PEI subsidizes US tourists' flights

The P.E.I. government has launched a pilot project to encourage more Americans to fly to the province.
Flights from the U.S. to P.E.I. can cost more than $1,000. (CBC)

The P.E.I. government has launched a pilot project to encourage more Americans to fly to the province.

Tourism PEI is running projects for three groups of American tourists this summer, the current one out of New York City. Flights between New York and the Island can cost more than $1,000, and the government thinks that price could be keeping people away.

It's offering airfare credits of as much as $500 to some travellers.

"When you look at all of our research, it shows that once people come here once, they will return," said Tourism PEI marketing director Brenda Gallant.

"It's getting them to take that first trip."

Calgary's Jim Dixon flew to P.E.I. on points.

"I flew to Scotland last year in May and paid $1,300," said Dixon. "So, you know, to fly domestically within Canada to P.E.I. is a premium destination."

Phyllis De Rosa Kedding, who arrived in P.E.I. from Toronto on Friday, said, "Luckily I could use my travel miles to get here because I was shocked. I could have gone to Europe for just as much."

Tourism PEI has acted with Travel Impressions, a travel company owned by American Express, to target a particular group.

"We wanted to limit it to databases from Travel Impressions of people who like to travel but perhaps have never come to Prince Edward Island," said Gallant.

Hotel bargains offered

The project has several goals. First, it is to encourage that first visit from regular travelers. In doing that, it wants to avoid making the offer to business travellers or others who were planning to visit anyway. Travellers must stay a minimum of four nights to qualify for the deal.

The project also aims to keep flights from the U.S. full and ensure they keep flying.

Brenda Gallant does not see the flight subsidies as a long-term program. (CBC)

Travellers will get a deal on more than just flights. Travel Impressions has partnerships with Best Western and Delta Hotels, and is offering hotel rooms at about half price as part of the project.

The offers are being sent out via email and postcards to customers. That just started last week, so it's too early to know the results, but Gallant said a similar campaign targeting group golf travellers in Florida and Texas that was launched last month is seeing results.

That deal offered a $200 airfare credit. Gallant said at least four large groups of golfers have already visited the Island through that promotion.

A $500 airfare credit will be expanded to flights from Boston later this summer.

While flight subsidies may be offered again, it is not intended to be a long-term project. It's a way to attract new visitors, get them to come back again, and to tell their friends about P.E.I.

The province has set aside $75,000 for the program. That should subsidize flights for several hundred American travellers this summer.