Prince Edward Island reinvents the island incentive trip

i By August 11, 2022 No Comments

Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada’s smallest province, has been in the meetings business for a long time.

Its most famous business event took place in September 1864, when its capital city, Charlottetown, hosted a gathering of 23 delegates from British North America’s Maritime provinces (Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and PEI) as well as Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec). Records show that over the course of the Charlottetown Conference’s eight days, these delegates dined “copiously” on oysters, lobster, salmon, mackerel, chicken, lamb, seasonal fruits and berries, baked goods, and more.  They also drank copiously, consuming tens of thousands of dollars of champagne, wine, and whiskey. Between meals, they began the discussions that would result in the confederation of the provinces and creation of Canada in 1867. Clearly, PEI knows how to host a successful meeting.

What many planners may not know is that PEI also ticks off a lot of the boxes on an incentive travel program’s must-have list. It’s easy to access with airlift from all of Canada’s major air hubs. Its infrastructure is first-rate. It’s safe and secure. It has a thriving food and beverage scene. It offers extraordinary experiences. Its culture is a unique alchemy of people and place. In combination, these elements deliver a new island experience for incentive travel groups. [Read Testimonials]

To get a good look at what The Island offers, The Incentivist joined Meetings & Conventions Prince Edward Island’s 2022 MICE FAM.  One thing we discovered is that music is everywhere in PEI (see #4). To give you an idea of the sounds of the Island, MCPEI’s sales and marketing manager (and musician) Sean White put together this PEI Playlist. We invite you to turn it on and listen while you read.

PEI Playlist

13 Artists | 22 Tracks

Being small is a big asset

Prince Edward Island is 224 kilometers long and varies in width from six to 64 kilometers. It seems that wherever you want to go, in no time at all, you’re there. Its roads are excellent. Traffic is non-existent. It’s a logistical dream. Your group can travel from the Island’s south coast to its north shore in less time than it would take to move them between venues in many major cities. You can also move your group through arrivals and departures at Charlottetown International Airport in a fraction of the time it takes to go through check-in and security at most major airports.

But being small doesn’t mean PEI can’t handle larger groups. According to Meetings & Conventions PEI (MCPEI), a citywide in Charlottetown, its largest city, is generally more than 400 delegates, and its sweet spot is in the 500 to 800 delegate range. However, Charlottetown has hosted up to 1,350 conference attendees. On the incentive and small business event side (think executive retreat), MCPEI says the province’s venues, and many of its most unique experiences, are best suited to programs with 10 to 150 participants.

There are other numbers – some big, some small – that planners should know about PEI. For instance, Charlottetown International Airport is just eight kilometers (a 13-minute drive) from the PEI Convention Centre and historic Downtown Charlottetown. The province has 1,100 kilometers of shoreline, which means a beach is never more than 15 minutes away. The same can be said about golf courses. The Island boasts 25 courses, which makes playing multiple courses an option for golf-centric programs. If your group is more athletically inclined, PEI is a destination rich in outdoor activities. Cycling, hiking, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, deep-sea fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and mountain biking are all available for incentive travel groups looking to spend more time in nature.

Here are some more numbers. Over the course of three-and-a-half days, our FAM group traveled some 345 kilometers visiting 21 hotels and venues. Click on the map to see where we went. 

We also did a walking tour of Charlottetown that racked up a significant number of steps. And, like the delegates to the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, we drank and ate copiously.

[View FAM Itinerary]

PEI has plenty of places to stay and places to play

For a small island, PEI offers a well-rounded inventory of hotels and unique venues. Charlottetown has 1,500 guestrooms while Summerside, the province’s second-largest city, has more than 700. During the FAM, we visited seven hotels and 14 unique venues.  Our group stayed at the Delta Hotels Prince Edward in Charlottetown and the Rodd Brudenell River Resort on the island’s east coast. The 211-key Delta Hotels Prince Edward anchors the capital city’s waterfront and is adjacent to the Prince Edward Island Convention Centre, a 59,000-square-foot facility that can accommodate up to 1,500 people. The Rodd Brudenell is a golf-focused resort with 99 guestrooms and suites and 32 Echelon Gold Cottages. Other Rodd Hotels & Resorts properties on the Island are the Rodd Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort (pictured at top of post), Rodd Charlottetown, and Rodd Royalty.

