Family travel

Caravanning via the web: are we ready?

It might be the freezing weather or the knowledge that life is soon going to be turned on its head by the arrival of Baby Tin box, but I’m really enjoying planning our 2013 caravanning holidays.

So far, we’ve booked about 15 trips, ranging from weekend rallies with our Caravan Club Centre, to longer breaks on commercial and Club sites.
Something that’s made this process even more agreeable is being able to book some of our Centre rallies using a new online booking system. It’s just a trial at the moment, but it beats writing out a booking slip, drafting a £4 deposit cheque and paying the ever increasing postage costs to send our booking off to the organisers.
Everyone’s a winner – right? Well, maybe not. The merits of online booking are a matter for great debate in the caravanning community, not least because a deposit is not required.
The argument against dropping deposits is that if people don’t make a financial commitment to their planned weekend away -as they would with any other type of short-break or holiday – then there’s no penalty if they decide to change their minds and not go.
So, why not insist people always pay a deposit whether they are booking online or via more traditional methods?
The problem is Caravan Club Centres walk a perilous line between being not for profit entities and commercial organisations. If they adopt certain profit-making characteristics, such as taking online payments, then the banks want to treat them like a business with all the associated charges.
And that’s why the usual £4 rally deposit has been dropped for the events that are part of our Centre’s online booking test. Accepting the bank charges, and passing these on to members, cannot be justified against the amount of money being transferred via the world wide web.
The trial is essentially the same system as run by the Caravan Club for its sites. Members on the Club’s online forum, Club Together, regularly debate the issue of deposits and whether sites would get booked up so quickly if an upfront payment was required.
Many people feel they are missing out on places at popular sites or events because of others who ‘block book’ just in case they might decide to go nearer the time. Also losing out are the Club and Centres, who could be left out of pocket when people cancel last minute or don’t arrive as promised.
It’s going to be interesting to see whether our Centre’s deposit-less trial will have any impact on whether people show up. It would be a shame to lose the benefits of being able to book online if the system is ‘abused’.
However, with the demise of cheques not far off and online transactions becoming the norm in other areas of our lives, a solution must be on the horizon. Maybe the Caravan Club will take a lead on this and provide some guidance to Centres?
In the meantime, here’s hoping for responsible holiday booking, both in our Centre and the wider Club, so that caravanning can continue to move with the times.