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Sylvie Ernoult and the Cannes Yachting Festival: a success story

16 mins read

The boat show must go on! On the occasion of the 45th Cannes Yachting Festival, of which The International Yachting Media is the official media partner, director Sylvie Ernoult confirms the international and innovative scope of Europe’s most important boat show and the first of the 2022 season. We have interviewed Sylvie Ernoult herself to talk about that.

Sylvie Ernoult, for almost ten years you have been the director of one of the most important boat shows in the world. What are the values that drive you to promote this event?

“First and foremost, passion must be there. Having spent most of my career working with sailors and in the yachting industry, I feel a deep respect for all people at sea who are driven by a common passion. Sharing a passion is one of the most powerful things that exists and this does not happen in all professions.

The second important aspect of being an exhibition organizer is teamwork. The Cannes Yachting Festival is such a large and complex machine to assemble that not only do you need experts in every field, but they must be able to communicate with each other. My job is akin to that of an orchestra conductor: I set them to music, if I can put it that way, to get the ball rolling, to make it all happen and to make the event a success for both our exhibitors and our visitors.
The magnitude of this boat show is completely disproportionate to the number of people in my team, but I do not need ten thousand experts; the team works because everyone communicates and complements each other with the same passion: this is the main key to the success of the show.

My role in the group is that of leader and manager, and it is a real pleasure to work in these humanly and technically significant conditions. Organizing an event like the Cannes Yachting Festival requires great versatility, it is like managing an SME; the complexity lies in knowing what you are dealing with all the parties involved. You have to have good technical knowledge of boating, safety, logistics, and even submarine knowledge to work with the harbour divers; you have to take into account the communication and commercial aspects; you have to keep up with customers and exhibitors.

Another aspect of organizational work is public relations with local representatives, from David Lisnard, the mayor of Cannes who welcomes us every year, to the representatives of the Vieux Port and Port Canto. What spurs me on today is practising in all the different areas of competence and sharing the respective values with my team.

Lastly, the last thing to always bear in mind for those in this profession is to go all the way. At the end of the preparations, the Cannes Yachting Festival can finally be inaugurated! It is an international event, the reward for which is the great satisfaction at the end of this investment of human resources, the pleasure of being centre stage and experiencing the event during these six days, of being in the midst of fifty thousand visitors, in the midst of all the exhibitors and 600 boats: it is a bit like what happens in the world of cinema, where during filming people all work together to get to the evening when the film is presented. It is a job that really gives a lot of satisfaction”.

Every year, the Cannes Yachting Festival expands on an international scale. What has been the evolution and transformation of this event that you have been able to observe since you have been director?

“ I consider myself lucky, because when I arrived the show was already well positioned in the domestic market and also stood out abroad, and for this I have to thank the laudable work of my predecessors. My experience in the luxury market allowed me to improve the quality side of the event, for example with different signage or coloured carpeting for the floor to make it easier for visitors to identify the spaces; all aspects that make the boat show elegant and high-quality. At the same time, we have created the Luxury Gallery, a space reserved for luxury, but I am not talking about the big brands that are already on the Croisette, but rather luxury craftsmanship. 95% of our visitors come to see the boats, but they have a better chance of discovering other products. We have also reinforced the VIP programme with the Riviera service and with an immediate welcome at the exit of the helicopter over the old port of Cannes: visitors are embarked on a small private boat for an exclusive tour of the show by sea where they can admire all the bows of the boats; it is a luxury service to build up the loyalty of our most important guests.

The last important aspect we have improved is the sectorialization of the exhibitors: since there are so many types of boating products, it was important to classify the various boats by model and by range in order to help the public find their way around and facilitate their search. The bigger you get, the more you have to sectorize to make sure that customers don’t get lost in the exhibition”.

Sylvie-Ernoult-CYF How do you explain the success and notoriety of the Cannes Yachting Festival in recent years? Does the popularity of the city of Cannes play an important role in this success?

