Campers Beware – The Bots Are Back
Remember back in the good old days when you looked forward to getting up early to try and reserve a campsite? Or how about way back in the day when all you could do was call the reservation agency to reserve your camping vacation for the summer? More often than not, you were able to get a campsite reservation, but not anymore.
As we all have learned, the good old days are a thing of the past. Reserving a campsite on ReserveCalifornia.com and other reservation systems has become very difficult. We’ve even had many campers contact us over the last several months saying they’ve given up trying to get a reservation at popular parks in California, Florida and other areas of the country.
For sure there are way more people wanting to camp and demand far exceeds the supply of campsites. However, online camping reservation systems are also susceptible to bots grabbing campsite reservations. These bots are super-fast and can reserve a campsite before you even lift a finger to click on the ‘book now’ button.
“A bot — short for “robot” and also called an internet bot — is a computer program that operates as an agent for a user or other program, or to simulate a human activity. Bots are normally used to automate certain tasks, meaning they can run without specific instructions from humans.” (Whatis.com)
The staff at CampsitePhotos.com knows of a least 2 entities using bots to reserve campsites (for a fee), and several other individuals that have developed bot programs to get their friends and family campsite reservations. You can bet there are many more out there doing the same. We forwarded the information about the bots we know of along to ReserveCalifornia.com and California State Parks, but have not heard back.
Typically reservation systems (like ReserveCalifornia.com) will open up reservations 6-months prior to your planned arrival date (i.e. on Feb 10 you can try to reserve for an Aug 10 arrival). In the old days, the reservation window would open on the 1st of the month, for an any-day arrival during an entire month (6 months later). For example, on January 1, people could try and reserve a site any day during the month of July. Campers seemed to have better luck getting a campsite under this scenario.
Today, savvy campers know to check out which campsites are available before the reservation window opens. Then on the designated day and time (8am PT for ReserveCalifornia.com), they refresh their screen and attempt to click on an available site. Unfortunately those nasty bots are all dialed in to snap up the available campsites before you (the average human) has a chance. If by chance there is a campsite or two not taken by a bot, there are hundreds, if not thousands of other campers trying to get a campsite.
ReserveCalifornia.com is aware of the bot issue and has been modifying and updating their system to try and stop the bots:
Bots: Security features were installed to reduce the opportunities for ‘bots’ to access reservations and negatively impact the availability of campsites and tour ticket opportunities.
Third Party Vendors: Reservations are for personal use only. Any resale, transfer, use, for profit activity, or memberships that are not approved in advance by California State Parks are strictly prohibited and will be subject to immediate cancellation without notice, refund or reimbursement. You may also not be allowed to make any reservations or open new accounts. There are currently no approved vendors to operate as third party partners.
It’s an uphill battle though and using the current online reservation system (with the bots in play) isn’t making it easier to reserve a campsite.
It seems a bit antiquated, but what about having a percentage of the campsites available only for phone reservations? Would going back to the ‘reserve 6 months in advance for any day in the month’ option be better?
In the meantime, you can always use our Campsite Assist tool. It will send you text & email alerts when a campsite becomes available through cancellation. Alerts include links to the reservation system so you can try and reserve the site. You can purchase specific scans, matrix scans (date range) and scan packs.
You can also contact ReserveCalifornia or California State Parks and let them know what you think:
Contact Page: ReserveCalifornia.com
California State Parks
P.O. Box 942896
Sacramento, CA 94296
Email: Newsroom@parks.ca.gov, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gloria Sandoval – Deputy Director Public Affairs
Armando Quintero, Director, California State Parks
Thanks for your input. Let’s hope for happy camping in the future!