For as long as he can remember, Jacques Desbois, now CEO of the Hôtel de Glace, has been passionate about winter and the snow. In 1996, he established La Piste Desbois, an ecotourism company operating in the design of interactive igloo villages. Nicknamed Mr. Igloo, Mr. Desbois has worked hard to ensure the reputation of his company. Unique in Canada, La Piste Desbois was involved in numerous festivals, cities and organisms over the years. For example, Québec Winter Carnival, the Fête des Neiges de Montréal and the Musée de la civilisation of Québec took advantage of the expertise of La Piste Desbois. In 1996, Jacques Desbois read an article on the Ice Hotel of Sweden. Immediately, an idea came to his mind: “If they can do it in Sweden, we can do it here in Québec, the snow capital of the world.” he exclaimed. He decided to pack his bags and fly to Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, to meet the creators of this magical structure with its touristic potential. After his trip and feasibility studies, Jacques Desbois looked for good partners that would help him reach his goal. Yvon Guérard and Michel Mordret were immediately fascinated by the idea and possibilities of the Hôtel de Glace and decided to join the team. Since the beginning of their association, it was obvious that the imagination and devotion were essentials to complete this project. During the four years that were needed to start this unusual project, many obstacles occurred. The promoters had tenacity to demonstrate the technical and financial feasibility of the project. In 2001, Québec, Canada and America discovered this incredible attraction recognized around the world.
How do the experiences you offer at Hôtel de Glace give guests a unique perspective on the history, environment or culture of your region?
It is through our annual theme that we give guest a unique perspective of the history and culture of our region. Each year the team of the Hotel de Glace pick a theme that visitors can live through the different rooms of the hotel. Examples of themes from previous years : The history of Quebec City, Biodiversity, Peoples of the north, etc. It is also through our exhibition galleries where we have different visual art exhibit, mostly about Quebec or Artist from Quebec, that the visitors can learn about our culture and region.
How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?
The experiences we offer since the creation of the Hôtel de Glace have evolved a lot over the years. In 2001, the first Hôtel de Glace opened to the public located on the site of Montmorency Falls in Quebec City. The hotel had 6 rooms, a bar, a movie theater, a lobby and 2 exhibition galleries. In 2002, the hotel moved to the Station Touristique Duchesnay and expanded from 6 to 25 rooms. The first chapel was built to welcome weddings. In 2003, the Ice Bar (Ice Club discotheque) became the world’s biggest ice bar. In 2006, the first indoor ice slide was built.
It’s from 2008 that we introduced the Hotel de Glace themes. This was a turning point for the visitors of the hotel. In 2010 the Hôtel de Glace celebrated its 10th anniversary and to mark the occasion, we built a giant igloo.
In 2011, we moved to the site of the former Quebec City zoo the be closer to the city and to make it easier for people to come visit us. The facilities for our customers became more suitable. Expansion of the gift shop, heated reception pavilion for the ticket booth. Café on the site. Space available for our overnight guests. Indoor pavilion toilets.
In 2013, the Hôtel de Glace expanded from 36 to 44 rooms. In 2014 we had an outdoor slide and 2 snowshoes trails to increase the number of activities to do on site.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?
Service quality and fluidity of the experience. Down the line, we want the guest to appreciate his experience either consciously or unconsciously.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer?
We help our our clients to live a unique, educative and playful experience that fills them with wonder and awakes their sensitivity to our nature and environment.
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
Other than the obvious difference in building materials, what sets Hôtel de Glace apart from other unique hotels?
As you mentioned, what makes the Hôtel de Glace a unique place is how the hotel is built. The raw material of the Hôtel de Glace is the snow. More than 30 000 tons of snow is needed to build the Hôtel de Glace. Once the construction is done, there is no structure under it… the hotel is entirely made of snow and ice. But over than that, the entire experience itself make the hotel unique. Before coming to the hotel, when guests book their reservation, they receive a preparation guide to help prepare for the Nordic adventure they are about to live. It is recommended to read the information to have the best experience as possible. The guide will tell you what to wear, what to include in your suitcase, etc. At arrival, when guests to their check-in, they have to book their mandatory training session. The session will explain the unique experience of sleeping at the Hôtel de Glace as well as give all the important notions about the equipment that will be made available for the night and how to use it.
We also have our famous ice glasses. When guests go at the bar to have a drink, we serve them in an handmade ice glasses.
What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
Have an open mind and be prepared to experience something completely different.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
It’s all about placing human at the center of the preoccupations of the company. Both employees and guests.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
Learning to work as a team and learning to delegate and trust.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.
In 2012, on January 20th, the Hôtel de Glace welcomed its oldest overnight guest since its opening in 2001. Mr. Geoff Watkins, 91 years old, said he slept like a baby in ”The kid who lived with the bear” suite, inspired by a Cree legend. Establishing a record at the Hôtel de Glace, this overnight stay has not gone unnoticed…When Mr. Watkins and his wife, Mrs. Ruth, both from Vancouver, saw the Hôtel de Glace on TV, they chose this attraction for their next winter trip. Along with their daughter and son-in-law, they decided to embrace this out of the ordinary adventure. “It is not because I am 91 years old that I have to stay home! At our age, it is time to do crazy things and realize our dreams!” explained Mr. Watkins. When we asked him if he liked his experience, he said: “I slept like a baby, from 10 pm to 6 am. I cannot believe it! Even with an outside temperature of -20 degree Celsius, we did it!” After returning to the Hôtel de Glace for a quick tour, Mr. Watkins and his family were going to Stoneham for a dog sledding activity! Obviously, nothing can stop him!
Jacques Desbois on LinkedIn: ca.linkedin.com/in/jacques-desbois-52a41834/en
Hôtel de Glace on Facebook: facebook.com/hoteldeglace
Hôtel de Glace on Twitter: twitter.com/Hoteldeglace