RVers tired of endlessly searching the internet for available campsites now have access to a new service that creator and founder Mark Petersen thinks could change the way people plan their trips.
But at least one major campground operator (Kampgrounds of America Inc.) isn’t happy with the new service, and has sent the new company a “cease and desist” letter protesting the methods used by Petersen’s new “Arvie™” booking service. KOA is demanding that all KOA inventory be immediately removed from the Arvie.com website.
Petersen said Arvie is a subscription service and acts as an online travel agency for RVers, designed to help campers find, compare, and instantly book the best campsites for all of their trips using a sleek and centralized interface.
For a subscription fee of $14.95 each month, RV owners can tap into Arvie to scour the internet for available campsites at nearly 4,000 campgrounds. Not only can Arvie find an available site and notify the RV owner, Petersen says it can also automatically book the site as soon as it’s available.
Officials at Kampgrounds of America Inc. said Petersen’s service is effectively just another “scraping” website that likely uses automated bots to find available sites. KOA said scraping bots lead to double bookings within its proprietary reservation software, in effect blocking KOA’s available inventory from other campers.
KOA said Tuesday that it had talked with Arvie’s chief operating officer, and it became apparent that Arvie was “scraping” KOA’s site for available reservations. KOA said the scraping was noticed during routine systems monitoring over the past few months.
KOA issued the following statement Tuesday, April 26:
“KOA, Inc. did not authorize the placement of campground inventory on ARVIE.com. We believe they have “scraped” KOA.com, in violation of our terms and services, to present KOA inventory on their site and may be using an electronic “bot” to make reservations into our system. This has created double bookings within K2, KOA’s property management software, which may be an attempt to hold inventory. We have issued a cease and desist letter to ARVIE demanding they remove KOA inventory from their site arvie.com and discontinue their ability to sell KOA inventory without permission.” – Kampgrounds of America Inc.
Petersen responded to RVtravel.com regarding KOA’s cease and desist letter with the following statement:
“Arvie was built to serve the camping community and it was designed from the bottom up to help campers find and book campsites at the exact same price the campground sets; without another penny being added on. We view KOA as an integral part of the camping ecosystem and want to work closely with them and other industry partners to harness tremendous synergy for the travel ecosystem.
“We also anticipate campground owners and managers will like the fact that Arvie finds and sends more customers their way; with absolutely zero additional cost or effort on their part.
“We have reached out to KOA to acknowledge the receipt of their letter and plan to respond in the timeframe requested by their counsel.
“Arvie’s new approach to camping travel means we are committed to creating never-before-seen resources, strong partnerships and a better experience for all.” – Mark Petersen, Arvie.com
Officials with the Recreation.gov booking website issued the following statement April 29:
“Recreation.gov provides our real-time availability to partners through an authenticated API and we continuously monitor the site for suspicious activity. We have not seen a pattern of automated large-scale automated bookings from this (Arvie.com) or other sites. We will continue to monitor these and other sites to ensure that we maintain fairness and equal access aligned with our mission.” – Recreation.com
A different sort of booking site?
Petersen is a longtime RVer who was frustrated with constantly searching through dozens of campground booking sites looking for availability. “I couldn’t believe how hard it was to find a campground in my vicinity, compared to how easy it was to find a hotel room using Orbitz or an apartment with Airbnb.” He set out to fix the frustrating search issues in 2015, and just recently launched www.Arvie.com.
He said campers are spending far too much time searching for the elusive available sites at their favorite camping destinations. “We call it the looking and booking blues.”
Petersen said Arvie’s service provides a centralized place where real-time campground availability is provided for travelers. Arvie’s team of agents use its proprietary search engine to check availability for subscriber-requested locations across the U.S. Petersen said Arvie already has three times as many instantly bookable campsites than its next major competitor.
