'It was ridiculous': B.C. camping reservation site inundated, some out of luck for now
VANCOUVER -- When Bryn Davidson’s alarm went off at 6:30 Monday morning, he joined tens of thousands of British Columbians in front of a screen, hoping to make reservations to go camping in the province this summer.
For many stuck at home during the pandemic, it’s one of the few available escapes on the horizon. More than 50,000 camping enthusiasts were logged on simultaneously when reservations reopened on the Discover Camping website, causing the system to get bogged down, according to the Ministry of Environment.
Davidson said initially, it looked like a lot of campsites were available, but when he clicked on them, the screen would “freeze”.
“It just kept booting me out, and when you came back, those spots were gone,” Davidson said. “I expected the website to crash. What happened is exactly what I expected. Didn’t make it any less infuriating.”
Burnaby resident Lilach Marom also got up early and tried for hours to make a reservation, but after repeatedly getting disconnected from the site she called it quits, with no reservation to show for her time.
“Today, it was ridiculous. It was like you know in TicketMaster, when you try to get a ticket for a concert,” Marom said, and added it wasn’t unexpected. “It was just so clear that it’s going to be like this.”
Many people shared similar frustrations online, including photos of error messages from the page.
Leader of the Opposition Andrew Wilkinson criticized the provincial government for the way this was handled.
"People just want to get on with their holiday, not spend time shouting at their computer," he told CTV News. "This could've been prevented by staggering the dates by alphabetic order of campsites or by regional order of campsites. There were other ways to do this and they dropped the ball."
Minister of Environment and Climate Change George Heyman said "incredible demand" caused the reservation website to have "some technical difficulties."
“This system got no special tweaking for this first day. We thought it would be able to handle it,” Heyman said. “I think frankly, when you get 50,000 people trying to book online at any one time, that’s a tremendous surge, and it may have not been possible to address that. We’re looking into it now.”
Heyman said over 43,000 reservations were made successfully in the first six and a half hours, which is more than double the number of reservations made in the first three months the system was open earlier this year.
“I apologize to British Columbians for your frustration, but the system I’m told is working well now,” Heyman said.
Davidson finally managed to snag a June weekend for his young son’s birthday.
“In the end, that’s what I really wanted,” he said, and added they’re looking forward to venturing away from their condo in the city to somewhere where there’s more space, to do hiking and biking. “I feel bad for anybody who went through the same experience and wasn’t able to book anything.”
Though Marom may not have lucked out on the first day, she’s not planning on giving up.
“I think that eventually I will find something, but it just means that now I need to keep on checking every time,” Marom said, and added she does think there might be a better way to manage high demand. “Even like an interval system, where you open it for…smaller chunks of time, or create some kind of priorities, or limit you know how many sites a family can book.”
As of 11 a.m., the ministry said more than 27,500 reservations were made and once the site picked up speed, 10 reservations are being processed every second.
It said the numbers it’s seeing are almost unprecedented, adding at this time last year, 1,100 reservations were made in one day, while 800 bookings were processed in the first half hour Monday.
Camping will be allowed on June 1 for most provincial and backcountry campgrounds.
Bookings are limited to a two-month rolling window, meaning people trying to reserve Monday could only book campsites up to July 25.
The ministry said the change means there will be new spots becoming available every day, providing more opportunities to book throughout the end of summer.
To ensure social distancing rules are being followed, the province is reducing capacity at some sites and keeping some closed altogether.
Only residents of B.C. can make a reservation for the duration of the 2020 season. Any out-of-province campers who have already made a reservation can contact BC Parks for a refund before June 15.
Last year, BC Parks launched a procurement process to find a vendor to enhance the reservation system.
Discover Camping was selected as the vendor in December 2019.
At the time, the province said Discover Camping had more than 20 years of experience providing reservation platforms for government park agencies, including California State Parks, Missouri State Parks and the New Zealand Department of Conservation.