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Reserved but empty campsites: The campground’s side of the story

By Nanci Dixon

There are two sides to every story, right? Well, that means there’s another side to why there are so many empty campsites. You’ll find the other side of that story behind the campground check-in desk.

As RVers, like everyone else, as camp hosts we are seeing an amazing number of empty campsites. They’re reserved… but empty. We probably notice them even more than someone who isn’t. I have been finding entire weeks that are reserved, but the sites remain empty. Granted, a lot of those are non-electric sites, but still…

I talked to the park supervisors and they mentioned that the majority of campers here are from the area. “We are one of the largest non-private parks close to an urban area. With the high cost of gas, many families are camping close to home,” they explained.

People are getting angry over reserved but empty campsites

Being close to the city explains the huge number of reservations, but it doesn’t account for the no-shows and empty sites. The office mentioned that a number of people have been angry this year that they either couldn’t reserve a site or only could reserve a much less desirable site than the one that stood open for the weekend or the entire week. (We discuss this often in my Campground Crowding column.)

Refund system

The problem may be partly the refund system. Full refunds are only given eight days out. At four to seven days, you only get a half refund, and if you’re canceling in fewer than four days, you don’t get a refund. I had to cancel a recreation.gov campsite only one day ahead and still got a partial refund.



The park can’t afford it

The explanation and bottom line is that the park can’t afford a more generous refund policy. It is an urban park with local campers and the park keeps its rates low. People read the weather reports and if bad weather is projected for the weekend, they would cancel. If it gets cold and blustery while here, they cancel the rest of their stay. The park would lose too much money. This is a huge regional park with a hefty staff of maintenance people, mowers, landscapers, cleaners, electricians, security, supervisors, boat launch staff, beach attendants, check-in, reservationists, financial folks, people that cut and load firewood… the list goes on.

Understaffed

Even though there is a huge staff, they are still understaffed and under budget constraints. The reservation and check-in staff of three to four are already on the phone nine to ten hours a day. And that’s with online reservations available! Add last-minute cancellations and no one would get a call through! They have just added the option to cancel online, but that is still not alleviating the no-shows.

So what’s the answer to easing reserved but empty campsites?

What is the answer? Can campers be relied on to cancel in good faith without a refund? Evidently not. Can the park be more generous? They agree there must be a better way for the campers and for the park, but what is it? They have asked for suggestions from me and I am asking for suggestions from you.

Please use the comment section below to see if we, the users of the campgrounds, can come up with some actionable solutions. I’ll pass them on and we can keep the discussion going.

RVT1060

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BKMCO
8 days ago

Just like at the airlines, if the guest does not show up within x number of hours from check-in, then the site should be forfeited and either put back in the reservation bank or given to those on a waitlist. It’s not a perfect solution, but at least it’s moving in the direction of more fair.

LadyCash
10 days ago

I think like the state park policy we are hosting at that 3 strikes you are out (black listed). You can get a full refund up to 24 hours before check in. They wait till 20 hours after check in to mark you a no call no show. If you call AFTER check in to cancel get partial refund. A no show no call gets no refund. You are put on a list. If you do this 3 times you cannot reserve a site. You still have the ability to get a first come first serve site (no electric, no water). We noticed out of the 10 campgrounds (out of 19 total) within the park, that even with this policy MANY don’t call to cancel. It is sad because this is a busy place. Others waiting to visit and stay would benefit if the camper would just cancel.

Hapyrvr
10 days ago

How about If no show and no contact from customer 24 hrs after checkin time, automatically release the site for other campers.

Of course with BIG WARNING and SPECIFIC AGREEMENT of this rule and clearly mentioning NO REFUND when people are reserving and paying for a site would be needed.

The park keeps the original reservation money and gets extra money for the next reservation made. Eliminates campers that might reserve from week days to over the weekend to come only on the weekend, provides better inventory to last minute travellers, etc.

Now this could work ‘well’ if the park has a good automated system that they programme to do the automatic release, unless the automatic release was blocked during this 24 hrs window, either online by the customer himself providing reason and new expected show up date or by contacting the staff that do the blocking for them after providing to info – STILL WITH NO REFUND either way.

I never administered a campground, wishful thinking?

Boze
11 days ago

I think we need to keep in mind to not shift more administrative work to the park level, they are understaffed as is. How about the online reservation services pick up the load?
1.Cancelations and refunds could be part of the reservation system at whatever parameters you choose.
2. Tracking bad apples would be a simple task of hitting a “noshow” key at the park level and after 2 noshows without cancelation, ban them from the system.

Steve
15 days ago

Ya know, every comment implies one thing. RV’ers need to communicate! A couple of the parks we stayed at this year, called us shortly after noon the day we were to arrive to ask if we were still coming. If we had said no, obviously that would free up the site for someone else. Easy-Peasy!

But now I am going to throw a couple barbs. We have created this monster ourselves! How many RV’ers complain about over-crowding? So this drives people to make reservation as early as possible, even if they are not sure they can make them. This drives cancellation issues and campgrounds less than desired refund policies. Add to that the new ‘dynamic’ pricing we are hearing about and just like that – WE (RV’ers), CG’s and the RV industry have created a monster. Given the economy, it will be interesting where this all goes.

Robin Laub
17 days ago

I’m not sure what a perfect answer would be
someone will always find a way to manipulate the system. I do think that maybe issuing a rain check, or escrow sort of system would be helpful. If you have to cancel your stay the funds could be put into an escrow account, that ties into your reservation account. The campground gets to keep the funds until your able to use them again. I know of a few private owned camp grounds that do this.

