Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport is poised to launch a new, online real-time reservation service for its provincial park system. The change is in response to customer demand and will move the Government of Saskatchewan into modern vacation planning.
The ministry is responsible for the operation of Saskatchewan’s provincial park system, a system that celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2011. Now the park system includes 1.4 million hectares of land, 34 provincial parks, 8 historic sites, 24 protected areas, 129 recreation sites, and more than 6,000 campsites.
Saskatchewan parks are the largest tourist attraction in the province, with visitation growing by more than 11 percent in the last four years, and reaching a record level of 3.37 million visits this past summer. This growth has led to unprecedented pressure on parks services and infrastructure, with the most strain being put on the provincial reservation system, which in 2011 had more than 30,000 requests for reservations.
“Twenty years ago when we launched our reservation service, it was a fairly new concept to reserve a spot in a campground – most places still operated on a first-come, first served basis – so our manual system worked,” said Mary-Anne Wihak, manager of visitor experiences. “However, with the surge of the Internet and the increase in popularity of camping as a vacation experience, we were soon challenged to keep pace. With limited Internet connectivity we were no longer keeping up with our visitor’s expectations. It wasn’t unusual for a person to have to wait up to two months to find out if they had a camping spot reserved for their summer vacation.”
In recent history, Saskatchewan parks reservations became a problem January 1, 2010 when the reservation system crashed. As a result, most of the reservations in the system were lost and the system couldn’t be brought up for more than 12 hours.
“We hit a low point for customer service at that moment,” Wihak recalled. “Because of the limitations of our system, everything being manual, and with few staff available on the statutory holiday, it was a challenge to rectify the situation. However, once we overcame that hurdle, which we did through the help of social media and continued communication with our customers, it became clear that we had to find a more permanent solution; implementing Lean would lead us to the solution.”
The ministry’s goal was to offer campers the best summer vacation, while allowing as many people as possible to enjoy a camping experience in a Saskatchewan provincial park. That meant redesigning the camping program and working within citizen-centred and Lean principles to identify the data and tools necessary to make the process better. This first Lean step resulted in reducing the turnaround time and set the stage for automation. The ministry also did a scan of other jurisdictions and identified best practices and similar projects, and talked to past customers through surveys and focus groups. The results were clear: park visitors preferred to book in advance and wanted instant confirmation.
The new Integrated Campground Management System (ICMS) is similar to a lot of other reservation systems that already exist online, such as hotel booking websites and most other provincial park jurisdictions in Canada. It will replace not only the old manual reservation system, but also the in-park registration system, making it easier for customers to reserve their site and check-in at the park. The other Lean aspect of the new system is that Saskatchewan did not build it, but rather contracted an industry leader to provide the reservation service.
Taking a Lean approach as a first step paved the way for a simpler, more efficient reservation system.
“The system has all the features that our park visitors had been asking for, such as pictures of all the campsites, a real-time search function that allows users to search the entire inventory in the park system. As well, it lets the user pick their own campsite, all in a matter of minutes,” Minister of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport Bill Hutchinson said. “This new system will transform how we interact and do business with our customers. Now it is all about them and meeting their needs, instead of doing workarounds with an out-dated system.”
The new system will officially launch on March 12, 2012, moving Saskatchewan provincial parks into a Leaner, more customer-focused model of service delivery.
Tiffany Stephenson is the manager of marketing and communications for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport.