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Some Alberta campers say new reservation site is 'a challenge'

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Alberta's new camping reservation website had its first real test on Monday morning as thousands of outdoor enthusiasts went online to secure their favourite spots.

Starting at 9 a.m. on Monday, the Alberta government launched its new website that officials said had been redesigned to be more streamlined and user-friendly that the previous version.

Monday's launch opened bookings for individual sites.

However, once the site actually launched, some users said they experienced the same old problems.

"I'm disappointed because of several reasons," Larry Hubick told CTV News in an interview on Monday.

"Booking campsites has always been a challenge for me online. I've never been lucky in pursuing what dates I want."

He says the new website isn't any better.

"I assume they created this site to prevent bots from booking sites but a long weekend is coveted in this province for camping."

Hubick says he was booking a 10-day from May 12 on, which would have included the long weekend.

"I started early enough in the day and by the time I got my site that I wanted and had so as soon as it hit 9 a.m. I clicked 'book,' it thrust me into a waiting queue of three minutes."

As soon as that time elapsed, Hubick says his reservation was gone.

"I had to settle for something else – I did get a 10-day booking, but not including the long weekend."

Meanwhile, other users had similar or entirely different problems with the reservation site on Monday.

While Hubick says the new site was likely built to combat the number of bots designed to snap up campsites, it also makes it difficult to search for what you're looking for.

"It's cumbersome and it's always been a challenge for the last several years to try to get a campsite of your choosing," he said.

"I don't know how the government is going to come up with a way to make it seemingly fair."

Nancy MacDonald, executive director of visitor experience and business with Alberta Parks, is pleased with the website’s performance and considers today a huge success.

“Like any new system there’s things we have to learn and we’ll do post mortems as we go through each of our launch days,” she said. “We’re just so pleased with how the system has functioned and we’ve certainty got lots of feedback from users so far.”

Individual campsites opened at 9 a.m. and according to MacDonald, some 20,657 individual camping nights, or 6,211 reservations, were booked by 11:30 a.m.

“By 9:30 a.m., just about everybody who had wanted to make a reservation was going on with their day, which is really great,” she said.

Tyler Dixon, Alberta Parks ambassador, says once people familiarize themselves with the new site he doesn’t anticipate too many hiccups.

“It does look different and it takes some time to figure out the changes but once you’re in there and you use it I found it quite simple to use,” he said.

Dixon says there are certain sites that will always be hard to secure a site just due to their popularity.

Dinosaur Provincial Park, for example, has 120 sites and was almost immediately booked for the May long weekend but there are 14,000 sites across Alberta’s Park system, 9,000 of which are reservable and 5,000 which are first-come first-serve.

“There is always high demand places and those are always challenging, old site or new site I don’t think it matters.”

Dixon encourages people to familiarize themselves with the new site and be open to trying some place new in the province.

“Going in with a plan, being flexible, maybe looking at midweek if it’s possible for you than weekends which are always busier,” he said.

“There is also a bunch of hidden gems that are out there in the province and if you’re willing to travel a bit further and, like I said, be flexible with some of them it’s worth kind of exploring those comfort zones.”

Group camping bookings go live on the website on Wednesday at 9 a.m.

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