Center Parcs to open first holiday resort in Ireland - €100m forest village would have villas, spas and a 'swimming paradise'
Center Parcs - one of Britain's biggest resort firms - is to open its first holiday village in Ireland.
The €100m complex is proposed for a 350-acre site in the forest near Ballymahon, Co Longford, in the Irish midlands.
Center Parcs resorts are Dutch-style forest holiday villages and this one would have over 200 lodges and villas, with restaurants and bars, a swimming pool complex and spas.
Planning permission has been lodged and Taoiseach Enda Kenny is expected to announce more details later this week.
The plan would create 500 jobs, and a further 600 in the construction stages.
The firm has five UK resorts - including Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, Whinfell Forest in Cumbria, Lonleat Forest in Wiltshire, Woburn Forest in Bedfordshire and Elveden Forest in Suffolk - and British staycationers love them.
The idea is that guests pay a basic fee for accommodation - usually a short weekend or midweek break - and then book activities online ahead of their visit.
The choice of activities is vast - ranging from kayaking and raft-building to high ropes courses, bike hire, paintball, archery, adventure golf, tennis and more.
Children's play areas are free to guests, as are the resort 'beaches' and what Center Parcs calls "the jewel in our crown", the Subtropical Swimming Paradise set at the heart of the complex.
'Paradise' in this case includes waterslides, flumes (see photo above), rapids and whirlpools in water heated to 29.5-degrees year-round.
Taken together, the facilities have proven a winner with Britons - with occupancy rates of up to 97pc reported - figures that would trump even hotels in tourist hotspots like Killarney if they could be replicated in Longford.
Restaurants at the resorts range from Italian and American eateries to Starbucks and takeaway food that can be delivered to lodge doors.
Resorts also have their own supermarkets - 'ParcMarket' stocks over 2,500 products - as well as retail opportunities ranging from swimwear and designer brands to homeware and kids' toys.
Evening entertainment includes tribute bands and pantomimes, and rainy days (no strangers to the Midlands, of course) are catered for with exercise and fitness classes, bowling, arts and crafts, indoor climbing walls and other activities.
An on-site Aqua Sana spa provides "over 15 experience rooms, an outdoor pool and a wide range of treatments, as well as delicious Mediterranean cuisine", according to the resort website.
Late last year, Martin Dalby, the group’s chief executive, said expansion in Ireland was on the cards.
“Our focus had always been to get Woburn open and get everything settled and we are still in the process of bedding it into the core operation,” he said.
"But the Irish market appears very attractive. We have had some very preliminary discussions around Ireland so I think our attention may well turn to Ireland as we look forward to the future. We’ve had a chat with the tourist board and people like that to see how the land lies.”
Center Parcs is owned by private equity fund Blackstone, although the company is looking to sell the business.
It is understood that two of China’s main billionaires could clash in a global takeover battle for the resort operator.
Wang Jianli and Guo Guangchang are understood to be in the early stages of bidding for Center Parcs.
Other potential bidders include the owners of the Formula 1 franchise.
The company operates in other parts of Europe under different ownership.