Bota Bota’s tenth anniversary
In December of 2020, Bota Bota celebrates its 10 years docked at the Old Port. An important milestone in its history, made up of several lives. Geneviève Émond, Managing Director, tells us about this extraordinary well-being journey.
Bota Bota, is in its third life. Tell us a bit about its history.
The ship which was built in the 1950s was originally a ferry that shuttled between Sorel and St-Ignace de Loyola. It then bore the name Arthur-Cardin and could carry up to fifty cars, in addition to their passengers. A little more than 10 years after its commissioning, the Société des Traversiers handed over the ship to the arts.
It was then that the Bateau-Théâtre l’Escale was born. This summer theater sailed the St. Lawrence River, and became the world’s first floating art center. On board, exhibitions, plays, receptions and shows followed one another for decades, until it took root in St-Marc-sur-Richelieu in the 1980s, continuing its second life. I’m not from this region, but people from several generations have set foot on its deck: graduates celebrated the end of their studies there, couples got married there, birthdays were celebrated and countless performances and plays thrilled thousands of spectators.
The sound of the waves we hear make it seem as if the hull still hums the songs performed on its stage.
How did the idea for the spa come about?
It was in 2008 that we discovered this boat, which had been looking for a new vocation for a few years. We were looking for a place to set up a spa in a large urban center. 1 + 1 = 2 … The equation came about quickly: we couldn’t find the perfect spot in downtown Montreal, so we decided to create the location … on the water!
The ship that would become Bota Bota offered us a size that we then considered ideal (that was without counting the later success and the many expansions that were to follow!), enviable proportions, and a look that would blend perfectly with the spot where we wanted to install it: the Alexandra basin in the Old Port of Montreal, in the shade of the majestic Silo # 5. If, looking at it in isolation, it may look like a mammoth out of context, but it had a perfect place in the lock garden, and blended in very well with the landscape.
What are the defining moments in the history of Bota Bota?
There have been so many in ten years! Marriage proposals we have collaborated on, international stars who have visited us, grandiose fundraising events, improvements done on the installations… the list goes on and on!
Personally, the three events that I find the most significant are without a doubt the following.
2010: The Opening. I remember our first customer. We welcomed her on November 27, 2010, it must have been 11am, with a glass of champagne. There was me, my sister Natalie with whom I work, my parents, and Mariève and Vanessa, our first supervisors who worked at the reception and the treatment counter. Poor lady… although honored, I think she was unsettled by this welcome she did not expect!
2015: Extension of the gardens. It was not an easy year! Then pregnant with my first child, we were carrying out major work in the gardens of Bota Bota! A significant investment which increased our surface area by 50%, offering our passengers even more varied facilities, and a swimming pool! I smile when I see myself in the photos of the inauguration, microphone in hand, with my baby bump and my eyes sparkling with pride! A wonderful memory.
2019: No more cellphones. In preparation for our tenth anniversary, the team embarked on a process of strategic planning, and a seemingly innocuous question turned out to be central to determining who we were. I will remember this turning point as the cell phone crisis. Victim of our success, Bota Bota was becoming a staple in Montreal, but not for the right reasons. More and more people wanted to come to Bota Bota to get their pictures taken, the need for peace and relaxation was relegated to the background. The free distribution of content on our passengers’ social platforms was a formidable (and free) marketing tool, but was in opposition with our mission, which is to offer each passenger a perfect moment of rest. After much thought, discussions, arguments, we committed to making Bota Bota a cell phone free place! Even today, it is not easy to enforce this rule on board, but we do our best to do so, to live up to our promise.
What was the idea of Bota Bota 10 years ago? Today, is that idea still the same?
Bota Bota, is my life project. It’s a business I’m building with my family, and for my family. I have a long-term vision for its development, and I’m not on this adventure to see my efforts grow quickly before moving on to another project. Every choice I make regarding Bota Bota is a decision to ensure the future of the company, and the people who work there, and I always try to act “like a good mother” even if I am far from infallible. This is mainly where I think my idea has evolved.
I went from being an employee of a family business that became a multinational (Yves Rocher- not to mention it) to the manager of my small family business. I then had the opportunity to meet the president of the company, the third generation and grandson of the founder. If I had known then, in 2007, what was waiting for me, I would have had at least a million questions to ask him!
If I saw Bota Bota in 2008 as a career, a business to build, a job to be done for myself rather than for someone else, today the business has a whole new meaning to me. It has become my whole family. Even though I am no longer as close to every employee, to every massage therapist as when we were a very small team, I feel responsible for the well-being of the whole team. The health crisis we are experiencing makes me realize how much this responsibility is present. When everything was going well, I didn’t have the same concerns because I knew we were able to provide for the whole team. Today, it is much more this concern that inhabits me than the lessened customer traffic given the partial closure!
In short, I often find myself thinking more of the crew than of the customers. My answer to this question is a proof of what I’m saying! Ten years ago, my idea of Bota Bota was to serve passengers. Today, my idea of Bota Bota is to provide for the needs of the crew, because I know that the crew will take care of our passengers!
What do you wish for Bota Bota in 10 years?
I believe that it is at the age of 10 that boats experience their teenage crisis… Today we are facing big challenges, some of which have nothing to do with us and on which we have no control or influence (the pandemic and the impacts that will result from it), but also others that are related to the life cycles of a company: reorganizations, organizational changes, questioning. It’s kind of the perfect storm! Through this storm, with my family, I plan for the future: an expansion in Montreal to be ready to come back in force after the crisis, and new international sites to export our know-how and bring well-being in new port cities. We will need it! But through it all, Bota Bota will be and remain firmly rooted in its family values, and mission to bring well-being.
In 2018, we wrote these words down on paper:
- Every gesture is done with the heart
- Every stay is perfect
- Every person counts
- Every idea pushes us forward
In 10 years these words may change, but I am convinced that the central ideas will still be relevant and that I will be able to say yes, for 10 years we have been doing this right. This is my wish for Bota Bota!