Claude Tahchy and his partner at Solicet, Tony Haswani, along with Mix FM radio station, are behind what has been touted as the event of the summer: Shakira’s first concert in Lebanon. Days before the over-$1million event, Executive sat down with the young producers to find out how an event of this magnitude comes together and what else is on the horizon, as they attempt to carve a place in the crowded and cut-throat field of event production in Lebanon.
How did Shakira’s first concert in Lebanon come together?
CT: It is not the issue of working with Shakira. The issue is how to build a portfolio and how to survive in Lebanon. We’ve been here for 16 years. I started at the company in 2001 as a volunteer and now I’m a partner. We’ve been trying to do big concerts but the problem is always the situation in Lebanon. But small events will lead you to big events. We’re not an international company, we’re a local one, and the issue is how to keep the company surviving in such a difficult market with such a situation; every two or three months you have a problem in Lebanon. For Shakira, we did the contract 40 days ago [from May 20]. It was very fast. Usually for such an event you should plan four months ahead. But the issue is always the situation of the country.
What if something happens and you have to cancel the event?
CT: That is the main issue. If she cancels, we are taking this risk. We have insurance but still you have your credibility. If you stop the event you should refund the tickets and it’s another month of work. On a big project like this, all the efforts of this company are based on this event and every member of the company is working more than 12 hours a day on it… Up until today, everything is clear. And I think it is going to be huge.
Why hasn’t Shakira already come to Lebanon to perform?
CT: I will tell you how we proceed with Shakira’s management. [Tony Haswani] is based in Canada and we have another company there— a booking agency for artists. With Shakira, we’ve come to build a relationship with big agencies like Live Nation, Shakira’s management. It’s all related to [public relations] and relationships. For five years, every producer in Lebanon was trying to bring Shakira. It’s not about money, it’s about our relationships. It’s not the issue that we paid a lot of money. We finalized the contract in 10 days. After 10 days we signed and we announced it. It was very fast because she is on tour.
How do you deal with the competition in production and event planning in Lebanon?
CT: It’s all related to the situation. If it’s not good everything will stop. In 2005 we were planning more than five events and then we had a problem and we stopped everything after [former Prime Minister Rafiq] Hariri’s death. After this point we were looking for long-term projects to allow us to survive; when you have big events it will be great and you’ll grow. After 2005, 2006, 2007, a lot of companies closed in Lebanon.
How do you determine an event’s ticket price?
TH: Shakira is a very big event in terms of cost and in terms of operation. We think about different things. First, we think about how many people we’re going to have. Accordingly, we set prices. And then we determine how we are going to position ourselves; do we want the same income with fewer people or do we really want the masses to come and enjoy? Then we lower our prices and make it affordable. Our pricing strategy was studied with our partner, Mix FM, and they have a lot of experience in this field. We are going to have more than 15,000 people at the concert.
What would the tickets cost if you were not trying to make any profit?
TH: I want to jump on this question because I may answer with ‘the same price’. Things that professionals in the industry understand but [those outside of it] don’t is that when you put on such an event, you don’t think about making a lot of money, you think about making a name out of it. You think that we should break even and we work very hard to break even.
If something happens and you have to cancel the event, will you refund the tickets?
TH: For sure.
This summer you are also bringing Crazy Horse de Paris to Casino du Liban – a controversial show. Are you at all worried about the perception here of this racy show?
CT: Crazy Horse de Paris is a signature event. They are celebrating their 60th anniversary and people are traveling to Paris just to attend this event.
TH: Everybody is hot about the idea and everybody is liking the show. First, it is a cabaret style show. If you go to Paris and you see it, the theater is small and it can accommodate 400 people so it is very niche. And the starting ticket is 8 euros [$11.25] and you just go there and do nothing and just see the show. In Lebanon we are doing it with a price of $100 with two drinks, $150 with two drinks and canapés and champagne and for the dinner it costs $200 or $250; they will have full dinner plus premium open drinks and a bottle of champagne.
Do the owners of the casino have any say over the entertainment inside?
TH: No. We are renting the casino and they are collaborating with us on a few things. But they are not financially [sharing the] risk with us. We brought the show.
Casino du Liban is indirectly owned, in part, by the central bank and Ministry of Finance, so is the government approving nudity?
TH: It is not nudity — this is sensual couture because if you know the show, you cannot really see nudity and even in Paris it’s not nudity; they are wearing strings that are painted. But it’s nudity together with visual effects and once you see the visual effects on the women’s bodies you are going to be lost in terms of what is the visual and what is the woman.
Are you getting any push-back or are you expecting protesting?
TH: So far we are seeing a lot of good reception for the show because Lebanon used to bring such shows in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But we’re Lebanese and we want to bring back what our parents have told us about. So why not bring it back? Why can’t Lebanon be what it used to be?