Manitoba campsite reservations surge on opening day amid glitches, hours-long waits

Holly Klann was among thousands of Manitobans glued to her computer screen early Monday morning hoping to beat the rush and book a campsite on opening day of reservations. Things did not go smoothly.

When the provincial reservation website opened at 7 a.m., she was around 1,900th in line. The website crashed 30 minutes later, right as she was next up, and she was bumped to the back of the queue — somewhere nearer to 20,000th in line.

She finally got through at 11:30 a.m. By then, everything had been picked through, and she didn’t get what she wanted.

“Terrible…. It was frustrating,” she said. “I just booked anything I could find that wasn’t a shared group spot.” 

Klann is one of several who voiced complaints on social media on Monday about the province’s parks and campground booking system’s technical glitches and hours-long waits.

Reservations for cabins, yurts and camp sites opened Monday for Birds Hill Provincial Park. Winnipeg Beach and Whiteshell Provincial Park reservations open Wednesday, and the rest of provincial campground reservations open next Monday.

Opening minute traffic skyrockets

A provincial spokesperson said a technical issue was detected and quickly resolved when reservations opened Monday.

In the opening minute of reservations Monday, the number of people logging in, many with on more than one device or browser, surpassed 12,800. That’s compared to about 2,800 last year, according to the province.

The entire first day last year registered just over 6,150 reservations by day’s end. This year, nearly 11,000 reservations were booked by 11 a.m., the spokesperson said.

Manitoba’s parks service and outdoors businesses have been bracing for another surge in camping interest due to COVID-19 restrictions making leisure travel outside of the province uncertain this summer.

Provincial campgrounds saw similar spikes in visitors and record reservations last summer due to travel restrictions at the time.

Joanne Bjornson said in 2020 she wasn’t able to snatch up a weekend campground site due to the wild uptick in demand. She lucked out this year.

Joanne Bjornson, centre, on a hike in the Falcon Lake area last summer with her children Peter, left, Kieran, second from left, her husband Dane, second from right, and her daughter Iris, right. (Submitted by Joanne Bjornson)

Bjornson said she was on the province’s camp reservation site a few minutes early Monday, and when it refreshed at 7 a.m. she was assigned spot No. 8,400 in line. She waited nearly three hours but managed to snag one weekend in June and one in August at Birds Hill. 

She has her eyes set on a few spots in the Whiteshell when those sites open up for reservations Wednesday, but she isn’t as optimistic given the hours-long waits she experienced Monday.

“What kind of ancient software are they using that can’t handle more than a handful of reservations at a time?” she said. “You think there’d be a better way.”

Empty handed

Heather Boer is also mostly focused on the Whiteshell on Wednesday.

She said this is the sixth or seventh year she’s been jockeying for position on opening day, so to a degree she knew what to expect.

She said “the system has always been bad,” and though technical glitches aren’t uncommon in her experience, she wasn’t faced with any Monday.

She was at her computer half an hour before reservations opened and started hitting refresh every few seconds right before 7 a.m.

“And then suddenly I am 10,000th in line,” Boer said from Pinawa, Man. “I don’t really have any use for Birds Hill because I used to live right there, so I was mostly looking for a yurt, and when I got in three hours later, nothing.”

WATCH | ‘I had plans’: Heather Boer comes away empty-handed:

Heather Boer was one of thousands of Manitobans who tried to book a campsite, yurt or cabin in Manitoba provincial parks Monday morning on opening day of reservations. 0:55

Boer said she at least expected a yurt to be free in Camper’s Cover near The Pas due to how far it is from the south, but there to all the spots were gone.

The high volume of people making reservations makes sense to Boer, given the limited travel options available to Manitobans.

Campers blame ‘antiquated’ system

She thinks there needs to be a systems refresh. Klann agrees.

“It sounds like it’s a bit of an antiquated site, but I know it’s easier said than done to put government resources into an overhaul of the travel and leisure portion when there’s other things to focus on,” she said. “It really needs to be updated.”

Klann took a screengrab of the provincial parks reservation service website when it crashed on her around 7:30 a.m. CT Monday, moving her from around 1,900th to 20,000th in line. (Submitted by Holly Klann)

Klann said despite being prepared this year, she didn’t have faith everything would work due to the province’s website and high demand.

“I thought I would just give it a go and at least I knew that I did what I could to try and get a spot,” she said. “When I saw the error I actually kind of laughed because I had anticipated it, but it was still frustrating.”

The province’s response to CBC News did not address a question about whether it plans to upgrade its campsite booking system in light of the complaints.

WATCH | Klann details experience booking campground reservations:

Holly Klann said she was logged into the province’s campsite reservation system on opening day at 7 a.m. Thirty minutes later, it crashed and punted her to 20,000th in line. 0:52