P.E.I.'s new Island Walk giving boost to fall tourism from tip to tip
'P.E.I. is a safe place to come. It's a beautiful place to come, and I think people will come'
P.E.I's new Island Walk is taking visitors from tip to tip this fall, giving a boost to accommodation owners in more rural parts of the Island.
The walkers are also filling up rooms and restaurants during the shoulder season for Island tourism operators.
"This year, it's been phenomenal," said Linda Lowther, project manager for the Island Walk.
"They started coming immediately after we opened the borders in August, and we still have people arriving every day."
The Island Walk was launched in 2020 and offers walkers a 700-kilometre route around the perimeter of the province, including parts of the Confederation Trail, beaches, red dirt roads and paths along the ocean.
It is modelled after the Camino de Santiago, a popular long-distance walking trail in Spain.
"It was designed by some volunteers from Island Trails who decided that they wanted to walk around P.E.I. instead of doing the Camino," Lowther said.
"I don't think that they actually had in mind that this was going to attract the visitors and the interest that we've gotten so far."
The Island Walk recently got a boost from a story in The Globe and Mail's travel section.
"That really blew up," Lowther said. "And it's not going to stop there because we're actually going to be in the Canadian Geographic and National Geographic in the coming months. So this is very good for P.E.I."
Siren's Beach Motel in North Lake is one of the accommodations getting a boost from the Island Walk.
"It's an avenue that we didn't think about. We knew we had cyclists, and we knew we had walkers, but it was more occasional," said co-owner Sandy Baker.
"But this is actually a whole new avenue for our business, and part of what we're doing is allowing people to experience this part of the Island. It's beautiful."
Baker said she is working with nearby restaurants to provide meals for the walkers, and she and her partner provide transportation.
She's been told by some of the visitors that the Island Walk has enormous potential.
"They've all walked the Camino. These people are avid walkers," Baker said.
"They said to us: 'be prepared, you will be inundated with walkers.' It's a little scary, but we are open to doing whatever we need to do here to accommodate everyone that comes our way."
Deborah Petersen and John Stegenga have been on the Island Walk for three weeks, and will have covered 325 kilometres before returning to their home in Ottawa.
"I like the warm welcome that Islanders give when we arrive, whether it be at an accommodation or at the restaurant," Stegenga said.
"Or people just stop on the road and say, 'Hi. Where are you going? What are you doing? Who are you?' That's warm. I like that."
"We've seen that there are some other experienced walkers that are coming out right now, also itching to get out and walk," Petersen said.
"P.E.I. is a safe place to come. It's a beautiful place to come, and I think people will come."
Lowther said she is hearing about lots of bookings for next year, and is also getting lots of questions about how much it costs to do the 32 days of walking.
"We're trying to encourage them to come in the off-season, because it is less expensive and the weather is better for hiking. It's harder to walk when you have 30 degree weather," Lowther said. "And if you travel in groups of two or more, it's also less expensive."
"We've had a couple of groups that have been here do the math, and they tell us that coming from Ontario, flying here and doing the walk in late August, early September was no more expensive than going to Spain to do the Camino, which was good news to us."
Lowther said they will have between 40 and 45 walkers this year, which if they do the entire 32 days, translates into more than 1,000 room nights.
"We've never really put a target on it, to be honest. But the Camino in Spain gets 350,000 visitors a year. If we get one per cent of that, that's 3,500," Lowther said.
"If each one of those spends 32 nights on P.E.I. from one end of the Island to the other, that would be very significant. So I keep talking about 'let's get that one per cent.'"
Lowther said she is hoping more accommodations will join the Island Walk.
"There is a lot of potential if accommodations want to package this and provide some transportation. They can get three, four or five nights out of it, even though people are walking in different places every day," Lowther said.
"We'd love more accommodations to be involved, but we do understand that it's a complicated product, that people have never seen."
Lowther said the group is developing a passport for next year, that walkers can bring with them as they travel around the Island.