Anoka County Minnesota’s proximity to the Twin Cities, the Mississippi River, and an outdoor recreation-loving population ensures that their resources are popular. It’s an eclectic mix, including Minnesota’s largest outdoor waterpark, golf course, and host of recreational programs. An integral part of what they offer are the 154 campsites split between two campgrounds in the district. “We’re kind of that first point of refuge for folks that are either one wanting to escape the city or are wanting to camp, but still do things in the city,” says Andy Soltvedt, Assistant Director, Anoka County Parks. From graduations to medical appointments, they’ve seen visits for all kinds of reasons. “We have even had some people who’ve reserved the campsite for their kids to do the camping stuff, set up the tent, have the s’mores, do all the camping experience, and then we’re going to actually get a good night’s sleep and go home and sleep in their beds,” he says with a laugh.
Time for a Change
When there were changes to the system they used to manage their campsites in 2019, they looked around the market to see what else was available. If they could consolidate some of their solutions so they didn’t have to continuously access multiple systems that would be ideal. Because of the range of offerings (see waterpark, golf course, et. al. above) finding one system that could manage all of them was a tall task. Vermont Systems fit the bill.The system being integral to operations, they didn’t waste time getting started. Once decided in November of 2020, they went live on March 1, 2021.
“It was a quick turnaround for our staff,” says Andy, few of whom had previous experience with Vermont Systems. “We had me and two of our team experts that went through all the training. From there we broke out our staff internally and walked them through on the demo side until it was second nature. We’d tell them, ‘try to break it, see how it works.’ Having that demo side of things to train people in was huge. People were comfortable to really explore the system without being afraid they were going to mess up somebody’s reservation or double charge their credit card.” Now with more than 25 users on the system, they’re ready for whatever guests might throw their way.
“There’s an ease of use on both sides — more detailed information on the internal side, but simplistic for our customers on the external side. When our guests go to reserve their campsite, if they have an account, it’s three clicks and they’re camping!”
Andy Soltvedt, Assistant Director, Anoka County Parks, MN
Keeping it Simple for Users
Key on the County’s list of requirements was ensuring that the user experience was straightforward and that made sense to them. “The online interface for our guests was a big piece of the decision,” says Andy. They didn’t want users to get bogged down in the system. “That was one of the things that we’ve seen in other systems within the state here. People would love their sites but hate the reservation process.” The flexibility of Vermont Systems delivered. Anoka County was able to create a system incorporating rules restrictions that enabled them to incorporate rules restrictions that change based on the camping season, needs, type of site being booked, or other information patrons might need. It presented multiple options to view in either a graphical interface or a detailed list (whichever the user preferred) so they could complete their task.
“There’s an ease of use on both sides,” says Andy. “More detailed information on the internal side, but simplistic for our customers on the external side.” That was their goal going into the project. “We said we’re going to work really hard to make it really easy. When our guests go to reserve their campsite, if they have an account, it’s three clicks and they’re camping.”
The result now is that the vast majority – 80% or higher – complete their reservations online. What’s equally impressive, even more of their cancellations are online. That’s made it nice on two fronts. One, it opens that space for other guests to take advantage of. “If they’re online and see something turn green, they can book it as soon as it’s there,” says Andy. “Often we’re seeing that campsite booked within 20, 30 minutes of its original cancellation.”
Second, it lets campers know about any restrictions involving their cancellation. “Now, if they look at the weather and say, ‘Oh, it looks rough tomorrow, I don’t want to come,’ they also know that X, Y, Z factors in. Now you’re not going to get a refund or you’re not going to get X or whatever the restrictions are.”
The single-system advantages of Vermont Systems are paying dividends for their guests’ experience and their programming and usage. Using RecConnect they’re able to reach out to campers to let them know about events and opportunities during their stay. “We have ‘campfire talks’ (public presentations) where naturalists or staff experts talk about specific topics such as, bats or bugs or whatever else is relevant at the time of the year,” says Andy. “During the reservation process, we include information about our rental opportunities for kayaks, canoes, whatever else.” The result is a more active and fulfilling stay and literally happy campers.
One System, One View
Creating a great user experience for visitors was top of the list of Anoka County’s requirements. Doing that for the long haul, year after year, requires data that enables a district to understand usage, occupancy rates, etc. Armed with that information they make adjustments, change rates, ask for funding, whatever the case might be. That’s what they’ve found with customized reporting and integrations throughout Vermont Systems. One example Andy likes to point to is the occupancy rate. Before, he could look around and say anecdotally, ‘We’re pretty busy.’ Now he can point to specifics with trend data and more, such as rustic tent sites are at 60% occupancy during the week and 100% on weekends through the season. That is a much more comfortable story to tell their elected officials, than “we’re pretty busy,” says Andy.
Gather Around the Fire
Having one system has proven to be beneficial throughout the Anoka County Parks. Happy campers and empowered staff take the stress out of the season. Taking those experiences and using data collected for reports ensure that they can continue to be good stewards and lead their parks forward. Discover more about streamlining your campground management