Meet Parks Canada’s new reservation system, made by the same manufacturers as the old system
The “new platform” for online campground reservations that Parks Canada plans to launch next month is actually based on software from the same company it struggled with a few years ago when the booking system crashed and potential campers complained about lost reservations.
At the same time, the federal government is looking—once again—for a company to provide a brand new booking system that is set to launch sometime after 2023.
For years, Parks Canada has fine-tuned its system to better handle reservations in popular destinations — particularly in Banff National Park — where demand for many campgrounds far outstrips supply.
Tens of thousands of potential campers typically rush to make reservations as soon as bookings open. This onslaught overwhelmed the online system in 2019 and then again in 2020.
A company called Camis made the software that collapsed under the weight of all those eager campers.
These problems were later alleviated by the introduction of a virtual waiting room, which randomly assigned users a place in the queue and only let a certain number through at a time.
But reports from other disorders passedlikewise, concerns about large corporate bookings and the possibility of people using automated computer scripts gaining an unfair advantage over ordinary users.
Following the 2020 experience, the federal government asked five companies to bid for a brand new booking system contract for Parks Canada.
New contract awarded, then terminated
In December 2020, an American company called US eDirect was awarded a $11.2 million contract to deploy a new system.
The federal government noted that it had the “best overall proposal” with the “highest combined score of technical merit and price.”
The deal included a term of six years plus an option to extend for another five years thereafter.
“To be selected to work with Parks Canada is an incredible honor,” said Tony Alex, the company’s President and CEO, at the time. “We are excited to begin this journey.”
This trip ended a year and a half later when the contract was terminated for reasons not made public.
Parks Canada would not say why the contract was ending and referred questions to the federal department responsible for procurement.
A spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Canada said only: “In May 2022, Canada and US eDirect agreed to terminate the contract.”
“Because the contract with US eDirect was terminated prior to delivery of the new system, the current contract with Camis has been extended,” the spokesman added.
US eDirect did not respond to a request for comment, and neither Parks Canada nor Public Services and Procurement Canada would say how much, if any, money was paid to the American company.
Back to camis
Parks Canada is now relying on Camis to provide an updated version of its software for the March 2023 launch of camping reservations.
That’s two months behind the typical January launch.
A Parks Canada spokesman said the delay was necessary “to ensure a smooth transition to the latest version of the vendor’s software.”
“Parks Canada would like to reassure visitors that a reservation service will continue to be available,” the spokesman said. “There will be no service gaps and no impact to visitors as Camis will continue to operate Parks Canada’s reservations service [the government of] Canada determines the next steps.”
Camis declined to go into the details of his deal with Parks Canada.
Internal emails received as part of a 2020 RFI showed some concern about the Camis software.
“Camis will be migrating us to their new Camis5 platform,” reads an email from a Parks Canada employee. “While this would bring a multitude of benefits, it also poses many risks. Many other Camis customers have reported issues with their migration – we’re more complicated than that, but hope Camis’ experience to date will help ensure a smoother process for us.”
Another January 2020 email indicated that there would be difficulties merging users’ old credentials into the new system.
Today, Parks Canada is advising users that their old credentials will soon be scrapped and advises those planning a camping trip in 2023 to check out the following dates:
Before February 26: Log into your existing account and write down your favorite campsites and activities (this information will disappear when the new booking platform launches).
From March 3rd: Create a new account on Parks Canada’s new reservations website.
“Although the reservation service will look largely the same, some new features are expected,” said the Parks Canada spokesperson.
Those features include a user interface that works better on smaller screens and mobile devices, and improved systems for Parks Canada to “effectively identify and manage disruptions and communicate changes in a timely manner for a better online experience.”