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P.E.I. tourism billboards light up skies in Toronto, Calgary, Winnipeg logo 2022-06-23 Arturo Chang

Billboards advertising Prince Edward Island to potential tourists are in heavy rotation in Toronto and other cities across the country as the tourism industry gears up for the first summer season following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

The Tourism P.E.I. summer marketing blitz started at the end of March and will continue until mid-December, with urban advertisements costing the province about 25 per cent of its $5-million budget for the campaign.

"There are nine [messages] in rotation right now," said Tourism P.E.I. marketing director Brenda Gallant.

Gallant said COVID-19 influenced P.E.I.'s marketing plans, with the campaign theme "Feel lighter" directly related to the fact many people have gone through a difficult time during the pandemic.

"It's really looking at telling people that after these last two years that have weighed so heavy on us to feel a little lighter and come to Prince Edward Island."

It has also affected the markets where these advertisements are being placed, Gallant added.

'They feel safer'

"There are some people who are very hesitant to travel and it's really looking at who are the folks that we are able to attract to come here. So New Brunswick, Nova Scotia are very close by, they feel safer in coming to a destination that is nearby," Gallant said. 

Brenda Gallant with Tourism P.E.I. © Tony Davis/CBC Brenda Gallant with Tourism P.E.I.

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"If you look at the Quebec market, quite often they would go to the U.S. and there is a little bit of hesitancy on their part in going to the U.S. So that's a factor where we try to attract them to choose Prince Edward Island as opposed to some of their usual destinations."

Gallant said P.E.I. also has campaigns online that complement the billboards, giving people who may have seen them another reminder when they browse the web.

'100% optimistic it's going to happen'

The tourism industry has big expectations for this summer. 

P.E.I.'s International Shellfish Festival is a major tourism driver in September and plans to be back in 2022 after being cancelled due to the pandemic,. © Tony Davis/CBC P.E.I.'s International Shellfish Festival is a major tourism driver in September and plans to be back in 2022 after being cancelled due to the pandemic,.

International Shellfish Festival chair Liam Dolan said at the announcement event for its 25th edition that this year's festival will be their largest yet.

Tickets are now on sale for the event, which will take place Sept. 15-18 in Charlottetown.

Last year's festival was abruptly cancelled because of rising cases of COVID-19 just a few days before it was supposed to take place.

"Everything was all gung-ho to go," Dolan said. "I'm 100 per cent optimistic it's going to happen [this year]. We have these great chefs coming from all over North America, great shuckers coming in, great entertainment and the tickets are going unbelievably good. So I think we'll be sold out by the end of July."

This year, the main event tent will be a bit larger, allowing for more people. Dolan said he expects the festival will be very busy.

"This has been a long time coming," said Matthew MacKay, P.E.I.'s tourism and economic growth minister.

"COVID is not going away by any means. But I think we're learning to deal with it and live with it. You're still seeing a lot of the business community take precautions, you see sanitizing stations everywhere, you still see people wearing masks ... which is fine and it's their choice. So I think everybody is prepared to work together to make sure that we have a successful tourism season."

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