British Columbians will get their first crack at the province’s new camping reservation website on Monday.
The new portal, which will operate through the BC Parks website replaces the older Discover Camping website that attracted frequent complaints about being unstable and confusing.
“I think like a lot of B.C. people we’ve experienced first hand what it was like to try to book a campsite,” Brian Blocka, who described himself as a “digitally savvy concerned camper,” said of the old website.
“You get up early, everyone pots on a phone, you’re on a conference call with your buddies trying to book a campsite, and the sites are disappearing in front of you in real time.”
The province says the new site will include “more flexible search options” to find and books sites, better maps, calendars and lists of available sites “for quicker navigation.”
As with the old website, campers will be able to make bookings within a rolling two-month window.
B.C. revamps camping reservation system
The province says the new site will allow people to use maps to search campgrounds by region, park listing or site availability, will offer information on nearby facilities and better photos of campsites themselves, and offer an interactive calendar that shows when booked sites become free.
It will also allow people to create personal accounts to save their booking preferences.
Blocka was among British Columbians who had a chance to check out the new site during a recent beta testing preview.
“What I like about it, it’s fast. Though it remains to be seen if it’s fast when there’s lots of people hitting it at once. It’s smooth, it’s responsive. … In previous versions there was a lot more clutter,” he said.
“You felt like you were trying to pilot a 747 to get that campsite. Now a lot of that visual clutter is away, they sort of start with a date-driven approach or you choose by facility and it sort of drills down. It feels better. It feels modern.”
While Blocka gave the new site a generally good review, he said the beta testing experience left him with plenty of questions.
While he was able to explore the website, he said the preview did not allow users to simulate an end-to-end experience, from finding a site through to booking and confirming it.
They got most of it, they had a few sample sites in there, but I didn’t feel like it sort of answered questions of whether this was going to work or not,” he said.
“I was hoping there would be some more engagement or even a phone call where we could express some of our concerns up front about what we’d like to see in the new site, and I don’t feel like that was addressed.”
Campers code aims to improve the camping experience for everyone
The new website is expected to handle at least 1,000 bookings per minute. That capacity will be needed, given BC Parks has seen a 200 per cent increase in demand for reservations in recent years.
“Camping in our provincial parks remains one of the most affordable and one of the most valuable experiences for British Columbians. That interest has never been greater than it is now,” Louise Pederson, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC told Global News.
“BC Parks has not been able to keep up with that demand for affordable camping and recreational opportunities .. we would certainly like to see BC parks continue to increase the number of sites.”
The parks service says it has added 1,700 new sites since 2017, just under a third of them in the high-demand Lower Mainland region.
The big question remains whether the site will hold up under what is expected to be massive demand. In previous years, the old Discover Camping website has crashed on opening day.
The park service has pledged measures to manage high traffic, including bringing extra staff on to its call centre, scaling up web servers to manage high traffic volume, and using queueing software to try and reduce peak demand.
Booking for regular campgrounds will become available at 7 a.m. on March 21. Reservations for group campsites will open on march 24, and reservations for the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit will open in early April.
B.C.’s “locals-first” policy created to ensure availability for British Columbians during the pandemic is being scrapped this year.
You can find out more about the new camping reservation system at bcparks.ca/reserve.
— With files from Global’s Kamil Karamali
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