The Center Parcs organisation has been ‘overwhelmed’ by the warmth of the welcome it has received in Longford, according to Simon Kay, its head of public relations.

“It has been a really interesting and exciting journey. It is just over four years since we stood in Newcastle wood which we had decided to acquire from Coillte, covering 400ac,” he said. “It has at times been overwhelming how well we have been received.

“Center Parcs has been interested in coming to Ireland for a long time now. Pre-financial crisis, we were actively searching for a site but that was then put on hold,” said Simon.

“We opened our last park in the UK in 2014 and then came straight to Ireland from there,” he said. “We were very specific about the kind of woodland we required.

We go for commercially planted woodland as we needed to remove a percentage of that to put in facilities such as the lake and the 466 self-catering lodges and 30 apartments that are dotted around the woodland.

“By locating in commercially planted woodland, we can replant indigenous trees which helps with biodiversity. Being in woodland is very much part of Center Parcs and attracts our guests. We have a whole team of forest rangers to protect the beautiful woodland and anything that lives in it,” Simon said.

Taoiseach visit

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently visited the forest resort near Ballymahon to mark the completion of the €233 million facility which, he said, had the potential to be a game-changer for the midlands. It will open to paying guests on July 29.

The development is ‘squarely’ aimed at the island of Ireland market, with 10% of guests expected to be from the UK.

We target the domestic short break market and there really isn’t anything like it in Ireland. There is a huge range of indoor and outdoor facilities, and a real draw for families is the sub-tropical paradise, Ireland’s biggest water park which is heated to 29.5° all year around.

“That is at the heart of what we have built in Longford and it’s our jewel in the crown,” said Simon.

During construction, Center Parcs created over 750 jobs, the company said. As it enters the operational phase, a further 1,000 jobs have been created.

“It made a huge impression in this part of rural Ireland that 1,000 jobs were going to be created, predominantly for people from the local area. There are career opportunities for people who don’t have to leave the county and the country.

“There are great knock-on effects to the local economy, particularly in Ballymahon which is buzzing.

There was a feeling that Longford was a forgotten place in Ireland but we are very happy to be putting it on the map.

The resort will provide a €32 million annual boost to Ireland’s economy; adding an estimated €1 billion to GDP in the coming 20 years, according to the organisation.

Community engagement

Engaging with the local community has been a priority since day one, Simon said.

“We appointed a community liaison officer to act as a link between the local community and ourselves,” he said. In advance of a recent fireworks display, contact was made with local people to advise them in case their animals were frightened.

“There weren’t any problems with that and we would like to make people aware that another fireworks display is scheduled for July 26.

“We have spent a lot of time before we submitted our planning application on community engagement which served us really well. After we were granted planning permission we held a community forum every three months to give an update of where we were at and to discuss any issues.

“We took 100 people from the local community on a tour of the facility before opening. We consider ourselves a good and considerate neighbour.”