Sylvie Erna: «When it comes to luxury, you have to be tough.»

Sylvie Erna: «When it comes to luxury, you have to be tough.»

Like the Cannes Yachting Festival. Interview with show manager.
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During the of the 2014 Cannes Yacht Festival. We talked to Sylvie Ernoult, who told us what it's like to run the biggest open-air show in Europe, whether the Russian crisis has affected Cannes and how to promote an event that specializes in luxury.

- What are your main responsibilities as show manager of the Cannes Yachting Festival?

- When you run the show, you're responsible for everything. But you have to understand that important things that require an immediate response, and you can not be an expert in all areas. There is a very strong team working on their solution, especially the technical support of Cannes Yacht Festival. We have a «marine» team responsible for everything that happens on water and pontoons, a team of divers who watch what happens underwater. Everything and everything on the show is the responsibility of the logisticians, who coordinate the various processes. Of course, there is a department that works with information, press and is responsible for all communications. And, of course, the commercial department - we have 480 exhibitors, these are our clients, and we have a sales»team «that leads them before, during and after the show.

- It's the biggest show in Europe. How does it feel to run it?

- Uh... Well, first of all, I'm proud of what I do. First of all, I have fun. I work very hard, but there's no other way when you're doing the event. My head is always busy with technique, the weather - all the things you can't control, and you're worried that this is going to go wrong. But it's the magic of creating this festival. My team shares my feelings, and when you feel supported, it's not a problem to give it all up.

- It's your second year in office. What are the main changes that have happened during this period?

- The first show I did a year ago. I came with two months' experience in this business. It was a difficult period for my director, he did everything and also taught me how to work. I used to carry his briefcase while he was doing business. It's just unrealistic to take control of such a big event at once and in such a short period. A year later I can say that I learned a lot, learned to work with the team, immersed myself in all aspects of the show, changed some things, but the idea - the idea remained the same. You can't open the door and say: «Okay, I'm here, everything will be different»now.

I've got control of a beautiful show, and I'm not going to change what's already beautiful and working properly.

It's another idea to focus on the individual aspects and develop them. My first step was to improve quality, and we keep doing it because it's strategic. If we put «quality» in concrete terms, we are talking about equipment, facilities, careful preparation and convenience for visitors. All this is very important, but I would call it a visible part, there is another aspect of quality that concerns the exhibitors: how to make their lives easier, how to support them, how to provide them with VIP service. Now 80% of the presented boats can go out to sea for test drives, for the industry this is very important - to show the product face, to give potential buyers the opportunity to try it out. There is a lot we can do in this direction. This also applies to the positioning of the exhibition, attracting the right audience, promotion in other countries.

- What's your favorite venue for the show?

- It's hard to say. As a fact, the show is very diverse, that's why Cannes is attractive. Speaking of me personally, when I was younger I used to sail a sailboat. Of course, since then part of my heart has belonged to sailboats, on the opposite side of the press centre where the conversation was taking place - itBoat) we have a great platform with sailboats. But I am also delighted with some amazing motor yachts or boats - they have such technology that, you know, there can be no preference.

Originality and innovation is what's good.

You see creative interiors, volumes that are created on boats, stunning technology, transparency and light... I respect those who invent new things and move the industry forward - sailing is a boat, a motor yacht or parts for an engine. If we talk about motors, there has been a revolution in this direction and it is still happening. They are «cleaner», more economical, better controllability of the yacht. Of course, the motors are not so much fun, but the stands with them are very respected by me. So there's no definite answer.

- How should we promote a luxury yacht show?

- You have to be tough. When it comes to luxury, you just can't be gentle, you have to define the right goals and communicate with them, «spreading out» globally in this case means wasting time.

We choose countries, and every year they are different countries to attract the right visitors.

Now it is more UK, USA and Russia - because we know the potential of these markets. For example, the USA is recovering much better from the crisis than Europe, obviously Americans are more open to us and they are interested in the Mediterranean direction. We are working less with Brazil this year - it is difficult for Brazilians to buy boats abroad. The same goes for advertising, we communicate in countries where there are many sailing boats, motor boats, and we also look at the nationality of yacht manufacturers. There is also an example. We have many participants from Italy, it is natural - the yachting industry in this country is strong and we are in the French Riviera, Italy, and there is no need to invest heavily in attracting them. It's better to throw our strength into other potentially interesting areas.

- There have always been many Russians in Cannes, but Russia is in crisis. Did it have any impact on this year's exhibition?

- It's too early to talk about it. The main thing for me and my team is to organize the show. How many Russians came this year, how many in the past - I do not know such information. This is a question for shipyards - they invite customers to look at their products, and they should know it.

No one personally complained to me that the Russians have disappeared.

But somebody says that there are fewer visitors from Russia, others are glad that everyone they invited came. It's too early to say that the whole show will suffer from problems in Russia. You know, it's like with the hotel business - some hotels are crying that not many Russians have come to them, others are doing fine. I do not know yet, you need average figures to see the whole situation and assess the trend. But in my opinion, the Russians are present here. I don't have the number, but I hope I'm right.

- How do you measure activity at the festival? Do you have any statistics?

- I cannot keep these statistics for many reasons. First of all, the visitors of the exhibition are the clients of my clients. They are invited by shipyards, and I am not going to ask them any questions. I'm not going to stand at the entrance and torture guests, who you are, where you came from and how you got the information, either.

«Where did you come from? From Russia? Would you please»send me...? No, we don't and won't do it, it's an open show.

Of course, we all set up accounts and discuss how successful the show was, how many visitors came. After all, this is a business: there are sales, figures, and yes, the show is definitely involved in the sales process, but agreements can end in sales, and maybe not, the deals can close for 4-5 months. All these numbers are abstract, and I will never be able to give them. The indicator that I have is the satisfaction of the exhibitors. And this is what I know very well: whether they had a good show or not, whether they are satisfied or not. And I know it's a good show. My clients are happy, and I am happy.

- What to expect from Cannes Yachting Festival next year?

- The direction is the same, the idea is the same - we change step by step. We will evolve into a more presentable, better service, more flexible for our clients, and more willing to provide them with what they need to grow their business and present a complete line of their products. We need to talk to everyone and make yachting open to everyone.

What I do not plan to do is to concentrate on one thing so that there is no distortion in large boats or vice versa in small ones.

It is important to preserve the diversity we have. That, in my opinion, is the strength of Cannes. And that's good, you're talking to a young guy, he's thinking of buying a small boat, he doesn't have much money, but he's already looking at the big one, he's dreaming - and maybe one day he'll be a client for a big shipyard. That's the potential. And we hope to keep it.

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