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MLA Report: Campsite middlemen need to better serve British Columbians
Much like scalpers buying concert tickets in bulk to resell them at twice the price, some individuals and travel companies are taking advantage of the Discover Camping reservation system to book campsites in provincial parks and resell them at a premium to tourists. To get ahead of British Columbians planning to reserve a campsite for their family vacation, these individuals and companies start claiming spots as soon as the bookings become available. Yet unlike the situation where scalpers resell concert or hockey tickets, the people of British Columbia already own our provincial parks.
It’s time for the government to step in and correct the situation.
Unfortunately, the Provincial Government has welcomed the campground middlemen and suggests that they are preforming a valuable tourism service. The acceptance of a practice that allows private for-profit companies to compete with B.C. families for public campsites suggests that the government has lost sight of the public purpose of our parks and campgrounds. Our provincial campsites are not products to be sold, rather they belong to the people of B.C.
Government agencies have been entrusted by the public to manage our parks as a collective good, so that they can be preserved and maintained into the future. Instead they are managing them as if they were a nothing more than a commodity.
To reference Thomas More, the dominant function of public lands is to contribute to the greater public good with the government acting as a managing mechanism to ensure that purpose is being served, not to push their own agenda. The ultimate question needs to be “how well is the public function being served?” not “how well is the agency doing?”
Since the management of provincial campgrounds began privatizing in the 1980s, the former question has been increasingly ignored in favour of the latter. The emergence of campground brokers takes it to a new low.
There are 1,029 provincial parks, recreation areas, conservancies, ecological reserves and protected areas in B.C., covering more than 14 million hectares. B.C. provincial parks receive over 21 million visits each year and in 2015 more than 158,000 reservations were made through the Discover Camping site. The provincial park system contributes some $392 million annually to the province’s GDP, according to provincial government calculations in recent years.
Over 250 public campgrounds in B.C. are managed by private companies, that bid on management contracts. Over the years a handful of companies, like Sea to Sky Park Services Ltd. who manages 18 parks, have secured a majority of the bids. While the provincial government retains campground ownership and sets a level of expectation for campsite management, including what amenities are provided at what price, the private-sector park facility operators run the ship, so to speak.
The transition from government-managed campsites to those run by businesses has, I think, compromised our priceless park system in B.C. and undercut their worth as a public good.
There is a larger conversation to be had about the values we want maintained in our provincial parks, for current use and generations to come, but the issue of campsite middlemen should be addressed now.
The reservation system should give British Columbians priority by either allocating enough resident-specific sites to meet local demand, or by staggering booking openings so British Columbians have first shot at reserving a spot.
Andrew Weaver is the MLA for Oak Bay - Gordon Head.