PEI

Why some seasonal businesses on P.E.I. are opening earlier than ever

Some seasonal businesses on P.E.I. say they're opening their doors earlier than ever before, to try to capitalize on the Island's growing spring tourism industry. 

'We've moved from the summer season to the shoulder season to the cold shoulder season we say now'

Charlottetown's Water Prince Corner Shop opened its doors April 15 this year — two weeks earlier than in the past. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Some seasonal businesses on P.E.I. say they're opening their doors earlier than ever before, trying to capitalize on the Island's growing spring tourism industry. 

Campbell Webster, who produces Anne and Gilbert, says he's moved up the show's start date each year since it started at The Guild in Charlottetown — from late June six years ago, to April 30 this year. 

"We've moved from the summer season to the shoulder season to the cold shoulder season, we say now," said Webster. "We just keep moving up a couple of weeks because we can, because it keeps selling."

Campbell Webster, the producer of Anne and Gilbert, says the show's start date has moved up every year since it opened at The Guild six years ago. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Cruise ships and conventions 

So who's buying tickets to Anne and Gilbert in early May?

Webster says the growing number of cruise ship passengers docking in Charlottetown are filling some of the seats.

Then there are visitors here for industry conventions and business meetings. 

"We know travel is great in the high season. So one of our mandates ... over the last three years has been to grow the shoulder season," said Susan Freeman, the executive director of Meetings and Conventions P.E.I. 

Coady Campbell, manager of Charlottetown's Water Prince Corner Shop, says P.E.I.'s thriving cruise ship and convention industries have given the restaurant a boost. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Freeman says in April and May of 2015, her not-for-profit group helped arrange 17 meetings and conventions, which brought in roughly 3,000 delegates.  

She's expecting twice as many delegates — around 6,000 — between April 1 and May 30 this year. 

Coady Campbell, the manager of Water Prince Corner Shop in Charlottetown, says numbers like that help explain why he opened the restaurant's doors on  April 15 this year — the earliest ever. 

"Definitely, there's a market to be tapped in April," said Campbell. "There's tournaments, conferences.... The people here have to eat somewhere."

'It's a real shame when nothing's open'

That's not to say all businesses are following suit. Some passengers off the first cruise ship to dock in Charlottetown Wednesday noted how many stores were still closed. 

"It's a real shame when nothing's open," said Australian tourist Janice Bennett.

"We've come with our money, we've come to spend, we've come to buy souvenirs. We want to take things home, but if you're not open, we can't spend. So open up businesses. Do it."

Australian tourist Janice Bennett says she was disappointed to see so many downtown Charlottetown businesses still closed on May 1. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Some businesses have told CBC it's the challenge of finding workers this time of year keeping them closed.

But Craig Jones, the president of P.E.I.'s hotel association, says given the strong spring tourism growth in recent years, he thinks more operators will find a way to open their doors earlier. 

According to the P.E.I. government's tourism indicators, the number of May visitors increased more than 30 per cent in each of the last two years. 

"When I started working in hotels in P.E.I. in 2012, there was the talk of expanding the shoulder season into May and the end of September and October," said Jones. "Now, it's how do we expand into March and April and October and November?"

Craig Jones, right, president of P.E.I.'s hotel association, says the focus was on growing tourism in May and September. 'Now, it's how to we expand into March and April, and October and November,' he said. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

For the province's part, it's counting on investments in more spring events to give the shoulder season a further boost. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Tourism said the province is putting $140,000 toward seven new events in May and June, aimed at drawing more visitors to the Island. 

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