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The Safe Harbour service column (CCT pillar), controlled via LoRaWAN for power supply and real-time reservation. An LED bar on the column indicates whether the space is occupied. In a typical scenario, these are used for extending caravan parking spaces.
Safe Harbour thrives in the booming camping and caravanning sector, which is expanding faster than the rest of the tourism industry. Its founders had first-hand experience of the industry, one of them owning a petrol station and also renting out caravans and pitches, and both being keen campers themselves.
The company focuses on unmanaged RV sites, which typically offer self-service coin-operated facilities. These pitches are either managed by the owners themselves or are publicly owned and managed by local authorities, with the basic supply of electricity and water provided by so-called CCT pillars at the pitch.
In 2021, Safe Harbour approached Datacake with a unique challenge: improving the customer experience. They frequently encountered the frustration of customers arriving at pre-selected sites only to find them already booked. Campers expressed their desire to be informed in advance about spot availability. This valuable feedback highlighted the need for a transformative solution.
Safe Harbour aimed to develop a booking system that not only allowed customers to reserve their preferred spots in advance but also provided real-time information on spot availability.
It was essential that the booking app integrated seamlessly with the physical campground infrastructure. This meant that the app needed to communicate with on-site parking columns, to display precise availability data and prevent other campers from occupying reserved spots. Since the sites were mostly unmanned, a fully automated solution was necessary. Features such as check-in through QR code scanning, drop-off control, energy monitoring, and the ability to change the display light colour on the pillars based on booking status were required.
It is incredibly frustrating to be turned away from a campsite late at night ... now, we can book in advance and arrive with peace of mind, knowing our pitch is reserved.
A regular camper at Safe Harbour
Recognising the significance of connectivity, Safe Harbour identified LoRaWAN, a long-range, low-power wireless technology, as the ideal solution. They understood that relying on Wi-Fi, Ethernet or cellular networks was neither practical nor efficient.
Datacake emerged as the only IoT (Internet of Things) platform that could easily integrate with existing third-party applications, although it was not the only platform on the market.
While Safe Harbour had the vision, they lacked the technical expertise to write and maintain custom software code and to assemble and deploy the necessary hardware. Fortunately, Datacake introduced them to a company called Teneo IoT, based nearby in Winterswijk, the Netherlands, that specialised in LoRaWAN hardware solutions and also recognised their skills and proximity for on-site support. Teneo was familiar with Datacake’s software from other projects where it had been used with great success, and eagerly accepted a partnership to develop this custom solution. This collaboration between Datacake and Teneo laid the foundation for an innovative product that Safe Harbour is now offering to a broader market, transforming the camping experience.
Datacake played a pivotal role in bridging the data coming from the third party booking app, provided by Weslink, a software design agency from Coesfeld, and the LoRaWAN hardware on site. Leveraging its Cake Red API, Datacake facilitated the exchange of commands to and from the LoRaWAN columns, enabling functions such as creating, modifying or deleting bookings, managing the provisioning of power to the sites, as well as switching power when the purchased volume is used up or subsequently recharged via the app. In addition, Datacake implemented intelligent logic within Cake Red to tackle a challenge: columns losing their status after power failures or restarts. Proactively, Datacake regularly polled the current column status, comparing it with the backend information, ensuring accurate and up-to-date availability data and enhancing the overall reliability of the system.
Setting up the system was initially a swift process, but ensuring its scalability was an indispensable feature of the Datacake platform. By using Datacake as the backend, the client was able to easily create their unique product template and add numerous devices at any time, simplifying the process of expansion. The app automatically connects to Datacake and only requires the input the unique ID number of new parking columns, streamlining the entire setup process and reducing construction time.
One of the highlights of the finished solution is the Datacake dashboard, which now provides an instant overview of the connected columns as well as a tool for manual intervention, much like a control centre screen.
Key features such as app-based payments and the convenience of receiving invoices have been well received, revolutionising the traditional coin-based payment method. The popularity of the booking system is evidenced by the increasing number of reservations. Furthermore, the new system has unlocked additional revenue streams, which were implemented into the app by Weslink, including the sale of Wi-Fi packages, integration with local infrastructure such as leisure activities, restaurant deliveries, and retail partnerships.
“It is incredibly frustrating to be turned away from a campsite late at night when it’s full and the children are hungry. Now, we can book in advance and arrive with peace of mind, knowing our pitch is reserved,” says a regular camper.
Campers have eagerly embraced the ability to reserve their preferred pitches, resulting in increased happiness and overall satisfaction. The positive effect on occupancy has already helped to offset the initial costs.
The seamless integration of technology into the camping experience has undoubtedly changed the way people plan and enjoy their outdoor adventures. The system developed by Safe Harbour in collaboration with Datacake and Teneo IoT is expected to become the new benchmark. Customers of the future will expect to be able to book online, order and pay for additional services seamlessly via their mobile phones.
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