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P.E.I. communities harnessing winter festivals to help year-round tourism grow

Winterval organizers received funding from Tourism P.E.I. and the P.E.I. Events Innovation Fund, as well as local sponsors, according to Lori MacGregor.  (Points East Coastal Drive/Facebook - image credit)
Winterval organizers received funding from Tourism P.E.I. and the P.E.I. Events Innovation Fund, as well as local sponsors, according to Lori MacGregor. (Points East Coastal Drive/Facebook - image credit)

P.E.I. communities looking for ways to heat up winter tourism are turning to festivals as a way to attract visitors, from both on the Island and off.

Winterval in eastern P.E.I. and the Winter Warmth Festival in Summerside are two offerings from an expanding winter tourism menu across the Island.

This is the second year for Winterval, a three-day event organized by Points East Coastal Drive across the eastern end of the Island.

"It came to be through our extensive work with Tourism P.E.I. to create some really great events throughout a season that is normally not too busy," said executive director Lori MacGregor.

"We really wanted to capture some good family activities in January for Points East Coastal Drive. So that's really where the idea came from."

MacGregor said Winterval has attracted a mix of visitors from on and off the Island so far.

"Of course, we'd love to see visitors from Atlantic Canada, so we did market to those families," MacGregor said.

"However, we saw lots of visitors from the other end of the Island that came and wanted to explore and see something different in a region on Prince Edward Island."

There were both indoor and outdoor activities at the Rodd Brudenell Resort as part of Winterval 2024.
There were both indoor and outdoor activities at the Rodd Brudenell Resort as part of Winterval 2024.

There were both indoor and outdoor activities at the Rodd Brudenell Resort as part of Winterval 2024. (Points East Coastal Drive/Facebook)

MacGregor said the number of accommodation rooms sold increased this year, and more businesses opened their doors to be part of Winterval.

"I just kind of reached out and said, 'Who wants to be a part of this?' We had a lot of operators that weren't normally open in this winter season, so they opened up for us," MacGregor said.

"We're really excited about 2025. We have the dates booked already. We'll just make it bigger, better — and take in, of course, ideas from people that actually participated."

This is the second year for Winterval, a three-day winter festival in eastern Prince Edward Island.
This is the second year for Winterval, a three-day winter festival in eastern Prince Edward Island.

This is the second year for Winterval, a three-day winter festival in eastern Prince Edward Island. (Points East Coastal Drive/Facebook)

MacGregor said Winterval organizers received funding from Tourism P.E.I. and the P.E.I. Events Innovation Fund, as well as local sponsors.

She said they have another winter tourism event in the works called Feast in the East, coming up later in February.

Four-season tourism 

The Winter Warmth Festival in Summerside was established four years ago to grow year-round tourism in that community.

The 2024 edition is underway now and runs until Feb. 18, with more than 20 different events as well as six restaurants featuring special menus.

"We really wanted to give an opportunity for four-season tourism to thrive here in Prince Edward Island," said Explore Summerside executive director Rose Dennis. "It's the national standard where tourism is moving, as well as the provincial standard."

The Winter Warmth Festival in Summerside includes 20 different events, including snow yoga.
The Winter Warmth Festival in Summerside includes 20 different events, including snow yoga.

The Winter Warmth Festival in Summerside features 20 different events, including snow yoga. (Explore Summerside/Facebook)

Dennis said Summerside was "a little ahead of the curve in curating this festival" four years ago.

"We just want to get people safely moving, enjoying winter, either raising or lowering their heart rate, and visiting local businesses in a time where they don't see as much traffic through their doors."

Dennis said that the goal is to start with a more local focus, and then expand that as the event grows.

"We call these community-first events where we build ambassadors and a following locally. They share it on their social media," Dennis said.

"We also do some digital campaigns, radio campaigns, other promotions off-Island to entice those who love to travel in winter and try new things to come to Prince Edward Island."

Rose Dennis says food is also a big part of Summerside's Winter Warmth Festival.
Rose Dennis says food is also a big part of Summerside's Winter Warmth Festival.

Rose Dennis says food is a big part of Summerside's Winter Warmth Festival. (Explore Summerside/Facebook)

Dennis said the events range from culinary and sommelier experiences to a pop-up Nordic spa at Credit Union Place. Then there's curling, snowshoeing and winter biking, and snow yoga.

She sees "nothing but growth" for the Winter Warmth Festival.

"Actually, we're trying to keep up with demand more than anything now, and have to look at how we can reasonably scale up and and offer it to more folks next year," Dennis said. "We have such turnout of folks that are showing up for the things that we're providing. That to me shows that we are making an impact economically and on the perception that P.E.I. is open for winter."

We are making an impact economically and on the perception that P.E.I. is open for winter.
— Rose Dennis, Explore Summerside

Dennis said weather is always a challenge for organizing any outdoor event.

"You always have your backup plans, and then your backup plans to your backup plans, and some things just need to be shifted around and postponed," Dennis said.

"Unfortunately, some things just have to wait a year, but then, good things are worth waiting for. So we always try to bring it back next time around."

The Winter Warmth Festival includes a Winter Biking Festival from Feb. 16-18.
The Winter Warmth Festival includes a Winter Biking Festival from Feb. 16-18.

The Winter Warmth Festival includes a Winter Biking Festival from Feb. 16-18. (Explore Summerside/Facebook)

Dennis said she has watched other communities launch their own winter festivals. 

"I think that we have to continue to communicate with each other, and what all regions are going to be putting forward for winter product, and then play together so that we are bouncing off each other more instead of competing," Dennis said.

"Because as we grow this industry, we all want everyone to be successful. But it still is a new facet of tourism that we're growing."