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Securing a campsite an Arkansas 'nightmare'; reservation system slows tourism.

Tourism in Arkansas has suffered a major setback in the past few months because of a faulty campsite reservation system set up by the federal government.

Last fall, ReserveAmerica of Ballston Spa, N.Y., won the rights to handle National Recreation Reservation Service reservations at almost 50,000 camping facilities at 1,700 locations managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

There have been stories of New York reservationists asking central Arkansas residents whether they will be flying into Arkadelphia to visit Lake DeGray or if they would like a king size bed or double bed at their site. One Arkansan asked a reservation system operator to suggest the nicest campground and the "lady in New York had no clue," says Richard Davies, director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

"The whole thing is just a nightmare, from what I can gather," Davies says. "Perhaps the best we could say about it is it's a noble idea that's not working."

By some accounts, for every 10,000 reservations ReserveAmerica books nationwide, it misses as many as 70,000 phone calls attempting to make a reservation. One explanation for some of the "busy outs" is because some callers may put their phones on automatic redial, which could call more than 100 times before being answered.

"The initial problem was that [ReserveAmerica] was just overwhelmed," Davies says. "I talked to the Corps in Washington and asked them what is going on. They said [ReserveAmerica] is adding operators and [phone] lines as quickly as they can to get it under control."

The fiasco has brought hundreds of complaints to Parks and Tourism, which has nothing to do with handling the reservations. Apparently a lot of fishing, camping and boating enthusiasts don't know exactly where to complain.

Some of the problems for tourists, at least early on, was that travelers arriving at a campsite couldn't get in without a reservation, even if the camp was empty.

"There were some gate attendants who misunderstood the program and passed out that information," says Ron Helton, NRRS coordinator at the Little Rock district of the Corps of Engineers. "But we have corrected that. You don't have to make the reservation. The reservation system was set up as a convenience for folks if they wanted to get a guaranteed site."

Operators Added

ReserveAmerica has increased the staff at its call centers in New York; Rancho Cordova, Calif.; and in Wisconsin to 591 work stations and 1,000 employees. In addition to calling the toll free number at 1-877444-NRRS, reservations can made on the Internet at www.reserveusacom. Reservations can also be handled at the parks, Helton says.

Arkansas is the fourth most active state in initiating reservations through the NRRS system. More than 12,000 Arkansans have made reservations through the program since the beginning of the year, according to statistics compiled by the NRRS. Californians are No. 1 with 25,000 reservations, followed by Texans with 16,500 and Kentucky residents with 13,600 reservations.

Lawran Richter, outdoor recreation planner at the Vicksburg, Miss., district of the Corps of Engineers, which oversees south Arkansas sites, says campsites can be reserved up to 240 days in advance. Only four reservations per phone call are allowed, she says.

The Corps and the Forest Service account for about 80 percent of the best campsites in Arkansas, Davies estimates. The remaining 20 percent are handled by the state and are not subject to the reservation requirements.

Ironically, the system may be costing the government money. Since campers now can reserve a site for the weekend, fewer are arriving on Tuesday or Wednesday to ensure getting a site. And senior citizens only spend $5 to camp at a site but the administrative costs to make a reservation are about $7 or $8.

Davies says there is no way to determine the economic impact on areas in the state where camping may be down.

Davies, Helton and Richter all indicate Arkansans campgrounds were filled to capacity over the Memorial Day weekend, just as they are the last weekend in May every year.

"We think it's a very positive program," Helton says. "But we've still got some problems that we have to work out."
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Comment:Securing a campsite an Arkansas 'nightmare'; reservation system slows tourism.
Author:Smith, David
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 7, 1999
Words:710
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