In Charlottetown, we had site tours of The Great George, an award-winning property offering 54 suites in 17 restored buildings in the city’s historic district, and The Holman Grand Hotel, a contemporary 10-storey hotel with 80 guestrooms and suites that is connected to the Confederation Centre of the Arts via an underground pedestrian walkway. Outside of Charlottetown, we had a drink at the iconic Dalvay by the Sea. Located on the north side of the island, it has 25 guestrooms and eight three-bedroom cottages. On Day 3, we stopped at Inn at Bay Fortune and Blackbush at Old Tracadie Harbour. The former is a five-star country inn owned and run by celebrity chef Michael Smith and his wife, Chastity.  It is comprised of 15 guestrooms, a destination restaurant, and an 80-acre farm.  The latter is a new development that is set to open in June 2023.

Like Newfoundland’s Fogo Island Inn, Blackbush is a social enterprise meant to benefit the whole community. When it is completed, it will have residential and rental houses as well as a 30-key hotel with two large meeting rooms overlooking the ocean. Other amenities will include a restaurant named Fluke (not yet open), FiN Take-Away (open), and an outdoor pool and spa. The hotel is being built to be as close to net-zero as possible. In addition, unlike Dalvay by the Sea and Inn at Bay Fortune, it will be a four-season resort. Surrounded by a national park, guests will be able to hike and go to the beach in the warmer months and cross-country ski and snowshoe in the winter.

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The Island is also well stocked with unique venues. The FAM kicked off with a visit to the Prince Edward Island Brewing Company. Owned by Murphy Hospitality Group, it produced the first canned beer – Beach Chair Lager – in PEI. Now it has grown to include a taproom, restaurant, and 6,500-square-foot event space as well as the brewery. Murphy Hospitality Group owns several venues on the Island as well as The Great George Hotel. We had lunch at one of its Charlottetown restaurants, The Merchantman Fresh Seafood & Oyster Bar; dinner at The Rivershed, its private, riverside venue in Rustico; and paid a visit to its latest initiative, Mysa Nordic Spa & Resort in St. Peter’s, which is slated to open this fall and will operate year-round.

Other sites we visit relate directly to the province’s two biggest historical and cultural claims to fame: the previously mentioned Charlottetown Conference and Anne of Green Gables. On the first full day of the FAM, we toured the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown. In addition to galleries housing more than 1,700 works of art, it has several event spaces, including Memorial Hall, Courtyard Lounge (and courtyard), Main Stage Theatre, and small boardrooms. It also operates a 200-seat dinner theatre, which is located across the street. Currently, its Upper Foyer is home to The Story of Confederation, a replica of Confederation Chamber in Province House (closed for three to five years for conservation), where Canada’s Fathers of Confederation met during the Charlottetown Conference.

The same day, we attended a performance of Anne & Gilbert, a musical based on the characters in Lucy Maude Montgomery’s world-famous Anne of Green Gables books, at Holland College in Charlottetown. Holland College is Montgomery’s alma mater. In addition to the theatre and its lounge, it has a variety of rooms that groups can use. The next day’s itinerary included a stop at Green Gables at Parks Canada in Cavendish, one of the province’s biggest attractions. It includes an interactive display exploring Montgomery’s works and the Anne of Green Gables’ phenomenon.

We also get the chance to visit The Fiddling Fisherman Lookout, a just-opened special events venue in Souris that does double-duty as a drop-in spot for coffee, drinks and casual bites. It’s owned by J.J. and Julie Chaisson, operators of The Fiddling Fisherman marine excursions – a fishing boat ceilidh that brings together the Island’s music and food cultures. This brings me to my next two points.

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PEI is Canada’s Food Island!

The demands of foodies and finicky eaters are easily met in PEI, making a planner’s job that much easier. While the Island is famous for its seafood – lobster, oysters, mussels, clams, scallops, salmon, haddock, and more – it also has its own beef, poultry, and pork producers and farmers growing a bounty of vegetables and fruits. In fact, farms make up 42.5 percent of its total land area. And there are 47 Certified Organic food suppliers on the Island with approximately 11,700 acres of certified organic farmland. Farm-to-table, sea-to-table, and hyperlocal are adjectives that describe PEI’s food scene, which is guided by The Food Island Partnership, an initiative launched in 2015.

