Sheila Arsenault is a busy woman these days.
There are beds to make, bathrooms to clean, hot tubs to maintain and guests to greet.
But she does it all (mostly) with a smile on her face, because she knows she’s making her dream of owning a successful tourism enterprise a reality.
“When you open something, you never know what to expect – but it’s been fantastic,” said Arsenault.
“Islanders have been so supportive.”
The Mount Tryon resident is rapidly approaching the one year anniversary of the opening of her unique-to-P.E.I. business, Treetop Haven.
The venture consists of five geodesic domes with all the amenities of a small cottage. Each is elevated several feet into the air and supported by platforms in the woods of Arsenault’s property in Mount Tryon.
Each dome is enclosed with opaque plastic coverings, with translucent sections for sweeping views into the forest.
The concept behind the business is that visitors want to be as close to nature as possible – without actually having to pitch a tent and do without modern amenities.
However, there are no TVs and no WiFi in the domes; it turns out that is actually a selling point for a lot of visitors.
“They can’t get over how well they’ve slept, because it’s so quiet out here. The last people just left, she was from Halifax and she said she slept 12 hours and she hasn’t slept 12 hours in years,” said Arsenault.
Other guests have expressed how nice it was to divest of technology and play board games, read or just reconnect a bit as a family. One visitor remarked to her, “Our kids talked to us for the first time in years.”
Arsenault said she had a successful first tourism season last summer and is really happy with her bookings.
She’s kept two domes open for the winter and they are almost fully booked each weekend through to the end of spring.
Most of her winter clientele have been Islanders looking to get out of the house for the weekend, but she’s had a surprising number of visitors from New Brunswick as well, specifically from the Moncton and Dieppe area. She suspects word of mouth in social circles there is fueling bookings from those communities.
She’s also benefited from a good amount of press exposure as the uniqueness of the domes tend to attract travel bloggers and journalists.
Few new businesses get through their first year without a few hiccups. Arsenault’s is no different.
Her biggest concerns have been weather related. With the wild swings in temperatures this year, she’s found that her domes form a bit of condensation when the temperature hovers around zero.
She intends to have a fix in place before next winter.
“It’s just things I’m learning – I’ve never had a dome before,” she chuckled.
It is also because she’s never done anything like this before that Arsenault remains the sole employee of Treetop Haven.
Before she hires anyone else, she wants to know the ins and outs of caring for the domes herself.
As for the future of her fledgling business, Arsenault hopes to continue her strong freshman year and add new features like fire pits, outdoor games and so on. She also hopes to hire someone to maintain the domes so she can focus on marketing and growing the business, including the adjacent small-scale conference centre, which was built in conjunction with the domes.
It’s been a year of hard work, but it has been an immensely rewarding experience for her.
“It’s been fantastic. I didn’t know how busy it would be, but it’s lived up to my expectations,” she said.
“It’s like a dream come true for me.”
Five Fast Facts
- Sheila Arsenault visited 40 countries in 10 years before returning to P.E.I. to open Treetop Haven.
- There are five domes in the business, two of which are open all year.
- Visitors can walk Craig’s Way Trail, which is named in honour of Arsenault’s brother, who passed away in 2011.
- Renting one of the domes costs between $150 and $250 per night (plus taxes) and there is a two night stay minimum.
- Treetop Haven offers yoga and massage services upon request as well as forest bathing, which consist of communing with nature while breathing in wood essential oils.