Bryan
17 days ago

I see this as more of a systems issue. Reservations should be reviewed each morning. Manually delete the reservations that did not arrive and check in. If the camp site is not filled on the first night, the reservation is canceled with no refund. Then open the site for reservations.
How is this basic process so much more difficult then renting a car, hotel room, etc. I have had to call companies that we had a reservation and change it or some reason. 95% of the time it is understood. And the person or company will accommodate. I have lost two times the amount paid for the first night.

Teri
19 days ago

Maybe a deal where they don’t get a refund but can CHANGE the reservation to a different date that is available could be an option for those that are past the 4day cancelation window. It might be an acceptable compromise. Many other places do that for a small administration fee.

Judy
20 days ago

Very difficult situation! Bill at booking the entire site fee. If the camper has the courtesy to cancel by noon on the check in date, refund 90% and rebook the site. No call by noon, no refund. same for a late arrival. Call to inform of late arrival. From my experience campgrounds have increased their charges to the point that is it financially painful if you have to pay for a sight that you don’t fill. In my experience if you work with the campgrounds they are willing at be flexible. Otherwise it is the camper looking for a site that is hurt not the campground!

Cal
20 days ago

For single night reservations a cutoff time of 5:pm would allow prospective campers the opportunity to use a site. A waiting list on a work up plan would let those without reservations to gain access.
For longer stays the person making the reservation would be notified that they must show up at the specified time or contact the park to let the park know they are on the way and give an approximate time of arrival. message could be generated and sent to the reservation holder when they don’t show up by check in time that they no longer have that site available and a refund has been generated less a no show penalty.
I would think that with a cutoff time for longer stays the park could then open that site to the next person in line.
If the person who made the initial reservation shows up late without notifying the campground it’s to bad so sad. They get a full refund less a “no show” penalty all of which is clearly spelled out when they first
made the reservation.
Automate it!

Bob M
22 days ago

If I couldn’t make my scheduled camping date. I’d just call the campground and tell them I’m canceling and they could rebook the site. Wouldn’t be concerned about the refund, but rather someone else to use the site. I camp in mostly state parks or government owned campgrounds. So the money loss wouldn’t be worth it. Not that I’m rich, but rather be considerate.

Ginny kimball
22 days ago

Do like the dr dentist offices do call a couple of days ahead n get a for sure answer of yes n if a no call your people on the waiting list if they dont show after a yes charge them more for a no show

Jim H
10 days ago
Reply to  Ginny kimball

This seems like a very good suggestion. Dentists and Doctors have used this for many years and some people are perfectly delighted to take a “canceled” slot in the schedule. There are some of us who have to plan ahead to get our RV out of inside storage and we could not do some of this until we got “on the road” – but if this were a common practice we would count on this being a “way to go.”

R moore
22 days ago

I am currently road tripping in Oregon. When a consumer purchases portable beverages here (beer, sodas, etc) a 10 cent deposit is paid up front on each can. Guess what? There are no cans anywhere; the redemption centers are very popular.
I propose a similar additional “deposit” be paid when making camping reservations. If the reserver doesn’t show by a certain time frame (no phone call excuses, even though they happen), then the site gets relisted online made available locally. No refunds. The reservation issuing entity can then use the “cancellation deposit” plus the reservation funds to fund the additional service personel or database required to reschedule the now available slot. If no “no show” occurs, then that “no show fee” deposit gets automatically refunded or just not auto- charged on the card. My point is that for reservation interruptions/ corrections/no shows to be processed quickly enough to benefit an arriving camper the processing time has to be compensated/profitable.

David
24 days ago

Make the site available but hold the refund until a new camper takes the spot to ensure the campsite is paid for.

Sandy
24 days ago

If they allowed a refund only if the site was rented then everyone would get what they want, a full campground and a refund for people who can’t attend.

Nate
24 days ago

There should be a system where people can submit that they would like to cancel that offers a full refund and that RV site is then placed on a special page to allow people to reserve it. If it gets a new reservation, the people get a full refund. If not the original refund policy applies.

Karen
22 days ago
Reply to  Nate

I don’t think they should get any refund if the site isn’t rented because that means they didn’t give enough advanced notice for those of us desperate for a site almost anywhere in some states such as Florida in the winter. My circumstances normally do not allow me to plan 11 months in advance. And the once or twice that I could plan that far ahead, there was so much demand that I couldn’t get through on my computer until all available sites were taken.

Dave
24 days ago

Zero refunds unless the park is able to resell the site. This would encourage people to always call and call ASAP to try to get a refund. On the state and nation reservation site, tag the repeat offenders to discourage bad behavior. Create waiting lists for at least weekend night so that people can make plans when there are openings instead constantly checking the website and clogging things up.

Joe calderon
24 days ago
Reply to  Dave

I fully agree with your position.

Karen
22 days ago
Reply to  Dave

I love the idea of tagging the repeat offenders!

Jim H
10 days ago
Reply to  Dave

This is another great suggestion and VERY fair for everyone. Motivating the one who made the reservation to “do the right thing” is a tremendous way to help the entire system. It’s incredible how responsible people can become to get THEIR money back, even if a small amount in their overall budget!

Deb Schroeder
24 days ago

If they don’t cancel or call they will be late, after 24 hours their site should be forfeited.

Jane R.
24 days ago
Reply to  Deb Schroeder

Totally agree with this. Makes the most sense and simple!

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles
22 days ago
Reply to  Deb Schroeder

good simple response.

Richard Shepler
24 days ago

Instill a show by time or the site can be given to another camper, if rented to another camper a refund can be given if requested. No shows / no contact still get charged the whole fee. That way more sites are available to active campers. And no shows get penalized. Over time the no show rate wohld drop…

Larry George
24 days ago

All sales final, no refunds. Simple.You reserve it, you pay for it. In Full.

Jane R.
24 days ago
Reply to  Larry George

I disagree with this as plans change and life changes. A respectable amount of time given in advance for cancelling just makes sense.

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