P.E.I. businesses encouraged to expand experiential tourism offerings

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P.E.I. businesses encouraged to expand experiential tourism offerings

Tourists coming to P.E.I. will soon have a wider range of Island experiences to choose from, after a series of workshops organized by Tourism PEI.

Expanding what's called "experiential tourism" was a key recommendation of Vision 2021, the new five year tourism strategy for P.E.I.

"We're seeing some trends across the country and we feel that Prince Edward Island is in a strong position right now to offer this," explained Minister of Economic Development and Tourism Heath MacDonald.

"It's culture and traditions on Prince Edward Island that people are really interested in," said MacDonald.

Adding experiences

P.E.I. already has a website featuring an inventory of what it calls authentic P.E.I. experiences, but now the tourism department wants to increase that number.

This month, Tourism PEI is offering 17 workshops across the Island. The goal is to add 25 new products in 2017, with more the following year. 

"I think it could be used as a phenomenal marketing tool for us because everybody realizes that when you have a good experience, something that you haven't done before, it could be a really good story to tell when you arrive home," said MacDonald.

"Hopefully they can take that back home and tell someone else about it that would intrigue them to come to Prince Edward Island."

Great for a rainy day

Margaret McEachern of Knit Pickers in North Rustico is excited about the experiential tourism workshops. 

This is the third tourism season for her knitting and weaving shop, but McEachern realized the potential of creating visitor experiences while working for more than a decade at Avonlea Village, playing the character of Rachel Lynde.

She would give short lessons to children visiting the village based on Anne of Green Gables. 

"I love teaching people and the workshops give visitors a chance to experience a little bit of what goes on here on the Island, some of the real life things," said McEachern.

She points out that knitting is making a "huge comeback" and will be offering workshops in loom knitting, traditional needle knitting and weaving.

Partnerships between businesses

McEachern is also partnering with one of her neighbours, a sheep farm called Ferme Isle Saint-Jean Farm.

"How perfect is that for a knitting shop," said McEachern.

"I'm going to be carrying his wool this year and he's making sheep milk cheese."

McEachern also hopes to team up with a local inn to offer weekend workshops in weaving.

"People can stay at the inn, can experience some of the lovely restaurants that are in the area, have a workshop," she explained.

She is excited to have the support from the tourism department, who will offer help with marketing and creating a business plan.

"A lot of times when you're running a small business you are chief cook, bottle washer, floor washer, you do everything and not everything is your area of expertise," said McEachern.

Wide range of experiences

The experiential workshops attracted almost 150 participants from a wide range of businesses, including a duck farm, a goat farm, a lavender farm, a flight school, restaurants and galleries.

If they meet the criteria, they will join the inventory of authentic P.E.I. experiences.

Tourism minister Heath MacDonald is not concerned that there will be too many experiential offerings after this round of workshops.

"I think people will define what they like, whether it's a fiddling fisherman, or Knit Pickers or Tranquility Cove Adventures," said MacDonald.

"They all do something a little bit different but it allows the tourist to get very intimate with the individual that is doing this on a daily basis."

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