Portrait of the Hamel Family: entrepreneurs and navigators from father to son
Pioneer in the Quebec cruise-excursions business, the Hamel family successfully transformed and diversified its services over the years to offer passengers a unique experience aboard the AML vessels. Present in ten ports in the Province of Quebec, specifically in 7 of the province’s 22 tourist regions, the family business continues to innovate.
The maritime adventure began for Guy Hamel and his son Édouard in 1972. Father and son acquire the Compagnie d’Excursions Maritimes de Québec (a company founded in Quebec City in 1948) and its vessel, the Duke d’Orléans. In 1976 the Hamels decide to buy a second ship, the M/V Louis Jolliet, which after major renovations would become the largest tour-excursion boat in Canada with a capacity of 1000 passengers. This is an important year for the Hamel clan, as Guy’s second son, Yves, decides to join the family business.
The Hamel Family is in growth mode and in 1981 acquires the Chantier maritime de L‘Isle-aux-Coudres in Charlevoix. Situated in a tourist region, the completely modernized shipyard was sold in 1997, which significantly helped the development of Group AML.
We are now in the 80’s, the disco era where people love to dance. In the metropolitan areas, it is the perfect time to offer evening cruises where passengers can dance the night away. In 1987, Group AML acquires three new boats with a capacity ranging from 90 to 400 passengers from Les Croisières du Port de Montréal Inc.
Pursuing its expansion, in 1991 and 1992 Group AML adds two other vessels with the creation of Navettes Maritimes du Saint-Laurent. This new company provides a link between the bicycle paths of the Island of Montreal, Île Ste-Hélène and Longueuil. It’s an avant-garde concept that facilitates transportation in the metropolitan area. These maritime shuttles are an ecological alternative to the problem of transportation during rush hour in the southern suburbs of Montreal.
Obviously, innovation is part of the Hamel family’s DNA. In the early 1990s, they launch a unique dinner cruise concept aboard its vessels in Quebec City and Montreal. The family business decides to modernize and renovate its boats by installing kitchens. Today, more than 125,000 meals are prepared and served annually on the ships, which include the AML Cavalier Maxim and the AML Louis Joliet.
This gastronomic change appeals to everyone. Passengers are delighted with this unique cruise experience. Imagine a 3, 4 or 6-course dinner aboard a ship that sails the waters of the St. Lawrence at sunset; it’s the perfect opportunity for lovers to unite their destiny! These vessels are still today the only boat restaurant in the Province of Quebec. With their complete bar services, the company is one of the SAQ’s largest customers during the summer months.
In 1994, the Hamel family (Group AML) is awarded the St. Lawrence Award by the Société de développement économique du Saint-Laurent, underscoring its pioneering role in the field of cruise-excursions. On the same note, in 2004 and 2005, the company is awarded the Grand Prix du tourisme national in the Restoration et développement touristique category. These awards confirm the quality of the meals served on board the vessels and the company’s reputation in this field.
Well established, the family business makes new acquisitions. The fleet now includes Les Croisières aux Sentinelles du Saint-Laurent Inc. and the largest cruise operator in Charlevoix, Les Croisières Navimex Inc. This double transaction enables Group AML to become the leading cruise operator for the observation of marine mammals in the Province of Quebec. With these new changes, Group AML is renamed Croisières AML (AML Cruises).
A few years later, the family business acquires Croisière à la baleine et au Saguenay, Croisière de la baie de Tadoussac and Croisières Express. These boats make it possible to increase the size of their zodiac fleet.
AML Cruises has the wind in its sails, but suffers its first setback during the 1996 Saguenay flood. The weather conditions cause the company to experience difficult times. As Yan Hamel, son of Édouard Hamel and President and CEO of AML Cruises points out, customers board ships according to the weather. For Guy Hamel’s grandson, it was necessary to consider diversifying activities and modify their offer of services.
The range of products offered by AML Cruises has constantly been renewed. New cruises were created and departures are now offered in new ports: L’Anse-St-Jean on the Saguenay Fjord and Lévis. L’Anse Saint-Jean, known for its breathtaking landscapes, is an enchanting destination thanks to the Saguenay Fjord cruises.
In 2004, AML Cruises directs its interests on the Quebec City region and participates in the acquisition of Tours Dupont, which will pass into the hands of Tours du Vieux-Québec in 2007, allowing AML Cruises and Tours du Vieux-Québec to increase their offer of services in the Quebec City tourist region.
Transition and passion
Two years later, in 2006, Yan Hamel ensures the succession of the company as President and CEO. Committed to the development of tourism in the Province of Quebec, Yan has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Association québécoise de l’industrie touristique (AQIT) since 2009. Very involved in his community, the grandson of the founder of AML Cruises is a committed member of each of the regional tourism associations concerned, as well as in international marketing of the destination.
