The French city of Bordeaux is synonymous with the wine that bears its name, to the extent that the two are inseparable. Rather than running away from this association, the city embraces its reputation as a dream destination for wine lovers, and is creating a link from its sumptuous reds to not only tourism but also business attraction. The gleaming La Cité du Vin museum on the banks of the river Garonne – its twirling shape meant to evoke the swirling of wine around a glass – is testament to this.
Mayor Alain Juppé, a former French prime minister who has served two lengthy stints running the city from 1995 to 2004 and 2006 to present, failed in his bid to run for president in 2017 and as a result retired from national politics. But his local accomplishments are widely admired and some other French cities look on with envy at Bordeaux’s development in recent decades.
The high life
“The image of the city is very good. That is an important incentive not only for the management of big companies but also for the employees. This is a city where the quality of life is high. This image is due to the transformation of the city over the past two decades,” says Mr Juppé.
“When I was elected as a mayor in 1995, my fellow citizens called the city ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Now it’s completely awake and it’s due to the ambitious programme of urban renewal I launched at that time. Not only cleaning the facade of the buildings along the river, but developing the tram network – which is one of the most important in France – and new facilities such as our new stadium, our new concert hall, and La Cité du Vin, which has been very successful, with more than 450,000 visitors last year.”
Opened two years ago, LaCité du Vin (or City of Wine) is designed to showcase wine culture in a “new, innovative, creative” setting, according to Sylvie Cazes, president of the foundation that runs the facility. It has had an estimated economic impact of the city of €40m a year and has proved especially popular with US tourists.
Indeed, tourism is booming in Bordeaux, largely off the back of enhanced connectivity. Tourist arrivals have increased from 2 million per annum a decade ago to 7 million today: all this for a city of only 250,000 people and a metropolitan region of 750,000.
The inauguration of a new high speed train in July 2017 cut journey times to Paris to 2 hours and 4 minutes – “when we are not on strike”, laughs Mr Juppé ruefully. (A nationwide rail strike during the time of fDi’s visit did indeed necessitate an arrival by air.) Bordeaux Airport – where Uber passengers are directed by the app to meet their drivers at a large statue of a wine bottle – is expanding rapidly, with a total of 104 routes operated by 31 airlines and a €130m upgrade plan in the works.
More than wine
Of course, while wine-fuelled tourism is a major economic driver, Bordeaux also intends to demonstrate that there is more to the city than that. There are several active economic clusters, including aerospace, digital industries and healthcare. A new business district is being planned, with a target of creating 30,000 new jobs, as part of a broader target of creating 100,000 new jobs by 2030. To help meet this goal and support demographic growth, “we need FDI” says Mr Juppé.
And FDI is coming – maybe not at the same rapid pace that tourists are descending upon the city, but it is coming nonetheless. There were 80 new FDI projects that brought more than 2000 new jobs in 2017, according to local investment agency Invest in Bordeaux, which included Malta-based online gambling company BetClic setting up in Mama Works, a new harbourside co-working space offering 300 desks for rent, in anticipation of a steady flow of business activity.