We talked with Dan Björk, director of sales/marketing at ICEHOTEL, which is located 125 miles above the Arctic Circle in Sweden. The one-of-a-kind hotel offers a series of “Tech Visits” for visiting groups to showcase the resort’s progressive mindset mixing business/branding and sustainability. For more about our visit to ICEHOTEL, check out: Sweden: Sustainable by Nature and the photo story, ICEHOTEL: A River Runs Through It.
PREVUE: What can you tell us about the Entrepreneurship + Brand Management tech visit?
Dan Björk: One factor that is very attractive to business, not only in the U.S. but maybe particularly in the U.S., is the entrepreneurship of the ICEHOTEL and the crazy part about the ICEHOTEL that we’ve actually succeeded in building a house of snow and ice, which is very natural from where we live, and that we’ve been able to turn that into a successful business. That’s very appealing to the American corporate mind, I think. It seems to be a product that is touching the American soul, if I can express myself in that way.
Who leads the tech visits?
It’s usually me or one of my colleagues that have been involved with the ICEHOTEL from the beginning, who tell the story about how we began with the idea, how we got the idea, how we’ve grown together in a group of like-minded people. And more or less how we went to the bank and said we have an idea and we were thrown out. We’re no longer being thrown out of the bank.
What’s the general thrust of the Entrepreneurship/Brand tech visit?
It’s a fascinating story that leads you into the making of the brand. How can a small tiny little company 200 kilometers north of the Arctic Cirlcle in a village of 800 people in less than 15 years create a brand that is so famous as the ICEHOTEL is?
In 20 years, it’s gone from being a hotel in a very practical sense to an exhibition of exquisite art in ice where you can also sleep. The art factor has been given more resources, more emphasis, and that’s actually a major part of what the ICEHOTEL is all about today.
One more factor that has been absolutely crucial to the success of the ICEHOTEL is the different type of people working at the ICEHOTEL. It’s the people from process techicians in the ice factory who are trying to produce ice as inexpensively as possible, to artists to marketing nerds such as myself to economists and the cleaning people. It’s the mix of different minds that has managed to come together with one single goal, and that’s to create an unique experience for the clients who visit us.
Sustainability is the theme of another tech visit. How has the focus on sustainability evolved over the years?
It’s something that we started with a long time ago but we realized that we need to systemize it and do it really, really scientifically, or as much as we possibly can. So we started scouting for a partner and we found a Swedish energy company, not one of the big ones but one that is actually producing renewable resources 100%, and that could share our idea and that could help us with the technical part. Because we’re in a phase now at the ICEHOTEL where by the year 2015, we plan to reach the state where we are actually CO2 negative. But we’re in the middle of the process now, and what we have to do is go through every single building and make sure we are making improvements to the level of energy that each building is actually consuming.
The second part is to educate the staff. Usually, they say that 20% of the energy consumption lies within the behavior of the people working there, and we’ve found that to be absolutly true. So our energy consumption is steadly going down in the last five years since we started this project. But in order to becom CO2 negative, we need to save as much as we possibly can. And once we’ve reached that point, where we can no longer save anymore energy, where we’ve reached the limits of what we can possibly do, that’s when we will establish the benchmark of energy that we are consuming. And then comes the part where we have to invest in the production of the same amount. And more.
This will be a mixture of wind, solar and geothermal.
How will this be of interest to visiting corporate clients from the U.S.?
We would like all of our investments to be visible to our clients. If we’re going to raise huge windmills, we will do that right next to the ICEHOTEL. That’s not saying that we’re going to raise any of these boring windmills today. No it will probably be a very specially designed windmill, maybe a work of art itself.
We want our clients to realize that they have actually contributed in the production of energy by coming to the ICEHOTEL. I want them to understand that if you spend your money going to ICEHOTEL, you’re also part of a scheme to learn how to save as much energy as possible and to have the absolutely smallest carbon footprint as possible. People can see the geothermal holes we’ve been drilling, going 200-300 meters deep for almost all of the buildings. We have about 80 of those now that we can take people around to show and recommend the companies we’ve been working with, like Gävle Energi.
We’re not fanatics, but this is all about doing your best and setting an example. The message is for other mid-size companies to come up here, which is frequently happening now, and tell them exactly what we have done. It’s an open book, total transparency. We want people to copy what we have done, and that’s happening all the time now, and that’s maybe the most rewarding part of this.
Because if we can contribute to another company saving energy, that’s also building the ICEHOTEL brand as being environmentally friendly, and we really feel that at heart.
What is your favorite part of the ICEHOTEL experience?
Every year for 20 years when I’m opening up the main doors to the main hall, it’s always breathtaking. It’s a very, very special feeling in the stomach. It’s like, yes, we made it again this year. Although it’s been over 20 years that I’ve done that.
Also during the spring too–that time when you start to see the sun through the roof. It’s not collapsing, it’s shrinking. If you have a chance to come up at the beginning of June and see the ruins, you’d think you were at the Acropolis in Greece or something. There’s a feeling that the hotel is going back to the river, and other than a few drops of Absolut, it’s not very polluted either.