Experience PEI was developed to meet the growing need for experiential learning adventures within the tourism market on Prince Edward Island. It has become increasingly clear tourists are looking for much more from their Island vacations than a visit to Green Gables, a lobster supper and a coastal drive. Travelers want to experience life in the places they go not just observe it. They want to participate not just listen. They want to make a connection with the place and its people. If they don’t, there’s little reason for them to come back or tell others to come.
As B&B operators, we wanted to enhance our guests Island visit and add a new revenue stream to our business. We established Experience PEI in 2006 with the objective of finding ways to reach into the Island community to enable visitors to meet local people and participate in day-to-day community experiences as well as hands-on experiential activities. We provide our clients with something they can’t get from anyone else. They will learn something by doing something with someone who lives here.
While initially our focus has been the independent travel market, we have now adapted many of our exclusive experiences for larger groups attending conferences and arriving on cruise ships and motor coaches. We currently provide shore excursions for Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, Seabourn, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Silver Seas, Princess, Hapag-Lloyd and KDB during their visits to Charlottetown as well as tour operators Collette Vacations, Freedom Tours, Fresh Tracks Canada and Adventures in Travel.
As a result of our success as an experiential tourism operator, Experience PEI has been invited to provide product development workshops in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario. We have also done consulting and product development work for Parks Canada in PEI and Quebec.
The owner/operators of Experience PEI are Mary and Bill Kendrick. We were innkeepers for 12 years. We completely restored a dilapidated century farmhouse in Fernwood, Prince Edward Island and opened Briarcliffe Inn as a 4 ½ star bed and breakfast in 2002 which we ran until June 2014.
Mary served as President of the Bed & Breakfast and Country Inns Association of Prince Edward Island from 2002-2007 and Chair of the Malpak Arts Council. She served on the provincial government Tourism Advisory Council, the Board of the Tourism Industry Association of PEI and is Past Chair of the Red Sands Tourism Group. She developed and coordinated an entrepreneurial program training Island artisans in old world arts.
Bill worked as a journalist for over 25 years with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and for 10 years ran his own independent television production company producing documentaries for a variety of broadcasters. He is Past Chair of the Product Development Committee of the Red Sands Tourism Group and chairs the PEI Gay Tourism Association in their efforts to establish PEI as a gay friendly destination.
In 2007, Experience PEI was nominated by TIAPEI (Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island) for the Tourism Industry Association of Canada “Deloitte Innovator of the Year Award.” It is the recipient of the 2008 Parks Canada Sustainable Tourism Award for development of tourism initiatives in a manner which harmonizes economic objectives with the protection and enhancement of our natural and cultural heritage and the 2009 PEI Tourism Advisory Council Brand Essence Award recognizing our successful efforts to reflect the Gentle Island of Rejuvenation brand in our product development and marketing. In 2011 & 2013, Experience PEI was named a finalist in the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s annual national tourism awards as one of the country’s top small/medium sized tourism businesses.
How do the experiences you offer at Experience PEI give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of your region?
The entire philosophy at Experience PEI is to provide visitors with the opportunity to create lifelong memories by connecting with interesting Islanders doing interesting things. Each of our experiences is focused on the stories of our experience providers. We believe you learn about the history and culture of a place by interacting in a meaningful way with the people who live there. Our experience providers are also completely unscripted. They aren’t tour guides reciting a prepared presentation. We tell them to be themselves and share their lives with their newfound friends.
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
When we first started developing experiences, we were doing it to differentiate our bed & breakfast from everyone else. We were offering our experiential activities only to our own guests but we quickly realized that wasn’t a sustainable business model so we established Experience PEI as a separate company and offered the experiences to anyone coming to the Island. The FIT market was our target because we initially believed experiential only worked for small numbers…2-8 people at a time. However, we have since adapted many of our experiences to be suitable for cruise and motor coach groups. We’ve been able to maintain the critical experiential component and interaction with the experience provider and ensure that even with a larger group they still receive very personal attention.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
Most guests don’t take the time to analyze all the components of an experience. They just want to enjoy themselves but we have put a lot of time and effort into creating our experiences that touch as many of the senses as possible. Our most popular experiences excite all the senses.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
We’re seeing a trend toward visitors spending more time in Prince Edward Island with a desire to immerse themselves in the culture and cuisine as opposed to trying to see all three Maritime provinces without really getting a sense of any of the places. And they’re booking more than one experience. They’re trying a variety of things instead of just one.
What sets Experience PEI apart from other excursion companies?
In terms of Prince Edward Island, we offer a broader range of experiences than others do. Most other operators may provide 1-4 options but we’ve tried to cover a broader spectrum of interests. We don’t think there’s anyone in Canada with the depth of choice we offer.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Try every aspect of an experience….push your comfort zone. Try things that are new. Make sure you interact with the experience provider. Experiential travel is all about active participation not passive observation.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
We don’t look at other operators as competitors. We view them as collaborators and partners. The more experiential products that are available the better for the industry. If visitors are looking for experiential vacations we want them to know Prince Edward Island is a leader in the field. We’ve partnered with several other operators to market their experiences and it has worked well for all of us. We don’t feel a need to create and own every one of our experiences.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
Attention to detail and service. We are obsessive about responding to inquiries as promptly as possible….usually within an hour. The nature of our experiences doesn’t allow for immediate, online booking because we often have to check tide times and make sure our experience providers are available. Even if we can’t confirm availability of an experience until we hear back from an experience provider, we acknowledge we got their inquiry and will get back to them as soon as possible. People planning their vacations are excited and we don’t want them to think we don’t care because they don’t hear back from us right away.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
We had a mother, daughter and grandmother go out on our Digging for Dinner experience where they learned all about how to dig for clams and how to steam them to eat. Later, I received an email from the mother who said her 8 year old daughter had asked if they could come back next year and do it again because it was more fun than Disneyland. When an 8 year old gets the difference between authentic and make believe, you know you’re doing things right.