NEWS | The Towne Law Firm, P.C. | Albany, NY | July 30, 2021
Perhaps you’ve seen the complaints in Canada, or maybe the advertisements on Facebook camping groups, or maybe you have already had it happen to you. One person books, another arrives completely unexpected – because they paid a scalper for the chance to stay at your park.
Scalping isn’t a new thing. Concert tickets, video game systems, any desirable commodity that’s subject to the quickest buyers and exorbitant pricing for resale. Where there is demand, there are people who will swoop in and try to make a buck off of it. Now, the phenomenon has hit camping. Recently, I observed a posting in a Facebook camping group in which one person explained that they had booked Memorial Day weekend at multiple campgrounds in the area. Since these campgrounds were sold out, and they in fact did not possess the skills to be in more than one place at once, they would resell their campsite to you for undisclosed prices.
Why is this becoming more of a problem? Better technology, more people with internet access, the pandemic, and a depressed economy. When there are people looking to make a quick buck, there will be creative re-selling. Due to the pandemic more people spend time online than ever before, which means that people can quickly snatch up a campsite. Because we made it easier for people to book campsites without talking to a “real person”, we made it harder to vet the type of customer we were allowing to camp at our campgrounds. Next, the pandemic drew a spotlight to camping we had not seen previously. We were used to repeat guests and the same names showing up every summer. Now we have been conditioned to be less surprised by new names from farther away as domestic travel has grown significantly and more people have started camping for the first time.
It’s great that demand for camping is so high – but what are the legal issues that can arise? The person who arrives at your park is not the one who paid in advance and agreed to your rules. Thus, the rules that you have campers agree to for online reservations, the waiver you carefully crafted and have embedded on your website, do not apply to the person who entered your park. They never agreed to release you from liability and you in fact cannot attempt to assert they did should they sue you for an injury. This can create a safety issue. If you no longer know exactly who is are in your park at a given time, you could not direct an ambulance or police car, for example, that shows up for this new customer if the only name you have on file is the original person who booked the reservation.
What else? The dreaded contested credit card charges. The original guest contests the charges for the reservation. They never set foot on your property, never physically signed a receipt – so what proof do you have to counter their claims? You already know how difficult it can be to “win” against the customer in the eyes of the credit card company. Now you have even less proof, even less of a defense against their claims.
Is there anything that can help? We might eventually see the expanse of scalping laws. Ticket scalping laws, for example, differentiate between scalpers on the streets and ticket brokers. There are regulations to follow, and fines and penalties if they are not followed. In New York, the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law prohibits the resale of tickets for more than $5 or 10% (whichever is greater) over the face price of the ticket. In New Jersey, tickets cannot be resold for more than an additional $3 or 20% of the ticket price (whichever is greater). In California, scalping of an “entertainment event” tickets is illegal unless the scalper as the written permission of the venue owner or operator. Goods, however, aren’t generally a category regulated and policed for scalping. The lack of penalty for scalping can be seen in both the recent PlayStation 5 debacle and the reselling of toilet paper during the pandemic. Additionally, enforcement does not seem consistent, and fines are very infrequently enforced. Ultimately, it is not likely that the current state of the law, neither federal or state, can help combat this problem for campground owners unless there is a serious expansion of anti-scalping laws.
So what do you do to stop it? Start by putting a disclaimer in your reservation details – “this reservation for a license to use a campsite is not assignable or transferable to any other individual, such assignment or transfer will lead to the immediate revocation of your license, cancellation of your reservation and cause the forfeit of your complete deposit.” This way, you have something to point to in the event some says they “didn’t know they weren’t allowed to do it.” Next, adjust your check-in procedure. Start to require that the person who made the reservation must present picture ID at check-in. This allows you to verify who is in your park and confirm that the person who signed and agreed to your rules and waivers/releases is in fact the same person. This might also clear up other problems, such as the drop off of trailers by people who are not camping at the park without your knowledge – but that’s an issue for another article.
But what about push back? You might get some! But I would explain that it is for the safety of your guests and their families so that you can make sure you know who is in the park at all times. I would point out that this is pretty common practice. For example, picking up tickets for a performance at will call, checking into a hotel, renting skis at a ski resort all require picture ID. Sharing a picture ID that matches a reservation of any type is not unusual even if it has not been common practice for campgrounds in the past. So take comfort in knowing your campground is the place to be – it is so in demand that it has created a new avenue for scalpers, but also make sure you take the steps to protect yourself and your campers.
Written By: TLF Hospitality Attorney, Christine Taylor, Principal Partner at TLF
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