Ontario Parks only rarely overbooked in 2020, ministry says

·2 min read

WATERLOO REGION — The instances of people who reserved large numbers of nights and then cancelled to secure their trip in 2020 were rare, according to the ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.

“We have investigated previous reports of overbooking (reserving 23 nights and then cancelling/changing to secure your desired stay) and have determined that these occurrences are rare, accounting for less than 0.5% of all reservations in 2020,” says Gary Wheeler, a spokesperson for the ministry.

“While there are customers who do book reservations for 23 nights, many fully honour those stays,” he says.

This season, campers across Ontario, including in the Waterloo Region area are frustrated with how difficult it is to reserve a camping spot this season.

“It’s always been fairly difficult to book sites, starting last year especially,” says Amy Weber, a mother of three in Listowel with family traditions of camping.

Ontario Parks reports a near 100 per cent increase in the number of reservations between January and February 2021 over last year.

“Just in the first few weeks of 2021, campers have made 58,475 reservations, up from 29,504 reservations in the same period in 2020,” according to an Ontario Parks webpage with tips on reserving sites.

The result is high competition for site reservations.

The day the booking opened for the trip dates they wished to reserve, Weber and her husband both had their browsers open, with their reservations and back up reservations queued up on the Ontario Parks website, waiting for the minute it turned to 7 a.m.

They managed to reserve their fourth choice, she says.

“It feels a little bit like the wild west.”

Mary Duiker VanderMarel rents out storage space for RVs in Fergus. She says her customers are very frustrated trying to find places to camp this year. She says at least one of her customers is so frustrated he is thinking about selling the RV and giving up all together.

The ministry is working to make sure sites are reserved fairly and equitably, says Wheeler.

“Ontario Parks currently has some of the steepest cancellation/change penalties in North America, which were instituted in 2005,” says Wheeler. “The current cancellation policy increases 10 per cent for every month you hold your reservation up to a maximum of 50 per cent, and the 10 per cent penalty exists for only one day for those reservations made exactly five months in advance.”

“Hearing from the people who use our reservation service is important to us. We can assure you that we are continually reviewing our reservation policies and conducting jurisdictional scans of other similar systems to ensure we are providing equality and fairness to all of our customers.”

Leah Gerber’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows her to report on stories about the Grand River Watershed. Email lgerber@therecord.com

Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record