Portsmouth forges business links in France

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A passion for wine may be one of the strongest bonds we have with the people of France.

But a business and tourism delegation organised by Southampton Airport this week may have brought the Solent region a little closer to the people of Dordogne.

(l-r) Pierre Vulin, managing director of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Dordogne, with Stuart Dunn, chief executive officer of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce

(l-r) Pierre Vulin, managing director of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Dordogne, with Stuart Dunn, chief executive officer of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce

Portsmouth was once again put on the map as expats and locals joined some of the city’s leading business leaders to find out more about what we have to offer.

And The News was given an exclusive invite to find out how it all went.

The day began with an early morning flight to Bergerac Airport. Flybe runs a daily service to and from Southampton during the summer and has recently increased its winter offering to cope with demand from British people living in the south west region of France.

An estimated 10 per cent of the population is from the UK, and it is that the tourism industry is hoping to tap into.

Stuart Dunn, chief executive of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, exchanged gifts with two of his French counterparts over lunch.

For the chamber, the trip was about forging links between the two regions and finding out how businesses can work together in the future.

After the event, Stuart said: ‘It has been all about promoting the Portsmouth and Hampshire areas to the Bergerac region and a number of businesses and the chamber itself are very keen to reciprocate business between Hampshire and the Bergerac region.

‘Of course, Bergerac does not just have wine, it has industry. And some of that industry is connected to aerospace and avionics which is of course what Hampshire is also all about so we are developing some very interesting links, not just avionics but also from wine as well.

‘It has been a very worthwhile trip and it has been very interesting to find out how the French chambers work and how much pressure they are under from their government through budget cuts while trying to remain independent.

‘Overall I think the trip has been very successful in promoting Bergerac and I look forward to welcoming Bergerac to Hampshire.’

Asked what can be done better in the future, Stuart added: ‘I think what I can take away, apart from the wine, is the links we have made with business and [that] some of the same problems are expressed in a different way.

‘I think it’s interesting how we are both recognising how important business and education is together and how we should be working with colleges and schools and to help young people get into jobs. That I think is something that is truly international.’

The event was organised by Southampton Airport to increase awareness of its connections, particularly a deal between the business and South West Trains which allows passengers to buy a discounted return ticket to London Waterloo.

Dave Lees, the airport’s managing director who is also a board member of Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), travelled as part of the delegation.

‘We are here to promote the London link which is about using Southampton as an easy way to get to London,’ he said.

‘We have been working with South West Trains for a number of years.

‘This was a great opportunity to encourage more people to travel on the route. We currently have around 35,000 passengers a year using the route but I think we could get it up to 50,000.

‘The biggest value of doing something like this is it raises awareness of the region.

‘From a Portsmouth perspective, the tourism offerings have been highlighted to everyone who attended.

‘We are really looking to sell the region and the attractions including Portsmouth which has a number of key attractions.

‘We are thinking about people coming from Bergerac who might be interested in coming to the Historic Dockyard and some of the other attractions. Inbound tourism is really important for us moving forward.

‘Portsmouth has a huge amount to offer people. We have been working really hard with attractions in Portsmouth to build that relationship and boost tourism. There has been an imbalance in the UK. London takes far too much of the tourism opportunities and this is a positive way of addressing that.’

One of the people promoting the city is Kate Thompson, who works on an initiative called Hampshire’s Top Attractions.

The project, run by The Marketing Collective, pools marketing budgets to help promote them within a two-and-a-half-hour radius of the county.

Among the collective’s clients, and those attractions represented out in Bergerac, include Gunwharf Quays, the Blue Reef Aquarium in Southsea, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the Royal Marines Museum, Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Spinnaker Tower and various transport providers.

Kate said: ‘I think it’s a great idea to get the message out there to expats who are living out here so may be travelling through Southampton. It reminds them what is on offer across the county. Maybe if they were looking to have a weekend in the UK or meet up with family members, it shows they don’t have to go to London.

‘There are so many attractions in Portsmouth, it has a great offering and it is in the same sort of area as the airport.

‘Attractions like the Mary Rose Museum have had an amazing response from visitors. So many people have visited it already.

‘Portsmouth and Southampton have got to work together to try and encourage more tourists to stay in the area and not go straight to London.’

One area Portsmouth may be able to capitalise on is shopping, according to expat Hazel Michael.

Hazel moved to Bergerac after she retired. She now runs a popular website with British people in the region called AngloInfo Dordogne.

‘These sorts of events help Southampton Airport get its name out there and will make expats consider travelling through there instead of Gatwick,’ she said.

‘I think there needs to be more advertising out here about places to visit in the UK. There needs to be a collaboration between places and the airport. I don’t think Southampton is considered to be a tourist destination itself.

‘I am sure people would consider going to Portsmouth for shopping. It has got the lovely waterside shopping centre, Gunwharf Quays, which is amazing. We are all aware of that.

‘It is very expensive to buy clothes in shops around the Dordogne region and I think that is something people seem to like to go home to buy. People live to go back home to go to John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.’

The rise of the cruise market in Southampton and Portsmouth is also important for the airport and for the airline.

As more passengers from the UK and elsewhere travel to meet their cruise, airlines like Flybe want to be able to assist.

In Portsmouth, the number of cruises using the international port rose by 22 per cent this year compared to the last.

Paul Willoughby, regional sales manager for Flybe, said this is one of the important areas for the company going forward.

He said: ‘From our perspective, we have to look at what our customers want. We have got a new route that we just announced to Hamburg, which will link the two links by air.

‘Going forward we are talking to cruise companies to see how we can work better to help passengers get to Southampton.’