Catch in Alberta's New Reservation System
When the click of a mouse can take you on a virtual tour of a campsite hundreds of miles away, you can't help but be impressed, says the Calgary (Alberta) Sun.
There's the picnic table, over here there's the firepit. A quick 360-degree look around shows plenty of trees for shade and a gorgeous view of the lake to boot.
It looks ideal, both the campsite and the technology that's made Internet campground shopping a reality in Alberta, starting today (May 1).
And it would be ideal, the new online campground reservation service, if the Alberta government really had thought of everything.
You can decide if you need a plug-in, flushing toilets, showers and every other amenity known to the camping world.
You can choose from 25 of the province's most popular campgrounds, taking a bird's-eye tour of the area, while zeroing in on individual sites, to see what's there. What you can't do is control human nature and greed — and that's something nobody considered, not even the minister in charge of the whole campground reservation project.
"That's something I actually had never thought of," said Tourism, Parks and Recreation Department Minister Cindy Ady.
Newspaper Reader Catches Flaw
The missing piece is what people might potentially do with a reserved campsite, when those campsites become a valued commodity no longer requiring someone to physically claim them.
When the issue of campsite reservations was first raised in this space a few weeks back, it was a Sun reader who pointed out a major flaw in allowing people to book ahead.
"What is to stop people from buying the spots and re-selling them on the Internet?" wrote the sharp-eyed reader.
As it turns out, absolutely nothing. Ady, as she admits, hasn't even considered the possibility that someone might reserve one of the 2,800 sites on a precious weekend and then scalp the reservation at an inflated price.
Starting today, reservations can be made online at www.Reserve.AlbertaParks.ca, and it's likely every decent site will be snapped up within hours, or at the most, days.
What would a family be willing to pay for a nice campsite on the May long weekend, when every campground is booked and the other option is to stay home? How about $300? Maybe $500?
It's a certainty someone will cash in — from hockey tickets to concerts, there are few popular events that don't attract shysters hoping to buy cheap and sell high.
The limited number of sites and the ability of anyone with a computer to reserve up to four sites, 90 days in advance, makes it an easy mark for the black market.
Ady said the province, now aware of the potential problem, will monitor the situation over the summer, then make changes if necessary.
"What I do know is there are always creative people out there, but I think it's important to note this is a pilot this year," said Ady.
"We will be looking for the unintended consequences of what might happen with this system."
The main point of the $8.4-million reservation system, for those wondering, is to curtail campground squatting, which had people driving out days before to leave a tent, trailer or some lawn chairs on a site then returning for the weekend.
"People were having to go to extraordinary means to make sure they could get their favourite weekend in their favorite campground — they would put pup tents up on a site," said Ady.
"There'll be no benefit to doing that with this new system."
Some have applauded a system that's fair to all, on a first to log in, first-served basis.
But others, including parks critic Harry Chase, say the untested system is ripe for abuse.
"There's no mechanism to prevent someone from booking weekend after weekend, turning one campsite into their own private retreat for the entire season," said Chase, who operated a K-Country campground for three years before entering politics.
"Not only that, you can book up to four sites at once — instead of a personal retreat, you can have a personal resort."