British Columbia

'Aggressive' camping reservation system sparks calls for change

Some outdoor enthusiasts say that making a reservation for a B.C. Parks campsite has become so competitive that it's sparked reservation scalping, sneaky tricks and calls for change.

Reports of scalping, sneaky tricks have some asking whether there's a better way of booking campgrounds

Jennifer Slack took this photo of her son, Ethan, camping at Porteau Cove, one of their favourite B.C. parks, and also one that gets booked up months in advance. (Jennifer Slack)

Taking a camping trip is supposed to be a way to escape stress. 

Planning that trip? Not so much. 

Some outdoor enthusiasts say that making a reservation for a B.C. Parks campsite has become so competitive that it's sparked reservation scalping, sneaky tricks and calls for change. 

"I've seen things become ... a lot more aggressive," said Jennifer Slack, a Port Coquitlam mom who plans seven or eight trips a year. 

She was one of many campers frustrated by long waits in March when B.C. Park's online reservation system, Discover Camping, opened for 2016 bookings. 

The headaches continued in April, when she tried to make a reservation for the July long weekend.

Even though Slack logged on three months ahead of time at 7 a.m. — which is the earliest time reservations can be made — she couldn't find a single spot at any of her top four campground choices. 

"Last year, I met this family. They had five sites on the long weekend, and they admitted to having basically their whole extended family, each of them on computers and cell phones, trying to get on [the reservation site]," Slack said. 

"It takes a community now to book a campsite." 

Port Coquitlam resident Jennifer Slack says she wasn't able to book a campground for the July long weekend, even though she logged on three months ahead of time and checked four different locations. (Jeremy Harman)

Scalping and sneaky tricks

Sam Waddington, the owner of Mount Waddington's Outdoors in Chilliwack and a local city councillor, said campground reservations have become such a hot commodity that scalpers have cropped up both online and outside campgrounds.

"I have seen people standing on the side of the road, scalping tickets: 'campsite available,'" he said. 

"If you're willing to, on the May long weekend or the August long weekend, stand on the side of the road and scalp your site off for 10 times what you booked them for in advance, there's very little to safeguard against that." 

In an email, Ministry of Environment spokesman David Karn said the practice has come to their attention. 

"Unauthorized reselling of reservations is a concern for us, which is why we actively pursue such instances whenever we become aware of them," Karn wrote. 

Campers have told CBC about other tricks of the reservation system.

One strategy is to make a lengthy reservation that ends with a long weekend, and later cancel the first part of the trip, resulting in a long weekend reservation that was booked before others had access.

Sam Waddington, pictured here at Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, says it's a challenge to plan trips for his guiding business when it's so difficult to make a B.C. parks campground reservation.

Calls to change B.C.'s 'broken model' 

Waddington said the Discover Camping reservation system is "a broken model" that is frustrating for businesses as well as individuals. 

"Whether we've got clients coming in from out of town that we'd like to reserve a spot for, or we're doing a guided trip ... we can't get a campsite booked, and we have our trips booked a year in advance," he said.

Waddington said he'd like B.C. to consider following New Zealand's campground reservation system, which he said gives some priority to local residents, businesses and also includes a lottery system.

Ultimately, he said the B.C. government needs to consider creating more campgrounds to satisfy demand. 

"It also leads to better environmental protection," Waddington said. 

"When you have high unregulated use, in the backcountry, which is what we're seeing from a B.C. Parks overflow, you just have ill effects that you can't control."

Karn said that B.C.'s Ministry of Environment has no immediate plans to develop new campgrounds, but they do an annual review of the Discover Camping site to look for improvements. 

About half of all campsites in B.C. parks are available throughout the season on a first-come, first-served basis.


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