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Online Reservations

May 12, 2018
Mallorytown KOA

In recent years it has become harder and harder to get not just a good reservation but any reservation for many State, Provincial or National parks in the US or Canada.  Camping and RV’ing is becoming more popular and funding and growth in the campgrounds is not matching demand.  Because of this it has become competitive to get a good site or to get any site at all on short notice.

I recall as a kid we would be able to go camping with no reservation, or with a reservation for a site but with no real info on what the site was like or where it was located.  It was also easy to go up to the front gate at the end of a stay and add a few more days.  Things have changed dramatically with the reservation process and getting camp sites.  This has resulted in a number of questionable habits that do nothing to encourage friendliness toward our fellow camping neighbor.

  1. Parking your equipment in advance at Dispersed Camping on BLM or Crown land or camping on unmanaged first come first served campgrounds.  This is usually when someone buys a cheap Wal-Mart tent and goes to the unmanaged campground days in advance paying the iron ranger for the whole week and setting the tent up and then leaving it for the week effectively squatting on a site so that when they arrive on the long weekend, they have the preferred site (or just any site).  Some people will also take their trailer up to the campground days early and park it on a site for the week and arrive on the weekend to use it.  Although most parks have rules about “occupying a site “, but enforcement is inconsistent and in many cases not enforced which leads to people showing up to campgrounds to find all the sites taken and no one actually occupying any of them.
  2. Making a reservation starting a few weeks early when reserving for a long weekend or other popular time, then later cancelling all of the time leading up to the long weekend.  This is another common tactic in many locations due to relaxed refund policies.  Generally parks will allow reservations starting at a particular time (like 6 months prior to your arrival date).  if you are targeting an arrival on the Friday of a long weekend like everyone else, it may be difficult to get a site.  But if you make a 2 week reservation with a start date 2 weeks prior to the long weekend but ending at the end of the long weekend, you will be able to choose your site 2 weeks before everyone else.  Roughly 2 weeks later, you would then go into the system and cancel all of the dates at the beginning of the reservation leading up to the long weekend. This almost guarantees a good site but at a bit of extra cost.  You would have to tie up money on your credit card for 2 extra weeks of reservation until you cancel the extra days.  There maybe cancellation fees as well.  This option may unfairly eliminate some campers in lower-income brackets who cannot front $1000 to make a false reservation or who cannot afford cancellation fees of 20% or more.  This effectively establishes a two tier reservation system based on income.
  3. Using multiple computers right at the moment the reservations for a particular date open up to try for numerous preferred site in the hope of beating others on at least one of them.  This option is quite common and most people do not tend to find it to be immoral, however it does have one undesired side effect that only makes reservations harder to get.  If someone gets on the reservation system on 4 computers and tries to get 4 possible sites right at opening time for the date they want, they may sometimes get 2, or 3 or possibly even 4 sites successfully.  They only need one and will only follow thru on one site, but the system will temporarily hold the other sites they successfully got for 5 to 20 minutes thinking they are valid reservations and they cannot release the sites back to others to reserve so as to give the people who got the sites first and opportunity to fill in their personal info and credit card info before putting the site back in the pool for others to choose.  This results in fewer available sites at opening time, which results in people using more computers to try to get the fewer available sites before others do, resulting in a larger bottleneck in the first few hours that the reservation system opens.
  4. There is even a newer option that can be used with some Online Reservation services where you can use an app or a service to do reservations on your behalf.  These services use online scripts or bots to be very effective at being the first person to grab sites for you and work like the old Sniping services that used to be available for eBay that would put a bid in 1 second before the auction closed so no one could try to outbid you.  These services come with a fee as well.  I have only heard of limited success with them though, as many Online Reservation services do not allow this and will actively try to prevent them from working.

One could easily blame their camping neighbor for beating them to the site they really wanted, which results in a less friendly atmosphere in the campground but the real issue is not that someone beat you out to a site or outsmart you to get it or using technology unfairly to get a site.  The real issue is that usage is fast outpacing space and that funding to maintain and expand the parks to meet population growth is not there.  This requires more money, more staff, more park land and more campground expansion.  The problem is this can very quickly become a political issue, as government is elected to govern responsiblity, which requires balancing need with available funds.  It is easy to say that we want them to spend more money on parks, but there are two potential effects to this decision:  one is that they have to increase spending which is generally unpopular as it shoulders our children with our debt and the second option is taking money away from another program and it can be difficult to decide if money is more deserved in schools, hospitals or parks.  Another popular argument that I find ridiculously amusing is the idea that government is inherently wasteful and if they trimmed staff and spent wisely, there would be loads of money to be spent for all the things we need.  Having worked in both corporate and public sector for many years managing million dollar projects, this is an amusing thought that is so untrue, as tight government spending has taught government agencies to be extremely thrifty and efficient out of necessity, whereas I have seen spending inefficiency to be a much bigger issue in corporate especially in growth years.

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