The owner and founder of Tayto Park in Co Meath expects his €23.5 million expansion to increase visitor numbers at the theme park to 850,000 a year by 2018.
"There's no guarantee but that's what we expect," businessman Ray Coyle said yesterday at a breakfast in Croke Park hosted by Liberty Insurance as part of its sponsorship of the All-Ireland senior hurling championship.
The park, which opened in late 2010, had 450,000 visitors last year, double the number it handled in its opening year. Mr Coyle has acquired land adjoining his theme park in Ashbourne to increase the site to 120 acres.
“Subject to planning, the build will start in July of this year and most of it will be completed by next May next year,” he said.
Mr Coyle said the expansion would result in the number of full-time employees rising to about 80 from 44 while the seasonal staffing levels would increase to 650 from 300.
His plan involves adding a large number of amusement park rides, including a big wooden roller coaster, a range of new animals, a pizza shack and a 100-seat cinema.
“The [cinema] seats will move and you’ll feel like your flying. It’s a fun thing,” Mr Coyle said, adding that it was important to keep refreshing the product mix.
Tayto Park opened during the recession following a €16 million investment and Mr Coyle admitted to worrying that it would be a “white elephant” with “not a sinner in the place”.
Mr Coyle told the audience that the park’s best customers are grandparents. “They bring their grandchildren and have lots of money to spend.”
Mr Coyle runs Largo Foods, which owns the Tayto, King and Hunky Dory crisp brands. He said the business was "modestly growing" and he is planning to launch a tea-like drink called Synerchi shortly.
Largo also has investments overseas, with operations in the Czech Republic, Moldova and Libya.
Largo established its Moldova base in 2000 and while the country is “really prospering”, Mr Coyle is concerned about the political instability in neighbouring Ukraine.
“At the moment I’m very nervous about the ways things have gone in Ukraine. Their currency [Moldova’s leu] has dropped by around 22 per cent in the last month and a half but the underlying business is profitable and good.”
Largo also built a factory with apartments just outside Tripoli in Libya. “We operated it for three and a half years. We closed it two years ago when the uprising started. The business is a write-off. The machinery is still in the factory. But it’s even worse out there now than it was a couple of years ago. I don’ think we’ll be going back.”