“All of these campground sites ask you the same questions” regarding the RVer’s rig size, slideout options, or whether they travel with pets, he said. “With Arvie, you fill out your profile with us once and we do the searching, and we can book the actual reservation for you.”
Petersen says his customer is the camper
Petersen said his customer is the camper. His only revenue stream comes from the monthly fees paid by camper subscribers. “At the same time, we think we create a win/win for the campground owner and their booking engine, too,” he said. Despite KOA’s claim Tuesday, Petersen said “I didn’t want to do anything other than add value for the rest of the camping industry.”
When using Arvie, campers fill out their profile preferences and requirements, their desired campground, and enter their credit card information. Arvie’s search engine then sweeps the internet 24/7 looking for available sites meeting the search criteria. As soon as a site is found, Arvie either books the site immediately for the camper or alerts the RVer regarding the available site, depending on the method the subscriber has selected. Petersen said Arvie works with secure credit card processor Stripe to complete the transaction.
“Think of us as an online travel agency that makes finding and immediately booking campsites easier for you than you could possibly do on your own,” Petersen said. “We keep a close eye on all of the campground sites you may be interested in, even when you’re sleeping.” Campers can also opt to receive a text alert regarding available sites instead of having Arvie book the site directly.
Arvie had an 87% successful “hit rate”
Petersen said early tests of Arvie’s systems at several popular and fully booked campgrounds found that Arvie had an 87% successful “hit rate” for booking sites that became available.
Arvie completes a camping reservation with one-click booking – supposedly eliminating the need to fill out all of the usual registration forms. Petersen said custom Arvie customer proﬁles expedite the booking process and relieve the stress and struggles to ﬁlter and search through thousands of camping locations to ﬁnd the best ﬁt for RV travelers’ speciﬁc requirements.
“This is something that you either can’t do – or don’t want to do – for yourself. We give campers some of their time back to enjoy and create more camping opportunities.”
Petersen says every camping reservation is completed by a real person, and not a bot or other artificial means. “Our agents perform every booking,” he said.
Sold Out Search and Insta-book features of Arvie
Major features of Arvie include Sold Out Search and Insta-book. Campers can ask for Arvie to watch for cancellations at their desired parks, and quickly book the site for them should one become available. Arvie’s “Sold Out Search” (SOS) monitors sold-out campgrounds for cancellations 24/7 and then automatically books (or notiﬁes, depending on preference) with “Insta-book” the second it becomes available – even while you sleep.
“It’s a great way to enjoy that ‘bucket list’ camping at very popular campgrounds,” Petersen said. “Even at major national park sites, somebody is going to cancel, and we are giving you a good chance to change that cancellation into your reservation. Arvie gives you an advantage, and it’s hard otherwise for the average Joe to get an advantage.”
Petersen said RVers who choose a text alert instead of the immediate booking option can stlll book their site with one click, since Arvie will have the camper’s profile preferences and credit card information on hand.
Campers are frustrated
He said campers are frustrated by the current issues with both searching for an available site and filling out the countless online information each booking site now requires to complete a single reservation.
“I used those same sites, and I could never seem to get it done in time to get the reservation,” he said. “It’s not about just finding a site; it’s about getting a site. We figured out that part.”
Petersen said he hopes both campers and campground owners view Arvie as a desired “accessory” to the campground booking process.
“We are like an aftermarket turbocharger”
“We are like an aftermarket turbocharger,” he said. “When we designed Arvie, I told my people that we should do no harm to this industry or to those campgrounds who make it what it is now. We want to take what there is and try to make it a better experience by improving the process of putting campers into campsites in a more efficient way.”
Petersen said Arvie will always include direct links to campground booking sites, should his subscribers still want to book through those sites. “I’m just trying to make it a speedier process,” he said.
“Everything with Arvie is done in the legally prescribed way, and we have no problem linking back to campground sites. I think if we continue to do the right thing for campgrounds and the result is we bring them more customers at no cost to them, they won’t have a problem working with us.”