, we did launch the zero-cost bookings for classes, while that may not have helped those looking to book sports activities online, it did take a huge load off receptions with some 100,000 transactions being made online in the past 12 months, all of which would have hit reception queues and telephones if the system had not launched.
Naturally anything involving online payments has to be secure, and that’s where we’ve hit many of the issues over the past 12 months ensuring that IT providers, our leisure system and the card payment providers all talk to each other technically, and until recently that wasn’t happening. We’ve had some pretty serious discussions with all parties over recent months with financial threats being made until finally everything started working as it should do in May with our transactions being processed fully.
Timetable for Introduction
So with all that in place, we’ll be ‘beta’ launching the online service in the following phases to monitor each part with a small number of users:
- 15th June – Group fitness classes available to Options Card holders
- 22nd June – Sports bookings (badminton, squash etc.) available to Options Card Holders
- 26th June – Group fitness & sports bookings available to all other existing card holders.
- 29th June – Registration opens for all other customers to access online bookings*
- 6th July – Online bookings available for all other customers
Activities Bookable Online Initially:
- Individual Group Fitness Classes (where operated by us, group fitness courses not currently available)
- Indoor Football
- Outdoor Football (Artificial Pitches)
Naturally all of these dates are subject to change based on any technical issues!
* All users will need to pre-register for online bookings from your local leisure centre from 29th June. In the future, the registration will form part of a wider loyalty scheme with additional benefits and there may be a small charge for these cards. However, due to the huge delays launching the scheme, there will be no charge at this time. Note that you can only book for yourself due to restrictions with the third party system.
Thank you all for your patience over the recent months with this, I assure you we’ve been just as frustrated that we haven’t been able to offer a reasonable online service to you all and hopefully we’re over the bulk of the technical issues now.
Head of Marketing