Private tour operator accused of snapping up B.C. provincial campsites

Summer camping has grown increasingly competitive in British Columbia, with some blaming tour companies that market outdoor adventures to foreign travellers.

Province says less than one per cent of reservations come from commercial operators

A Salmon Arm-based tour company has been accused of booking large swaths of campsites at B.C. provincial parks for clients, leaving local campers in the lurch. (Chris Harris Photography)

It may seem as simple as throwing a tent and a bag of marshmallows in the trunk, but summer camping has grown increasingly competitive for some British Columbians.

And some blame tour companies that market outdoor adventures to foreign travellers.

A Salmon Arm-based tour company has been accused of booking large swaths of campsites at B.C. provincial parks for clients, leaving local campers in the lurch.

Michael Van der Kraats is the part owner of Canadian Camping Adventures, which builds tour packages for foreign travellers, including booking campsites. He says he has received angry emails from B.C. residents upset over his business.

"They are pretty disgusting, and sometimes life threatening," Van de Kraats said. 

Camp spots fully booked

Nights at provincial campgrounds can be booked three months in advance through a website reservation system. 

But many people report the spots are fully booked — minutes after they come online.  

Van der Kraats said his company is not the problem; he books sites online the same way as everyone else.

"I do realize the frustration, it's just, it's not us making this happen," he said.

"We are just like everybody else. We just make some bookings, and if we can't book them, we book them somewhere else.

"We work with private campgrounds, we work with national parks, provincial parks, we do it like everybody else ... No privileges, no blocks. I mean we're just a small company."

MLA calls for changes

NDP environment critic George Heyman is calling for changes to the reservation system so that it favours locals.

"If tour companies are packaging things and making a profit off it, there are lots of private campgrounds they can do that with," Heyman said.

"I think to disadvantage British Columbian families or any family by essentially commercializing our public parks is just wrong."

In a statement, the province says it's investigating complaints about reservation practices by tour companies. 

But the ministry notes that 75 per cent of campers are from B.C., and less than one per cent of reservations come from commercial operators.

With files from Stephanie Mercier

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