Norman not a happy camper after online booking mishap

LARNE Council has defended its online booking system for Carnfunnock Caravan Park, after it was branded “unfair” by a frustrated customer.

The system, now in its third year, went live for the 2012 season last Wednesday and was quickly inundated with booking requests. According to the local authority, the system handled over 100 bookings in its first 30 minutes and generated £11,000 over the course of the day.

But the system’s operation of the system has been called into question by one man who was unable to make a booking, despite being one of the first to access the site at 9am.

Norman Gowan, a pensioner from Killinchy, Co Down, said he had been waiting at his computer for the site to go active so he could book a spot for the busy Easter period.

“My daughter had asked me to book a spot for her, as she was not able to access her computer at that time of the morning and she knew demand was going to be high for those dates over Easter,” he said.

“As soon as the site came online, I entered the dates I wanted to book and was informed that I had been allocated a space. I was then asked to register my details and enter my payment details for the transaction, which took a few minutes.

“When all that was done, a message came up saying that my spot had been allocated to someone else. I tried twice more to book sites at the caravan park on those dates, but the same thing happened.

“On my fourth attempt, another message popped up saying that the caravan park was fully booked for the Easter period.

“I have now been told that I am first reserve in the event of a cancellation, but that is hardly good enough considering I had initially been allocated a space and then lost it through no fault of my own.”

Mr Gowan said he contacted the council to express his frustration with the new booking system, and he has now called on the local authority to make changes to the website to prevent the same thing happening in the future.

He added: “Before the online system was introduced, my daughter would have booked by phone, which was much easier. She has been left disappointed and is now looking for another caravan site to use over Easter.”

But the council’s director of development, Linda McCullough, said she was “satisfied” with the system and described it as “fair and efficient”.

She added: “The online system operates successfully and we have not experienced any technical difficulties.

“Like most online systems, it allocates a site on completion of a successful payment so that if two people are bidding for the same site, the system will literally allocate the site to the person whose card is authorised and debited first to achieve payment.

“It is a system used successfully by other councils who operate caravan parks and we consider it fairer than only taking bookings in person or by telephone, which was the case prior to an online system being produced.”

Mrs McCullough also suggested that Mr Gowan’s failure to secure a site could have stemmed from a number of factors beyond the competition for places.

“For example, he may have tried to reserve a specific site and not the first allocated which would have reduced his chances of success. It is also possible to reserve more than one site at once, but this can slow down the allocation process.

“We regret that any individual was disappointed at not getting booked for Easter, however we are generally satisfied that the system is fair and efficient and we are grateful that booking continues to be brisk for the forthcoming season, with May Day bank holiday weekend also being fully booked.

“Due to the overwhelming demand, the council has opened a reserve list in case of cancellations,” Mrs McCullough concluded.