Yan’s passion is reflected in the operations of AML Cruises. Since Yan Hamel has been running the family business, where he spent almost all his summers until graduating in industrial engineering, the businessman has focused on diversifying his clientele to attract tourists from all walks of life and four corners of the world. AML Cruises is proud to offers a large variety of activities such as adventure cruises, sight-seeing cruises and fireworks dinner cruises, just to name a few.
A true jack of all trades, Yan Hamel is also one of the twelve members of the Comité performance de l’industrie touristique who, in 2011, submitted a report to the government with recommendations aimed at stimulating the economic performance of tourism in the Province of Quebec. He was also a member of the Table stratégique d’échanges chaired by the Minister of Tourism as part of its Plan de développement de l’industrie touristique 2012-2020
Passionate about rivers, Yan Hamel chaired the Comité Saint-Laurent, whose goal was to enhance the St. Lawrence River and its main attractions. For the Quebec City entrepreneur, the St. Lawrence River is the backbone of the Province of Quebec and a magnificent body of water that deserves to be known.
Yan Hamel served as President of the Alliance de l’industrie touristique du Québec for a few years and is now its Secretary. This commitment led him to bring together and coordinate various stakeholders, to better defend the industry’s interests before provincial and federal authorities.
Convinced of the benefits of a strong and united industry, Yan sees the birth of the Alliance as the materialization of the unification of the tourism industry and the beginning of a new era of collaboration that promises great advances for the sector. Yan Hamel enthusiastically engages to this new reality. He wishes to put his entrepreneurial experience, his years of consultation and relationships developed with the federal and provincial governments over the years, to the benefit of the Alliance. Through his involvement, Yan Hamel’s actions illustrate his dedication to Quebec’s tourism industry and his commitment to preserve the legacy of the family-owned business.
The heritage of the family business is also insured thanks to the involvement of Yan Hamel’s brother, Loïc Hamel. The youngest member of the Hamel family made his debut at AML Cruises almost 10 years ago. Starting as a seaman, he rose through the ranks to become Master Seaman on the AML Louis Jolliet, where he was responsible for several tasks including mechanics. It was obvious that Loïc was heading towards collegiate studies in industrial engineering, which allowed him to develop his skills in project management, preventive maintenance and operations management.
Dedicated and concerned about the success of the family business, Loïc Hamel was entrusted with the responsibility of coordinating zodiac operations in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park sector, while pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in Engineering, Operations Management and Logistics at the École de technologie supérieure (ETS). His expertise in asset maintenance management and operations management has led him to become more involved in different sectors of the company, allowing him to control the operations of the entire company.
Passionate about engineering and business, Loïc Hamel specialized by completing a Master’s Degree in International Projects and Global Engineering and then joined his brother Yan in 2013 as Vice-President Operations of AML Cruises. He is, to this day, more than ever involved in the family business that celebrated its 45th anniversary in 2017.
The two brothers, sole shareholders of AML Cruises, share above all, a common passion for boating which was handed down from their father and grandfather. At the time, their grandfather Guy built sailboats inside the family barn. His son Édouard, father of Yan and Loïc, transformed this hobby into a successful business model.
The founders of the AML Group would be proud to see their legacy continue from generation to generation. In 2012, it is with great sadness that one of the patriarchs of the family business, Édouard Hamel, died at the age of 64 from cancer. The company would not have been the same without this exceptional man, determined, loyal, authentic and generous. With the help of his father Guy, his brother Yves and his sons Yan and Loïc, Édouard participated in the creation and development of the largest cruise-excursion company in Canada.
A successful company
AML Cruises is, in effect, the number one cruise-excursion company in Canada with a fleet of 24 vessels operating in the Province of Quebec. This 46 year-old family business is constantly growing! In 2012, the company acquired 50% of Croisières Lachance. This new partnership allows AML to set up in a new port in the Province of Quebec, that of Berthier-sur-Mer.
In strategic diversification mode, year 2013 was marked by the acquisition of three competitors: Croisières 2001, Groupe Dufour and Croisières Le Coudrier. This is an opportunity for the AML fleet to add 3 new boats and see its vessels rejuvenate.
In forty-six years of operation, Guy, Édouard, Yves, Yan and Loïc Hamel developed a company that has grown from 7 to more than 650 employees during the high season. Over 550,000 passengers are transported annually and take advantage of an incredible cruise experience. True to its values, the company has kept its head office in Old Quebec and has offices throughout the Province of Quebec, including Montreal, Baie-Ste-Catherine and Tadoussac. AML Cruises enables Quebecers, as well as tourists from around the world, to discover the breathtaking landscapes of the Province of Quebec.
The company’s success is measured by the diversification of its services. Over the years, AML Cruises has built its place in the Quebec tourism industry. Due to the scale of its ever-growing activities and its know-how in the maritime sector, this third-generation family company has developed a long-term vision, thanks to its concern for sustainable development. A true Quebec flagship, AML Cruises is a must in the Quebec landscape.