23 May 2019 Leisure Handbook

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Leisure Handbook - Daniel Gauthier


Daniel Gauthier

The visionary behind Cirque du Soleil has a new venture

Gauthier’s new passion is Le Massif de Charlevoix http://www.lemassif.com
The mountains overlooking the community of Bale-Saint-Paul in Canada are the setting for Daniel Gauthier’s venture – Le Massif de Charlevoix
The touring train travels along 140 km of stunning riverside scenery between Québec City and La Malbaie PHOTO: Benjamin Gagnon
The touring train travels along 140 km of stunning riverside scenery between Québec City and La Malbaie PHOTO: Le Massif de CharlevoiX
La Ferme encompasses a hotel Le Massif de Charlevoix / André-Olivier Lyra
La Ferme encompasses a hotel Le Massif de Charlevoix / André-Olivier Lyra
La Ferme encompasses a hotel and runs regular events including a market selling local produce
La Ferme encompasses a hotel Le Massif de Charlevoix / André-Olivier Lyra

Every now and then along comes a game changer in the tourism industry – an initiative that re-shapes the way we think and injects a new dynamic that influences product development or investment for a decade or more. Game changing projects generally have their beginnings in a fusion of creative ideas facilitated by individuals with a willingness to experiment and a desire to be different.

In 1984 Cirque du Soleil was one of those brave, important, game changers.

The company was founded in the small community of Baie-Saint-Paul, 80km east of Quebec City on the St Lawrence River, by a group of avant-garde, self-confessed dreamers and creatives.

Today, Cirque owns 20 different shows which are performed in 270 cities on every continent, generating revenues exceeding US$810m pa, and employing more than 4,000 people.

Individuals who strive to make a difference and thrive on innovation tend not to be content with making one seismic shift; they are impatient to achieve more, Such is the case with the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil and its president for 11 years, Daniel Gauthier, OC.

Gauthier, a self proclaimed “too young to quit ski bum” is developing a new business concept which has reawakened the leisure industry: Le Massif de Charlevoix. For the execution of this vision he has returned to his spiritual home and the mountain overlooking Baie-Saint-Paul where the Cirque du Soleil story began. “It’s a place which has been Canada’s hidden secret for too long,” says Gauthier.

This is another transformational Gauthier concept that will elevate market expectations. It will cause a shift in the way tourism projects are developed and it will challenge the traditional definition of ‘integrated destination development’.

Le Massif de Charlevoix is a destination that – according to Gauthier – “will offer a panoply of experiences that will unfurl over three environments: the Mountain, La Ferme and Le Train Touristique.”

The Concept
Gauthier, holder of Officer of the Order of Canada (one of the highest honours in Canada), presides over his hand-picked team with individual pedigrees as impressive as his own. This is a collective of exceptionally experienced property, financial and specialist operational talent that have taken Gauthier’s vision and delivered a remarkable new approach to a 21st century experience.

Le Massif embodies the principles of sustainable development. Rooted in its community – indeed fuelled by and co-created with, the local community and regional tourism industry – this project was “born of a desire to share with a curious and adventurous clientele, who are sensitive to the importance of the wellbeing of the planet, an authentic project defined as being a place for pleasure, learning and discovery,” says Gauthier.

There’s no doubt about the quality of the ‘terroir’, or place. This destination is the meeting place of cultures and artists, it has a micro-climate and a good range of locally-produced products. It’s also close to the major centres of population in eastern Canada and accessible to the US and international markets: “It’s a great place to be creative, to make money, to grow the local economy, to help internationalise Quebec and to be different,” says Gauthier.

In 2000, the local community set about developing a destination concept and establishing a not-for-profit organisation to take it forward. The lack of a strong vision, the need for public subsidy and the shortage of investment brought the realisation that an investor was needed.

In stepped Gauthier, who initially became the sole investor, leasing the land on a 99 year agreement from the local municipalities and a new partnership emerged. He is now chairman of the board.

Gauthier explains that this is an inclusive concept; one that’s relevant across generations, for guests with different backgrounds and from different communities. He focuses on the realisation of original, genuine and human-scale experiences, constantly offering new encounters based on the stimulation of all the senses. It’s pure theatre, with the guests being active participants in creating their own experiences using the environment and facilities as their stage.

