Two weeks ago, we looked at a phenomenon called “phantom” reservations. It’s the practice by some unethical campers of making multiple reservations for the same dates at multiple campgrounds. These campers select one reservation at the last minute, and let the rest go unused. (If you missed that story, here’s the link.)
Judging from the comments on that article, unused campsites are something a lot of campers are encountering this summer.
Let’s look at another possible – and less scurrilous – reason for phantom reservations … the extension of campground reservation booking windows.
Many campground owners, faced with unprecedented demand for campsites, have taken to extending their reservation booking windows to 12 months out and beyond. Extending booking windows was the way many owners dealt with the sudden influx of new guests last summer as campers hunted for ways to get outside after pandemic lockdowns.
Extending booking windows many months out makes sense for campground owners.
Most will charge a deposit. Usually it’s the first night’s fee, but in some cases the entire stay is charged to the camper’s card. Those funds hit the owner’s bank account and become available for the owner to use immediately even though the reservation may be for a stay a full year away.
For campers, the extended booking windows can be the only way to have any chance at camping on popular dates or weekends. They book 12 months out and try to schedule the rest of their lives around those reservation dates.
And that’s where the potential problem of phantom reservations comes up again.
Personally, I couldn’t tell you what my situation will be 12 months from now. Will I still own the same RV, or any RV at all? Will I still be traveling with my pet? What about deaths, graduations, illnesses, births of grandkids and all the other factors that can’t be anticipated a year out?
I can’t imagine the complexity for RVers trying to plan a multi-stop, multiple-month trip a year in advance. They are forced to use multiple reservation sites with varying rules and procedures. They have to keep everything straight and hope against hope that one glitch doesn’t throw the entire plan into chaos.
Keeping to one reservation system doesn’t guarantee simplicity.
The Recreation.gov website, for example, clearly states “The 6-month booking window is not mandated for all locations on Recreation.gov. Some locations release their availability anywhere from 1 month to 12 months in advance.”
What if a camper makes a reservation this August for a camping stay in August 2022, and some life-changing event occurs in the interim? Will they even remember to cancel the reservation?
I’ve recently visited with several campground owners who said they’ve extended their booking calendars because the crowded camping market demands it. They’ve found that if you extend it, they will come (along with their deposits). Some winter parks have even taken to accepting reservations two years out for snowbirds.
I don’t have any extensive studies or hard numbers to support the argument that extended booking calendars result in phantom reservations. To me, it seems like a logical “cause and effect” situation. Maybe, as one reader politely said two weeks ago, the entire phantom reservation issue is a “tempest in a teapot.”
So, readers. What do you think?