The California State Parks Department has made adjustments to the park campsites reservation system after numerous complaints from consumers regarding recent changes.
Last August, the state launched reservecalifornia.com, a new website for campers to book campsites. Before then, the California State Parks Department used reserveamerica.com — the same website used by other states — to manage reservations. Under that system, campsites would make reservations available at 8 am on the first of the month six months in advance. For example, reservations would open on March 1 for all dates in September.
On reservecalifornia.com, the system worked differently. Campsites were only open for reservations exactly six months in advance, meaning March 11 for September 11, March 12 for September 12, etc. The system also allowed campers to extend existing reservations, which meant that if you expected to make a reservation for an exact date, you may find none available if campers had decided to extend their reservations, effectively canceling any additional reservations.
“Absolutely terrible! The problem is that once you have a reservation, you can modify it every week for $7.99 ... FOREVER,” one user wrote in the KSBY story comments. “Clearly someone is taking advantage of their ‘awesome’ new system. It's been going on since day 1.”
“Thank goodness!! I thought it was just me,” added another user. “I thought the other system was bad but this has it beat. So frustrating and NOT serving the people of California at all.”
Frustrated campers started using external companies, such as First Choice Reservations, which provides bookings for an additional fee. “Stop losing at 8 a.m.,” the website advertises. “Our computers complete your reservation for you, in 1/100th of a second, so you and your family get the site you want.”
“Since launching reservecalifornia.com last August, the department heard both positive and negative feedback from our visitors,” said Jorge Moreno, a spokesperson for the California State Parks Department. “Complaints included sites were being booked prior to the 8 a.m. open window for new dates, some visitors were taking advantage of the system by modifying their reservation multiple times, (and) use of third parties to book reservations.”
As a result of the flood of complaints, the parks department is once again making changes. Now, reservations can only be modified twice in an effort to curb continuous extensions. Some sites, such as Crystal Cove Beach Cottages, allow no modifications.
“Prior to the new policy, visitors with existing reservations were able to modify their reservation anytime prior to the 8 am open window up to the maximum stay limit of that park,” Moreno said.
The reservecalifornia.com website also hopes to ban third-party vendors, stating that “any resale, transfer, use, for-profit activity, or memberships that are not approved in advance by California State Parks are strictly prohibited and will be subject to immediate cancellation without notice, refund or reimbursement.”
There are currently no vendors that have been approved to operate as third-party partners, Moreno said.
The changes are intended to make California’s state park reservation system more user-friendly, and enable more campers to book a spot at one of the 13,000 campsites available on the system, Moreno added.
It remains to be seen if the changes are sufficient. Perhaps the old maxim is true: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.