“It’s true, the city of Cannes is one of the greatest strengths of this show: it is the glamorous location on the Côte d’Azur, offering a welcoming service in its beautiful palaces, and it is accessible from the international airports of Nice and Mandelieu for private jets. A second element of this success is that there are two ports in Cannes, which allows us to expand our capacity to accommodate our exhibitors for the past 45 years: we have Port Canto, which is more modern for sailing boats and brokerage, and the magnificent Vieux Port, the historical port in the city centre with its octagonal shape, which allows the show to expand at its best. Moreover, Cannes is the first boat show of the year and it is here that the shipyards present their novelties: it is like prêt-à-porter, a great appointment not to be missed.

Lastly, the Yachting Festival is one of the only boat shows to offer one-day sea trials for the entire period, and this is a strong point for boatyards and buyers, it is a very democratic show: we have decided to exhibit small, medium, large and maxi yachts, and we have the advantage and the strength of being able to represent all segments of the yachting industry, in a show that is also cultural, because families come on Sundays with their children not only to look at the boats on display, but also, for example, to make their children want to join the sailing club. I grew up at sea, I was a member of the sailing club in my town and my children did the same. This nautical culture is spreading more and more and we have to grow it. At Reed Expo we promote the boating industry by representing a wide range of products offered by shipyards, but also by sharing the passion with our visitors. It is not just about business”.

The Cannes Yachting Festival is celebrating its 45th edition: is there a particular theme this year, have you planned anything new?

“It is the forty-fifth edition, it is true, but after two complicated years because of the Covid pandemic. Today our aim is to get back on our feet completely and offer an event without thinking about the pandemic, with many more boats than in previous years and just as many visitors. So for me the forty-fifth edition of the show represents a consolidation of services and support for the yachting sector, which must open up to new markets such as eco-sustainable boating, the green transition and electric boats, which, like last year, will have a dedicated dock and even more yards offering alternative power solutions. We have also invested heavily in improving the reception infrastructure and safety at the show. Today, one third of the show is represented by French yards, one third by Italian yards, and one third by the whole world, which provides a very representative cross-section of the world market”.

Yachting is cannes yachting festival increasingly looking at eco-sustainability. What is your approach in this respect?

“In terms of organization, we have an eco-sustainability policy to follow, which includes eliminating printed paper, digitizing entrance tickets and brochures, and reducing packaging. In addition, we work with recyclable materials and we have made a huge effort in the management of diffuse waste. All this is done in cooperation with our exhibitors, who value this aspect. Another good practice is the cleanliness of the harbours: exhibitors have to treat their water, and we provide them with special suppliers. We are also very demanding with our caterers, who must offer local and seasonal products, a vegetarian dish a day, and eliminate as much plastic as possible. Last but not least, the entire lighting system is LED. It is an immense collective work that cannot be done by individuals, but together with all the players in the field”.

The yachting market is expanding steadily despite the Covid and rising production costs imposed by shipyards in the face of the global economic situation. How do you see the yachting market evolving over the next few years? And what will be the goal of Sylvie Ernoult and the Cannes Yachting Festival for 2023?

“It is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought a new audience to the boating industry, as boatyards have more and more new customers. It is true that the economic situation is complex, but I think the enthusiasm will continue. The real issue in relation to the market is that real efforts are being made for environmentally sustainable research and development, and for hybrid or electric engines. All shipyards want to propose new products and want to open up to new markets. I believe in progress and I am convinced that I can continue to promote the Cannes Yachting Festival for a long time to come, because we still have some very interesting years ahead of us for the boating industry. It is clear that change is more easily achieved in the automotive industry than in the boating industry, but for example, hydrogen for ferries or merchant ships in Brittany is on the move. We are facing a real technological challenge, a real bet for the future. This market is opening up to new users, for example those who love the sea but don’t know how to sail can use a motor catamaran”.

Thank you very much Sylvie Ernoult for sharing your know-how and your passion for yachting and the sea. Would you like to conclude with a particular message?

“I have to admit that I am lucky to be able to organize this show. The yachting industry is in very good health because in the business we do there is support and development together, and that is really a great satisfaction. There are a lot of other industries that have risen with more difficulty from this covid period, and you always have to look at the underdog, it’s an important rule of thumb in life. Some industries take three to five years to recover, whereas we were lucky enough to be able to get on with our work right away, so what I feel like saying is great job and thanks to the whole boating world!”

Find the full programme of the Cannes Yachting Festival at www.cannesyachtingfestival.com

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