SUMMERSIDE – Cruise ships may not be docking in Summerside but a unique marketing strategy is bringing passengers to the western capital and Prince County area.
Experience P.E.I., founded by Bill and Mary Kendrick, specializes in activities tourists don't normally get the opportunity to experience, and they are focusing on the cruise ship market.
The company has set up excursions for cruise ship passengers to visit the College of Piping and Celtic Performing Arts for Pipes, Drums and Highland Fling, an experience in the Celtic culture.
Kendrick said the cruise ship industry is a growing industry with over 90,000 passengers coming to the Island in a single tourism season. It’s a market he believes Summerside and all of Prince County can capitalize on.
“We felt like the College of Piping is a natural,” Kendrick said. “We knew that they were already dealing with the bus industry so we got a hold of Karen and we looked at what we could develop with them that would be about a two-hour, on-site experience that would be different and we came up with what we call Pipes, Drums and Highland Fling.
We took that to the cruise lines. It has been picked up by three cruise lines. We have a German cruise line called KDB. They’re coming in August. This is their first time coming to the Island and they liked our overall proposals enough and they opted to contract solely with us as the only provider of shore excursions. We have five shore excursions that we are providing to that ship on August.”
The really exciting one for Kendrick is Royal Caribbean and Celebrity between them, they come in five times in September and October and they come every year.
Experience P.E.I. has been building on the cruise excursion business since 2011.
“We started to get involved with the cruise shore excursion business about two years ago,” Kendrick said. “There was a tour company from St. John, N.B., called Aquila and they had started offering some shore excursions out of Charlottetown. They approached us because they saw the kind of visitor experiences that we offer through Experience P.E.I. and said would there be any of your experiences that we could subcontract from you and adapt for the cruise industries.”
Then Aquila decided at the end of 2011 that it didn’t make sense for them to be operating in P.E.I., so they approached Experience P.E.I. about being a direct tour operator to the cruise line.
“Last year we started dealing directly with some of the cruise lines and we also subcontracted through another tour company that operates on P.E.I. called Atlantic Cruise Ship Services,” Kendrick said. “We have a culinary walking tour in Charlottetown that we call Taste The Town. They took that to some of the cruise lines and they picked it up and we did very well with it. Plus we were offering our oyster experience and we were also providing in conjunction with the Culinary Institute, their seafood 101 culinary boot camp, which is a cooking class.”
This year Experience P.E.I. decided it would no longer subcontract and go directly to the cruise line.
“As part of that process we started to look at what might we develop that we could offer to the cruise lines that would be different from what was already being offered to them by the two large tour companies that operate here on P.E.I., Ambassatours and Atlantic Cruise Ship Services,” Kendrick said. “There’s no point in us trying to compete with them offering the same types of tours that they offer. They take busloads of people out to Green Gables. They bring people out to Borden to look at the bridge. They do sightseeing tours.”
Kendrick said time is an important consideration in the excursion business.
“Since we live and work in this area (Prince County) most of our shore excursion product was focused either on Charlottetown or within half-an-hour of Charlottetown,” he said. “When you’re building shore experiences you have to factor in transportation and distance and all of those things. One of the challenges of trying to bring shore excursions to Summerside and west is distance and time… If you can’t provide it in four hours, then you’re costs jump significantly because now you’re into a five-to-six-hour excursions and you have to include a lunch, you’ve got higher costs for your buses. We were looking at what could we develop that would be unique, that would showcase Island culture.”