How P.E.I. tourism groups are 'raising the bar' with special training
'We need people to be able to answer the question "What is there to do around here?"'
Tourism groups across P.E.I. are preparing for the busy summer season by offering a program that helps Islanders to answer the question "What is there to do here?"
Kerry Anne MacDougall, partner in Insight Brand & Marketing Studio, says the idea for the experience specialist program began with a phone call four years ago.
"One of our partners in the North Cape coastal region contacted us and said they overheard a conversation where an Islander was asked 'What's there to do around here?' by a traveller and the response was, 'Not a whole lot," MacDougall said.
"They immediately picked up the phone and called and said we need to do something."
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'A role to play'
Insight now offers the program across Prince Edward Island.
"We like to remind Islanders that we do have a responsibility to other operators and to each other to drive travellers to our different products and our different experiences," MacDougall said.
"Regardless if you're an operator or you're ringing through groceries or you're working at the liquor store, we have a role to play."
Another goal, she says, is to encourage travellers to stay longer.
"We know that a lot of our traffic is that rubber to road traffic, they're coming and they have, you know, their accommodations booked but then they're kind of flexible," MacDougall said.
"If we can encourage them to stay for that extra meal, to stay for that extra blueberry festival, to stay one extra night. Those things really matter to us as an Island."
Real sense of pride
The Island East Tourism Group offered the program in 2017 to about 140 participants and again in 2019, with sessions in Souris, Murray River, Stratford and Montague.
"They get a real sense of pride and enthusiasm and motivation and they get excited about the tourism offerings that are right here in their region," said Patsy Gotell, executive director of Island East.
"They just feel so much more confident in sharing that information."
There was also a session this spring at Brudenell, P.E.I. for more than 30 participants from Parks PEI.
Gotell says part of the training includes learning how to listen to tourists.
"To cue them in on how to answer questions, like what is it you would like to do or, you know, what are you comfortable doing," Gotell said.
"Because there are soft experiences or more hands-on experiences, the visitor is looking for particular information."
Raise the bar
The end goal, Gotell says, is to encourage visitors to eastern P.E.I. to stay longer in the region.
"Our mandate is always to increase visitor stays, to have them stay longer," Gotell said.
"Then the other important part is just raising the bar so that our front-line service is the best that it can be."
Island East offers the program in partnership with Tourism PEI and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, at a cost of $1,500 per session, provided free to participants.
"They have such a sense of pride of their own culture and their own communities, they get excited to be able to share that.
"It's just seeing the excitement and they come away with more knowledge."
Leslie Swift, owner-operator of Ocean Acres Cottages and Campground in Fox River, P.E.I. took part in the experience specialist program in 2017.
She says visitors enjoy hearing about all the region has to offer.
"By being able to tell them all that's here they realize, oh my goodness, we need more time," Swift said.
"They want to see and do everything they possibly can when they're here on the Island and we're just proven to them that usually they don't give themselves enough time."