During the FAM, we sampled the Island’s food experiences. Over a mid-morning snack of Green Gables oysters and mimosas with strawberry syrup and frozen blueberries, Derrick Hoare, the chef/proprietor of The Table Culinary Studio in Kensington, explained that ingredients for the 24-seat restaurant’s dishes are “fished, farmed or produced by friends,” many only 15 minutes away. At Inn at Bay Fortune in Souris, celebrity chef Michael Smith took us on a tour of the property, explaining the five-hour, seven-course evening meal experience he has created for guests (maximum 80). And at Fisherman’s Wharf in Rustico, we were treated to the lunch version of a PEI Church Lobster Supper. Owner Amy MacPherson shared that the restaurant, which seats 500 and has 110 employees, serves 27,000 pounds of lobster each season, and has a 60-foot salad bar, all-you-can-eat chowder and desserts, and meat-friendly and kid-friendly options on its menu. Nobody goes hungry in PEI!

Nor do they go thirsty. The province is home to nine craft breweries, four distilleries, four cideries and five wineries. In addition to the PEI Brewing Company, we visited Upstreet Craft Brewing in Charlottetown, where we enjoyed samples of its flagship beers (Commons and White Noize) as well as its non-alcoholic beer, Libra. We also made a stop at Deep Roots Distillery in Warren Grove, where owner Mike Beamish told the story of the property’s transition from an apple orchard to an award-winning small-batch craft distillery, which now produces apple brandy, limoncello, absinthe, vodka, gin, honey spirit and maple and blueberry liqueurs as well as maple syrup and hand sanitizer.

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Music is PEI’s universal language

Music plays a lot of roles in a program. It’s in the background during receptions and dinners. It takes on a bigger, even starring, role at parties. It is one of the world’s common denominators, bringing people together.  A sign on the wall at The Fiddling Fisherman Lookout reads: “An end will come to everything, but Love & Music will last forever.” The Incentivist agrees. We also think every good incentive travel program should have a soundtrack, and you’ll be able to create a great one in PEI.

We arrived in the province to find the airport’s international lounge transformed into a welcome space. Meetings and Conventions PEI and government officials greeted us, chef David Pendergast served smoked salmon on fresh bread and Greg Bungay played guitar, giving us our first glimpse of the province’s thriving music scene.

Throughout the FAM, we enjoyed the sounds of the Island. When we arrived at Delta Hotels Prince Edward on the first day, our Coach Atlantic bus was met by the young duo of fiddler Luka Hall and dancer Abi Marie. A quartet – Cynthia MacLeod (fiddle), Todd MacLean (saxophone), Jon Matthews (guitar), and Greg Stapleton (percussion) – entertained us that evening at the welcome reception and dinner hosted by the hotel. Singer-songwriter Joce Reyome covered the classics during dinner at The Rivershed on day two. And Brendon “PEI Spoon Guy” Peters got hands clapping during his performance before lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers.

(L-R) Brendon “The Spoon Guy” Peters (click on image to see video clip); Joce Reyome; Greg Bungay playing at airport reception; Greg Stapleton, Jon Matthews, Todd MacLean and Cynthia MacLeod playing at Delta reception; and Luka Hall and Abi Marie (click on image to see video clip). All photos by Rachel Peters Photography.

Music PEI, a non-profit organization representing and advocating for the Island’s musicians, is a one-stop resource for all things musical. It has 350 members and can connect you with musicians of all kinds: kitchen party fiddlers, big bands, jazz ensembles, cover bands, indie artists, and more. It can also fill you in on the Island’s many musical festivals, including the Cavendish Beach Music Festival, which is Atlantic Canada’s largest country music festival.

Want to hear more? Listen to the PEI Playlist at the beginning of this report. It will introduce you to more of the Island’s great music and musicians.

People make a program

People make a program: it’s such a simple truth. One of the ways they do so is by guiding participants through authentic experiences thus creating memorable moments, the Holy Grail of incentive travel programs. During the FAM, we were lucky to meet many remarkable locals doing remarkable things. There was Peter McMurchie, who invites groups onto his private property to meet his hawks and falcons and learn up-close about these incredible predators. There was Jamie Thomas, the director of culture and tourism for Lennox Island First Nation, of the Mi’kmaq people, who explained and performed a traditional smudging ceremony during the reception held for our group at The Holman Grand. There was Cameron MacDonald, a member of the Confederation Players troupe, who led our guided tour of Charlottetown and brought the city’s and province’s histories to life. And there was Patrick Ledwell, a comedian and musician, who entertained us at Delta Hotels’ welcome reception, with his talk on how to become an Islander, a key point of which was that everyone knows everyone else on PEI.

Warm hospitality is a way of life on the Island, and it was offered to us on every step of our journey. Here are just a few of the people who made it a pleasure to be in PEI.