In summer 2017, a service was introduced to help campers find spaces in sold-out provincial campsites around the province. Campnab is the brainchild of Eric Shelkie, who loves to camp with his family but was frustrated by the fact that many camping spaces are snapped up months in advance, leaving BC Parks campsites with “No Vacancy” signs. So he built an online tool that scans BC Parks websites for cancellations, and discovered that many spaces—sometimes hundreds—become available daily due to people cancelling reservations.
Shelkie—along with colleague Eric Karjaluoto—tidied up the tool, and launched it in early July of last year. With bookings in BC Parks campsites already up 13 per cent over last year, The Journal reached out to Karjaluoto, to see how the first year of Campnab went and what changes have been made to it, in advance of this year’s summer camping season.
“We had a fair bit of activity early on after launching, but last year seemed a longer season,” he says. “People were still signing up for Campnab in September and early October. It died down over the winter, and was quiet until a few weeks ago.”
Karjaluoto says that many people overbook their campsite reservations, then have to cancel, and in many cases the sites go unused. He says that other people often book several weekends in a row, as they don’t know their schedule, then only end up using the ones that fit. In one 24-hour period in early July of 2017, Campnab found that 845 campsite reservations had been cancelled.
The user goes to the Campnab website (https://www.campnab.com), picks the sold-out BC Parks campsite they want, chooses the area of the site they want to stay (if applicable), and enters the date(s) required. They then enter how often they want Campnab to scan for sites, with users able to do a one-off scan or set the site to scan every X number of minutes.
An individual scan costs between $5 and $20, depending on the frequency of the scanning. Campnab also offers a monthly plan starting at $5 that will scan up to three different campsites for up to four months.
According to Karjaluoto, setting Campnab to scan every five minutes gives the best chance of success. When an opening matching the user’s parameters is found, Campnab will send you a text message, and it is then up to the user to book the campsite. “If five people had the same search, they would all get a text message. The first one to book gets the spot.”
He adds that they still send only text messages as an alert, not emails. “Texts are more suitable for receiving messages quickly. People don’t check emails as much. And this is a side project for us. We don’t make a lot of money out of it, so we have to pick away at the biggest things, like adding more sites.”
The pair have done that. Since starting Campnab in B.C. last year, Karjaluoto and Shelkie have added other jurisdictions, including Ontario, most National Parks in Canada, state and national parks in Washington, Oregon, and California, and many U.S. national parks.
Using Campnab is not a guarantee that people are going to get a spot, Karjaluoto warns. “It’s dependent on people giving it enough time. If you try it the day before you want a site, then no. A couple of weeks is better, especially if you can be flexible on the dates and the number of days. We don’t control the supply.”
That said, he adds that by the end of the season last year they were seeing up to 4,000 new openings a day in B.C. and Ontario. “The numbers here were probably skewed by the wildfires. But things do open up all the time.”
Regarding the increase in demand for campsites this year, Karjaluoto says that he thinks more and more people are trying to get away from screens. “They want non-mediated time with their families, they want to get away from work. They want to do things with their hands that are more involved than clicking a keyboard or a mouse.
“A certain generation wants to replicate the experiences they had with their family, or it’s a reaction to our technical world.
“Campnab is a little project that will just keep running for as long as it needs to. New people are signing up each day.”