Booking a provincial campsite is a high-stakes venture — like getting a front row seat to a concert.
Everyone goes in with a plan, refreshing and calling furiously just to snag a coveted spot. And now, some worry about another parallel: campsite scalpers.
Alberta Parks acknowledged the concern Friday on its social media channels after receiving several reports and complaints from campers.
"We're committed to ensuring access to camping in Alberta Parks is fair and equitable," read a statement from Alberta Environment and Parks.
While the ministry told CBC News that reselling is rare, it has posted a reminder on social media because it's something it wants to prevent.
"We had some social media followers reach out to us today saying there were a couple of resale ads online," the Facebook post says. "We ask Albertans if they see any ads or posts attempting to resell reservations to call our Contact Centre at 1 (877) 537-2757. We will cancel the reservations of those trying to resell their campsites."
By the time staff were able to look into reports, the solicitations had already been pulled, Parks told CBC.
For many, May long weekend is the kickoff of camping season in Alberta. They take a chance on spring weather to secure a spot.
With all the competition, it can be tough to land a site that weekend.
Camping enthusiast Lisa Gabruck said she's already seen at least one for sale on Facebook groups.
"The non-refundable reservation fee is too low at the moment," Gabruck said. "Most resellers are willing to take the hit as they will make it back on other sites they are reselling."
According to the Alberta Parks website, changing a reservation costs $5, the campsite reservation fee is $12 and non-refundable.
'I have an extra site'
Last year, Nathan Larson missed out on reservations and saw upselling behaviour first hand. He wanted a site and messaged a couple of people advertising provincial sites for sale. He said they were looking for $20 to $30 on top of the typical cost of the site.
This year, he's turned to private sites to avoid the hassle and the crowds.
But on opening day this week, Larson was curious if the Alberta Parks reservation system had improved this year. He hopped on Facebook groups to see what campers were saying. What he saw on some social media groups was frustrating.
"I kept seeing people saying, 'I have an extra site here, I have an extra site there,'" Larson said. "It just seemed a little odd you would spend all this time and effort, frustration, to book multiple sites and immediately go online and try to offload them."
Booking should be fair, says camper
Opening day 2021 produced 23,830 bookings by the end of the day, compared with 11,628 reservations for last year's opening. By Friday at 1:30 p.m., there were 27,538 bookings.
This flood of activity came with issues. Alberta Parks' reservation site crashed, and people were repeatedly told to be patient.
Larson isn't sure how the reservation system can improve, but it's frustrating enough for him to avoid the provincial park system altogether.
"It's supposed to be a fair site for everybody to use," he said.
When she first moved to Alberta from Ontario years ago, Tamara Higgins said she was surprised at how difficult it can be to get a provincial campsite. She has also decided to primarily book through private campgrounds because of repeated issues and frustrations.
The problem, Higgins said, is a complicated combination of a poor booking system, desperation to get a site, and little enforcement of the rules. Higgins doesn't believe people are making extra cash from the practice.
Many, she thinks, are prone to overbook to secure a spot for themselves and a group before their plans have firmed up, and sometimes plans change, or life happens.
The overbooking then leads to those who genuinely want a site for a certain time and date missing out, and those who have sites to spare with a place to make an arrangement.
"Because of the rush to book, they just book a whole bunch and then they start selling them off as they realize they are not able to go," Higgins said.
In the past, despite the warnings that sites aren't transferable, Higgins said she's been able to pick up a stranger's reservation.
Alberta Parks told CBC News there has been a surge in demand over the past couple of years — people aren't able to book vacations so they are exploring parks instead.
"We encourage those who aren't able to use their sites to please let us know because there are a lot of people who could use them," read the statement from Alberta Environment and Parks. "Albertans can get a full refund, minus the reservation fee, three days ahead of their arrival date."