The new €233 million Center Parcs holiday development in Longford has already secured 25 per cent of its targeted bookings for its first 12 months of operation, according to group chief executive Martin Dalby.
The huge complex, which officially opens to the public on Monday, is the largest single investment in the Irish tourism industry. It includes 500 lodges and apartments, 10 restaurants and cafes, retail outlets, a spa and indoor water park. It employs 1,000 staff at a forest location just outside Ballymahon in Longford, having received 10,000 applications for those roles.
Mr Dalby said he expects Longford Forest to achieve 90 per cent occupancy for its first full year of operation. “I think that could possibly be higher in year two,” he said. It is “almost full” for its first four weeks this summer, he said.
The UK-headquartered Center Parcs group says 70 per cent of bookings so far for the Longford are from residents of the republic, 20 per cent from Northern Ireland, and 10 per cent from Britain.
Mr Dalby expects that ratio to continue for future bookings. It will step up its Irish marketing campaign in coming weeks. The resort has an advertising budget of “€2 million to €3 million” for its launch and coming months.
He rejected criticisms from the public on social media over the group’s policy of raising prices during school holidays. A break during the holidays could be up to four times more expensive than a midweek break during term time.
“We believe we still offer great value. This is a €233 million investment. We have to make a return. There is no shame in that,” said Mr Dalby. “We have to price our breaks according to supply and demand.”
He also said the group expects Brexit to have “no impact at all” on the performance of Longford Forest. “We’re here to stay,” he said.
The group has made no contingency plans for the one fifth of its customers that will come from the north, should Brexit result in a hard Border and physical restrictions on the flow of people. But Mr Dalby expressed frustration that businesses still have no indication of how the Border will operate post Brexit.
“We need to know. It’s gone on too long now. Businesses need to plan,” he said.
Many businesses in the tourism and leisure sectors have complained recently of large spikes in their insurance premiums. Mr Dalby confirmed that the insurance costs at Longford Forest are higher than its parks in the UK.