Creation

Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf company was established in 1959 by its founder Emile Azam. Having previously been the licence holder in the 1950s of a boat-building brand (Rocca) on the banks of the Marne at Varenne Saint-Hilaire, he embarked on the Parisian adventure.

The company's first location in Paris was at the foot of the Louvre Museum, at the Quai du Louvre, on the right bank of the Seine. A wooden passenger boat, the Symoun, which had capacity for 30 people and which had previously operated on the Marne, was put into service from April to September, and offered 30 minute cruises on the Seine, without commentary.

The construction of an initial 50-seat cruise boat made of steel was started in Concarneau in 1960: the Rocca I. But Emile Azam very soon realised that this boat was already proving too small. Therefore in 1962, a new boat with capacity for 112 people, called Rocca 2, was delivered by Chantiers de Concarneau. In 1964 the Rocca was sold in order to finance the construction of the Rocca 3, and following that the Rocca 4 arrived in 1966.

First steps



In 1967 the company's operations were transferred from the Quai du Louvre to the Square du Vert Galant on the Île de la Cité. This move was made necessary by the construction of the Georges Pompidou expressway. A 25m jetty was then built in Concarneau to host the three boats in the fleet.

In 1970 Emile Azam brought his nephew, Eric Levavasseur, who was then 16 years old, into the company. The Rocca 5 was added to the existing fleet of cruise boats. Eric then invited his brother Xavier to join him in 1977.

The number of people booking cruises continued to increase. In 1980 the Hydraseine, a 250-seat boat, was built at the Chantiers du Trait, near Rouen. This new, more spacious boat meant that evening events could be arranged (150 to 200 a year). The 25-metre jetty was becoming too small: in 1982 its surface area was doubled and it also then hosted a bar.

At the same time, thematic cruises and lunch cruises in restaurants along the banks of the Marne were made available to customers and in one year alone over 10,000 customers booked these new cruises. With the development of these new products, acquisition of a new boat with 150 seats became necessary: the Vert Galant, which was bought in 1985.

Demand was such that in 1989, on the occasion of the bi-centenary of the Revolution, the company decided to build a boat with 350 seats, named Europa, the first fully uncovered boat on the Seine; the boat was built by Les Chantiers de la Haute Seine at Villeneuve le Roi.

Tastes were changing and customers wanted to enjoy the sun: a terrace was built on the roof of the Hydraseine, which also increased its capacity from 250 to 350 seats. The company would eventually sell the Rocca 3 to the boats of the Erdre, and the Rocca 5 would be moved on to the Marne at the Port de Nogent. It still operated there in the context of organised cruises with stopovers from Nogent-sur-Marne to Joinville-le-Pont, sailing around the iles de Perreux and Bry, in the "guingettes" (open-air cafes) region of yesteryear: a sort of return to its roots.

Maturity

The construction of a boat with 550 places, which would be called the Parisis, was undertaken and was built by the Chantiers de la Haute Seine; the boat started operating in spring 1994. Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf then had capacity to accommodate 1,250 customer places/hour via the three larger boats, supplemented by the Rocca 2, as a back-up boat, and the Vert Galant, a multi-purpose boat used for events and cruises.

Faced with increasing competition from boats used for entertainment/receptions, the company decided to include daily catering in its services. It invested in galleys on the Vert Galant.

Sales continued to grow and a new company was needed to manage this aspect: Les Croisières du Pont Neuf was created. This new structure helped to enlarge the sales team, an essential element for this new development.
The results were not long in coming: 15,000 meals were served during the first year of operation. In this year, 1998, it became clear that the requests for entertainment and events could no longer be satisfied. Another site was undoubtedly needed. In addition, Parisian tourism was continuing to grow: more and more coaches were converging at major tourist sites, near the heart of the city. With traffic and parking becoming increasingly thorny issues, the city took controlling measures. The Bercy coach parking facility, the largest in Europe, was created, alongside the Palais Omnisports and what would become Bercy Village. We were witnessing major development in the east of Paris.

3rd millennium development

Once again the company took the plunge and continued with new investments. In 1999 the elements came together with the creation of Marina de Bercy.

Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf started up a new boat company: The company Bercy Navigation was formed in association with Luc Devillers for the construction of a new restaurant boat with 250 seats, the Grand Pavois, and a 60m-long jetty, the Emile pier. The Grand Pavois was modern and revolutionary in its design: it was powered by a hybrid mix of fuel/electricity. The pier had a bar, a conference room, a terrace with 200 seats, a parking area and a terrace platform and beach for 150 people.

The boat Vert Galant, a restaurant boat already operating at Pont-Neuf with 100 seats, joined the Port de Bercy; the Rocca 4, a 112-seat passenger boat, was refitted into a 50-seat entertainment/reception boat and completed the fleet at the Marina de Bercy in order to better satisfy customer demand.

Sadly, 1999 was not just about satisfaction and hope: the company's patriarch and founder, Emile Azam, passed away in that year. With his passing, a new page of history was turned for Les Vedettes. His nephew Eric Levavasseur was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors, with Xavier, his brother, supporting him. The company remained strictly a family affair, as it always had been, with no external shareholders: brothers, sister, parents, uncles and aunts continued to share the ownership of the business. Alongside them a solid and enduring team ensured day-to-day operations, with a sense of family/teamwork spirit not found very often. The adventure continued. Work was undertaken to enlarge and totally renovate the pier of the port of Pont Neuf and completed end of 1999 / start of 2000.

In order to optimise its commercial development, Bercy Navigation, which operated the Marina de Bercy brand, opened up its capital to the Divercity / Cityrama group, a world leader in operating the "sightseeing bus". The association between the two groups would make it possible to create new combined products for visiting Paris, such as circuits from the Eiffel Tower, with stops at Notre-Dame and the Louvre, offered by Bateaux Parisiens under the combined brand of "Navicity".

At the end of 2007, Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf took control of the company Canauxrama with its 25 years of experience on the Paris, Marne, Oise and Seine canals. Four boats adapted to the canals and the river added to the potential of Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf.

Beyond borders

At the same time, Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf became involved in the design and construction of a passenger boat company in Rome. This new company would respond to the invitation to tender from the city of Rome, which wanted to start cruises on the Tiber. The Battelli di Roma boat company was founded in April 2003 and currently operates 6 boats on the Tiber.

In the framework of a European business development project, commercial agreements were drawn up between 3 boat companies: in London with City Cruises, the leading London company, in Paris with Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf and in Rome with Battelli di Roma. Joint actions such as a European tourism "pass" and other development projects in France and Europe are being considered.

A look over the shoulder

More than fifty years have gone by. Tourism has grown steadily. The banks of the Seine are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The bridges are illuminated, Paris has strengthened its image as the City of Light.

Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf has continued to invest. The company has been developed and organised, and it has a bright future.

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