Such visionary projects don’t come cheap. This project represents an overall investment of over CA$300m. It will directly support 600 jobs and help sustain a further 1,200 jobs in the region.

The Vision
Gauthier’s vision is based on fusion...creating a place where people can explore their environment using all their senses, where there will be freedom of movement, discovery of local food and craft in a creative, innovative setting. Le Massif will be an ecological showcase where the spirit of the place, its cultures and its produce are given centre stage. This is a destination encompassing art, the outdoors, heritage, local gastronomy, architecture, design, wellness and of course people.

The Mountain
The Mountain is the keystone of the project. A vast skiable terrain of over 400 acres rising 770m from the shores of the St Lawrence river, it’s part of a UNESCO-designated biosphere and a meeting point of cultures – a place where artists and artisans have gathered and been inspired by each other for 150 years.

This is the highest vertical point east of the Canadian Rockies. It has 53 ski trails, a snowpark and a 7.5km long rodeling trail.

The Mountain is a year-round, four seasons destination for skiing, walking and mountain biking, as well as a creative landscape whose use and development – be it for whale watching on the river or the development of lodges and trails on the mountain – adhere to sustainable principles agreed with the community, who remain the landowners for the majority of the area.

The Train
Connectivity and accessibility from Quebec City and the core markets of Montreal and the USA is essential and securing the ownership of the 140km stretch of the railway line linking Quebec city with La Mailbaie (including 85km of unrivalled riverside scenery) was identified as being a critical success factor for the project.

The train route has its origins in 1889 when the Quebec Railway Company established what was known as ‘The Good Saint Anne Line’ as it primarily served the needs of the annual pilgrimage to the Church of St Anne. At its peak, serving the pilgrimage and the growing winter sports markets, the line carried 2.5 million passengers a year, however, the advent of the car and changing consumer behaviour saw the demise and eventual closure of the passenger service in 1996.

It was the vision of Gauthier to realise the train could be more than simply a ‘people-mover’. In 2009 he purchased the railway line from the Quebec Railway Group and invested CA$20m in the creation of a new concept, a ‘rail cruise’, using modern rolling stock as the setting for a total on-board experience which combines a social atmosphere; a showcase of Charlevoix gastronomy with exclusively menus offering distinctive culinary experiences; and personalised GPS-activated multimedia shows delivered to guests’ seats, enabling them to enjoy the region’s heritage and landscape.

In this way, Gauthier has ensured every journey is unique. “The passing landscape paints a canvas for a rail cruise of beauty, creativity and conviviality,” he says.

The Train is, therefore, part of the overall visitor experience. It’s more than a scene setter or taster for the main act. It’s clearly designed to help the guest transition from the mundane to the exceptional. It is an unambiguous statement of what Gauthier’s Le Massif is all about.

Operated by Train Touristique de Charlevoix Inc, the train comprises two locomotives with two caterpillar power cars that also double up as baggage cars. There are eight Pullman carriages that have been refurbished with designs by Morelli Designers and renovation by the Centre de Realisations d’Outils Innovateurs.

The Train has a total capacity of 492 passengers and operates year round.

The Hotel La Ferme
Hotel La Ferme is the hub of the project, encompassing a public square, a multi-use centre for meeting and cultural programmes, restaurants, a spa, the railway station and the 145 bedroom hotel. This architect-designed complex consists of five pavilions that resembles an old farm complex. It’s stylish and eco-friendly. If the Mountain is the soul of the project then La Ferme is the heart.

The values

The Le Massif development is founded on four core values:

1. respect:
for mankind and nature

2. enjoyment:
of the senses through communion with nature

3. challenge:
the search for balance by exploring your own personal physical, spiritual and perceptual boundaries

4. exchange:
an awareness of the importance of sharing ideas and the process of giving and taking

Underscoring these values are a clear set of well-established development principles:

* A vision for sustainable development
* Concern and partnership approach for tourism development across the region
* Diversity of form, design and types of experiences, including the accommodation
* Contemporary design with echoes of heritage and culture
* Robust gastronomy based upon the local terroir
* Multiple destinations within a single destination
* Creating conviviality through social meeting places
* Different forms of transport to and within the destination
* Creating quality local jobs

From Leisure Management Issue 3 2012, p52

Originally published in Leisure Handbook 2014 edition

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