The Auberge Saint-Antoine: How a small family business became the best hotel in Canada

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Photo: Pauline Moisy

Hélène Godbout has run the Auberge Saint-Antoine, in Quebec City Lower Town, from January 2010.

It appears on many postcards representing the Chateau Frontenac, but tourists probably do not notice the Auberge Saint-Antoine, at the feet of the chateau. With 95 bedrooms, the hotel accommodates more than 41,000 clients every year. Owned by English-speaking Québecois -the Price family- the Auberge became one of the top 100 hotels of the world (Trip Advisor ranking) in 17 years.

When the hotel opened in 1993, it was a small business with only 23 bedrooms. Three years later, eight bedrooms were built. From 2003, with the building of 64 new bedrooms, the hotel administrators have targeted businessmen and businesswomen. Two meeting rooms were built. A business centre with computers connected to Internet and printers was created. In 2005, a 95 seats auditorium was built, which can be transformed into a conference room or a cinema.

"Our auditorium is unique in Québec City", director Hélène Godbout said. "The sound is amazing, and the projector screens high quality images. But only a few people know it exists. We want to promote it more".

The hotel now targets the general public. A gym including two massage rooms was created in 2007 and opened to a few Québec residents. A beauty salon is to open shortly. "We also have a yoga class inside the hotel, which is completely new in Québec City," Godbout said.

If the interior of the hotel matches luxury criteria, luxury is also a question of staff behaviour.

"Some of our 125 employees do not have a strong experience of hotel business. We just want them to adhere to our values, which are the passion for hotel business, the capacity to handle any situation, and the respect of clients and other members of staff," Godbout explained. "But the employees who are in contact with the customers must be bilingual in French and English, and speaking a third language is a plus to work in the Auberge."

She noted that the French concierge, Sandrine Bonnet, is president of the "Chapitre Québecois pour les clés d'Or," an international organisation that certifies the competences of concierges.

"Working at the Auberge Saint-Antoine is a pride," the director says. "Every time the hotel wins a prize, we put the diploma up in the staff room. We really appreciate receiving awards from clients. It's even more important than receiving prizes from professionals."

In 2009, the Auberge was ranked 35th best hotel on nearly 30,000 hotels by the users of Expedia.com, a website specialising in travel. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, it was elected best hotel in Canada by the users of Tripadvisor.com.

But the Auberge would not be classified as "luxurious hotel" without the restaurant Le Panache, which opened in 2004. The cellar of the restaurant contains a variety of liquors, the most ancient being a Porto from 1935. The chef François Blais cooks traditional food from Québec, adding his personal touch. He was awarded best chef in Québec in 2008 and 2009. "The combination of high standard accommodation and gastronomic catering was essential to be classified as a Relais-Chateau", Mrs Godbout explains. This international organisation lists hotels that matches excellency criteria. The Auberge Saint-Antoine was added to the list in 2005.

With the number of clients rising by 20 percent between March-April 2009 and March-April 2010, the future of the hotel is promising.
"We are very optimistic for 2010," Godbout concluded.