One of the big complaints about planning a camping trip is a complaint that centers around making reservations at campsites. Even today with ubiquitous internet it can be really difficult to make reservations. The following will examine why it is so hard to make a reservation for a campsite.
Owner/ Manager Interest and Motives
It starts at the owner and manager level of these parks. We could be nice and say they simply aren’t aware of the difficultly but that would be misleading. We have spoken with park owners and there is a large population of owners who simply do not care. They don’t answer the phone, they do not return phone calls and even if they did the likelihood of you being able to easily make a reservation… not so good. The underlying reasoning for this is complex but it primarily falls upon a level of interest in the growth of the park as a business; many parks are not run as businesses rather they are used as a hobby or income stream. The owners can not see a material value in providing customer service since they are the only place to camp within x number of miles and you will come anyways.
Public vs Private Motivations
When staying at a campground you have two primary options: public parks and private parks. In both cases reservation availability and scheduling is hit and miss. On the private park side there are some locations that go out of their way to make it super easy to reserve a campsite. They have an online reservation portal with plenty of pictures and information about the various site options and an easy to use registration form. Often those same parks also actually answer the phone when you call!
On the public parks side there are a few agencies that make it easy to reserve; usually the ones who have contracted with companies like ReserveAmerica or federal parks that are reservable via recreation.gov. But the overall problem for public parks is the classic problem of government run services in general; if the agency’s goals are not in line with consumer needs then the consumer will miss out.
Florida State Parks for example is fully focused as an organization on providing a consumer focused experience that generates a positive revenue for the state. As a result it is really easy to make reservations and get information on Florida State Parks. Contrast that agency with Ventura County Parks in California, an organization that manages almost a dozen campgrounds within 30 minutes of over 20 million people, and the differences are clear. Ventura County Parks are difficult to reserve and difficult to get information on, and confusing on pricing. Florida State Parks sell out 6 months in advance while Ventura County Parks are often half filled on busy weekends.
So why is it so hard to make reservations?
At CampgroundViews.com we have almost 16,000 parks listed in the directory spread across 50 states and including both public and private locations. In building and maintaining our database we have come across all of these locations websites and reservation portals and can state unequivocally that reserving a campsite is real pain.
Supply and Demand
Like it or not campgrounds are facing huge demand and have limited competition. The cost of owning and operating a campground combined with the difficult zoning and approval process means that campgrounds tend to operate with minimal competitors for an ever expanding audience of campers. Campers will stay at their parks even if they treat them poorly. Now the park might operate at less than efficient occupancy rates BUT they still make money and due to the issues noted above it is good enough for them.
Personal Experience Online vs Phone
Personally on our end, for example, in 8 years of RV travel staying at thousands of locations I can count on one hand how many times I have made an online reservation for a campground… it just does not happen. This is where the real problem for parks arises. Unlike restaurants, hotel rooms, rental cars, airline flights and all those things that are so widely used making online reservations for a campsite has difficulties not found in the other niches. It seems logical, and almost ridiculously so, that campgrounds and RV parks should be just as easy to reserve online… but it is not. The problem lies in us the campers and the absolute variability of the things we camp in.
For us we camp in a 44 foot fifth wheel with 4 slides…. it is massive. You probably have something vastly different. While a park may have 50′ long sites that we could fit in those sites may be only accessible to 35′ RVs due to narrow roads or trees. It would be equivalent to a hotel serving not only people but also elephants, alligators and dinosaurs. Imagine the variables at play here “Yes I need a room with a bed large enough to fit my pet elephants (yes there are 3 of them) plus I need it to be clear of trees for my TV signal and it needs to have a large yard area! Automating a reservation system for this would be nearly impossible! This is exactly what campgrounds and their online reservation partners battle with daily.
So what is the fix for making it easier to reserve a campsite in advance? We believe the next level of reservation systems will integrate directly with what we have created here at CampgroundViews.com. Our 360 VR tours allow anyone, at anytime, and form anywhere to physically see a park. Now imagine if you could then, while looking at the site you want, being able to see on the screen when that site is available. That is the future… but only if the above noted issues are addressed first.
So many of us have become used to the ease of reserving other things that it becomes very easy to ask “why is it so hard to make a reservation for a campground?” Maybe we start asking why do the people and agencies that currently own or operate parks not make it easier and how can we start pressuring them to do so?