This year, Bota Bota Spa is celebrating its ten-year anniversary. After many months of closure and several cancelled celebrations, Geneviève Émond, Director General, will be overseeing the long-awaited reopening of the floating spa. This entrepreneur, a woman strong in both head and heart, heads this unique boat-spa business and she is here today to share her excitement, her hopes, and the projects she has in mind for this reopening.
When we talked to her about the sheer resilience of Bota Bota, this boat that has lived three very different lives and has ceaselessly been reinventing itself – starting out as a tour boat, then a theatre vessel, and finally spa – the director smiled. “COVID has definitely been a storm, let’s think of it that way. And like all storms, it will end.” They have gone over the plans many times, but you can feel Geneviève’s fervent desire to come back to the helm, and open up the deck and gardens once more. A few days before the reopening, she wrote on her social media: “Stressed like this is a first date...” But it’s a good stress! “I have never been as worried as I was during the quarantine, because we just didn’t know anything. We had no idea when or in what capacity we could come back to work. Now that we have more details, we just need to make all necessary arrangements and have everything ready for our first clients. It’s definitely good stress and good motivation,” she tells us, appearing evidently lighter and more relaxed.
In order to make the most of things during this mandated break, Geneviève and her team have not been sitting idly by. “Our business required a complete closure of the premises, but we have still continued to communicate with our clients via social media and newsletters. We really wanted to uphold our mission to promote personal well-being and a healthy way of life to the best of our abilities,” she explains. “But we have also had to lay off certain employees, and that was truly difficult,” deplores the business head. “Additionally, we have had to adjust things with our massage therapists: hygienic standards have always been very high and not much of a challenge for them, and we had to review the schedule and organization between treatments, all while ensuring the best possible client experience.”
On the home organization side, this mom-entrepreneur has needed to keep the ship straight, all while caring for her youngest, only a few months old! “I thought I would be able to raise him like I did my daughter, but everything got turned upside-down; no more babysitters! My spouse is a ship conductor on the river, and his hours are very peculiar. So in the end, he took a few weeks of paternity leave and we got things done a little differently! It was hard to predict, since we didn’t know what the future held.” It’s a good example of the give and take of work-life balance and, as always, a good time to point out the strength of those working as both mother and entrepreneur simultaneously.
Geneviève has a very composed tone and you can feel an ever-present and reassuring drive when she speaks about her establishment. “I have tested several massages elsewhere myself – I needed to ensure that we can optimize the experience of those who come to us,” she explains. “Normally during this time, we have around 600-800 people a day at Bota Bota, but we will be reducing that number by more than half in order to ensure proper social distancing. Guests will also need to reserve a time frame, even for the baths.” Even as she discusses the new measures, we could feel how serious and devoted she is to ensuring customer satisfaction and maintaining the establishment’s excellent reputation. “Of course, we cannot count on any visiting tourists this summer, but in any case, we’re not worried: local Montrealers will come to see us, and we’ll take care of them, because we all need some care nowadays.”
“There’s a great collaboration going on between the members of the Old Port and Old Montreal,” Geneviève tells us, fully content with the neighbourhood that accommodated her boat. “We have a whole selection of offers for our employees from businesses in the historic neighbourhood and we couldn’t be happier with our really great neighbours.” Incidentally, this makes for a great reminder to all Gens du Vieux to check with their employers to see if they qualify for any discounts from the spa. “If not, they can discuss it with their teams. On our end, it’s usually our employees that suggest partnerships with other businesses to us, and we love it.” In the neighbourhood, life goes on as normally as possible.
Highly receptive to the world around her, Geneviève is very involved with her neighbours. “Even if this is a particularly strange year, I still feel very lucky. Some of us have been preparing to open and, for us at least, we have been ready all year. We come together and try to support one another. We also swap advice and info related to our different STAs (Sectorial Tourist Associations), notably with colleagues who aren’t backed by an organization, like Sam from Zipline Mtl.” Strong off these great relationships, the spa is proposing package deals in collaboration with partner hotels in the historic neighbourhood, such as Hotel Gault, the Intercontinental, and Hotel St-Paul, in order to boost up le Vieux as a vacation destination.
“My father started us out really young, my sisters and I, and we would learn the joys of spa treatments," Geneviève remembers. It was a very common gift for our birthdays or after a ski trip.” When we asked if this family tradition turned family business was an easy change, she hesitated before breaking out in laughter. “Let’s just say that sometimes, it’s easier to say or be told things as coworkers, rather than as family, I think. But on the other hand, my father, and now me, we see this business as our family heritage. Therefore, our decisions are made with the long-term in mind.”
Ever since her first days in a professional capacity up to her management of the on-river spa, you can clearly tell how her path has brought her to her knowledge of personal well-being. “We have always included this kind of lifestyle in our business philosophy, and that’s also why for me, even during our closure, it was important to bring this dimension to our client’s lives.” Live streams, social media interactions, and yoga classes have still taken place, during this time of long-distance living. “Ever since our newsletter launched in 2011, we have been striving to help make our clients’ visit go farther than just the one moment of relaxation on deck.”
What could we wish them on this tenth anniversary and all to come? We hope this storm gets swept away soon! As for the rest, Geneviève and her team are already back on the water. “It’s going to take a vaccine to stem this pandemic. While we wait for that, we are taking all possible precautions and continuing to care for our clients the best that we can,” explains the devoted, strong-willed and strong-hearted captain of the most relaxing boat in le Vieux...
© Photos Credit 1-2: Thibault Caron
© Photo Credit 3: Justine Marc-Aurèle