Cannes Yachting Festival 2023: Yachts discusses expectations with show director Sylvie Ernoult.

Steve Chalmers

Bonjour Sylvie! Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been working in the yachting industry?

I started my career in the maritime sector in 1985, first developing services in a big cargo ship environment, and then in financing/building and delivering amazing cruise ships. I joined Stardust (yacht charters) in 1992, where I worked in various positions between France and the USA for over 10 years. This was my first step into the world of yachting. During that time, I oversaw the American subsidiary merger. When Stardust was bought out by Sunsail, I took over managing Stardust Platinium, where, while overseeing yacht building, I launched a new luxury cruising programme aimed at the European and American markets. I then continued my career with cruise operator Festival Croisières France as Sales Director, before moving into the luxury hotel sector, joining the Club Med Luxury property department as Sales Manager.

I have to admit that I have loved the sea since I was a little girl, from small boats to big ships, as I grew up by the sea in a big port town in Normandy.

What is your main role as Festival Director?

My main mission is to oversee the operational management of the Festival including its security, which is a very tough job. I am also in charge of managing the development of the show’s medium- and long-term strategy, and I’ve been doing that since 2013. My goal has been to consolidate the Cannes Yachting Festival’s leadership in the highly competitive world of boat shows and to develop the Yachting Festival’s international scope. Ten years on and the gamble has paid off: 45 years after it was started, the Cannes Yachting Festival continues to attract increasingly prestigious exhibitors and visitors from all over the world. I work with a strong team of real experts and together we constantly renew and innovate in building and marketing this amazing event.

What can visitors look forward to for 2023?

Visitors will be able to see more than 130 boats presented for the first time in the world. They will also take part in a show, showing an eclectic offer. All the major players in the yachting industry gather in Cannes to open the nautical season and exhibit their new products and world premieres. The Cannes Yachting Festival is a real showcase for jewels of the sea (boats from 5 to 50 metres long, motor or sailing boats, monohulls or multihulls, new or brokerage yachts), highlighting unique know-how and craftsmen of shipbuilding. It enables everyone, whether a sea lover, yachting enthusiast, seasoned visitor or simply curious, to explore a universe in an idyllic setting, emblematic of the French Riviera.

Have you noticed a change in visitor demographic, compared to 10 years ago?

We are a public show so we do not gather any statistics data about our visitors, so I cannot directly answer your question. Nevertheless, our exhibitors tell us that buyers are younger and that more of them are not sailors, nor have lots of knowledge about the sea at all. Many are buying a boat for the first time, and not small ones either!

What part of the event is growing the quickest?

The past years have benefitted from a generally huge increase in the industry for all types of boats. Our show has limited capacity and its DNA is to present a wide range of boats, so we try to stay fair and not grow one segment more than another.

Repeat business: Sylvie ensures that all the major shipyards in leisure yachting return to the Festival year after year to showcase their latest models.

Have you introduced any new concepts/innovations for this year’s event?

This year we will be inaugurating a small boat marina in the Vieux Port to develop the 8-12 metre boat segment. There will be around fifty of them. This new small boat area is located in the centre of the Vieux Port next to the RIB area. There’s great demand from our visitors for small boats, especially on the French market, and our exhibitors really want to exhibit smaller boats on the water so they can give their customers the opportunity to enjoy sea trials.

Sometimes we sailed in stormy waters, but we held our course.

Sustainability is now a big part of the industry. How is the CYF aiming to increase its eco-responsibility?

We have two lines of development and communication. The first line relates to our exhibitors and the fact that they are setting a course towards ecology with increasingly environmentally friendly boats, products and services. To do so, we created the “Green Route”: a guided tour that includes everything that is noteworthy, based solely on exhibitors’ eco-friendly innovations in this field – 60 exhibitors out of 600 are part of it. We also showcase small electric and hybrid boats in a dedicated area. We mention technological innovations (e.g. using solar panels, etc.) in our official communication.

Our second line as show organiser is seeking to reduce our environmental impact. We are taking steps to do so. We have reduced our printed materials; we work with service providers that are committed to using more sustainable and recyclable products and raw materials. Our caterers offer at least one vegetarian option in all catering outlets and give preference to seasonal, local and/or organic products whenever possible. We have a “bin plan” to encourage exhibitors to sort their waste during the assembly, Festival and take-down periods.

This year, we’re going to work with the Green Bee Upcycling Event on three things:

Action 1: reusing brushed cotton

We’re trying to salvage two big-bags, i.e. around 1,000m² of brushed cotton, which will be recycled by Métisse for it to be made into insulation material used in constructing buildings.

Action 2: raising awareness of take-down

Presence and actions with decorators encouraging them to recover their waste, particularly wood. Target areas: JEAN and JAES in particular

Action 3: post-show waste analysis

Processing the collection certificate and all collection vouchers.

Big responsibilities: Sylvie and her team look after 610 exhibitors, 54,000 visitors and 592 journalists.

We have been recycling the show’s carpet for several years, and there are two options:

Energy recovery: the carpet is burnt and the heat released by combustion is transformed into energy, plus the ash residues are used in the construction industry (to make cement).

Material recovery: the carpet is crushed and transformed into polypropylene microbeads, which are reintroduced into the plastic industry’s manufacturing circuit. For this, carpets must be clean and free of stains and traces of tape.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Orchestrating the French and international teams’ work, that of our service providers, and relations with institutions. Everyone must move in the same direction, respecting the deadlines set so the Festival is ready to open on Tuesday at 10am.

I’m present to provide a framework, make decisions, resolve problems, plus manage the budgets and reverse scheduling. We are all driven by the same passion, which enhances the work we do every day!

What has been your standout moment since taking over as Festival Director?

The time when the Sailing Area was set up in 2019 was a great moment. This area represents more than two years of teamwork, discussions with the city of Cannes and our service providers, considerations – we considered several scenarios before deciding to move the sailing boats. We had to see exhibitors, convince them that the project was worthwhile, persuade them to leave the Vieux Port, which meant separating their fleet and having two stands for some, one for motor boats, and one for sailing boats. Sometimes we sailed in stormy waters, but we held our course. My greatest reward was to see our exhibitors and visitors happy to be on the quays of Port Canto and to hear the really positive feedback about this area. We’re into the fourth year of the Sailing Area now, and it still continues to be a success. The Cannes Yachting Festival Sailing Area is the number 1 place in the world for new, large sailing boats – that’s no small achievement!

What can we expect for the Cannes Yachting Festival 2024?

More challenges are still to come for our team, with a new organisation. Stay tuned!