Monday 19 August 2019

Rugby stars and a Love Island connection - €223m Center Parcs Longford Forest holiday resort opens

TV personality Karen Koster with her sons (left) JJ (3) and (right) Finn (4) at the official launch of Center Parcs Longford Forest. Picture: Naoise Culhane
TV personality Karen Koster with her sons (left) JJ (3) and (right) Finn (4) at the official launch of Center Parcs Longford Forest. Picture: Naoise Culhane
Maura Higgins on Love Island
Effie (4) and Hugo (3) Wilson, from Banbridge, Co Down at the official launch of Center Parcs Longford Forest. Picture: Naoise Culhane
Amie Finnegan (9) from Dublin at the official launch of Center Parcs Longford Forest. Picture: Naoise Culhane
Brian Finnegan and his son Brian (11) from Dublin at the official launch of Center Parcs Longford Forest. Picture: Naoise Culhane
Effie (4) and Hugo (3) and mum Shari Wilson, from Banbridge, Co Down at the official launch of Center Parcs Longford Forest. Picture: Naoise Culhane
Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

The sister of Love Island sensation Maura Higgins has scored a job at the new Center Parcs resort, which is opening in their home county this weekend.

While Maura prepares for Monday’s finale of the reality TV show, her sister will be welcoming the first guests to the new Longford attraction.

She is among 1,000 - mostly local, - people who have got jobs at the huge resort which is the culmination of four years’ work and a €233m investment.

Several Irish rugby stars, including Rory Best and Devin Toner, are relaxing at the resort this weekend ahead of their World Cup warm-up games.

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Effie (4) and Hugo (3) Wilson, from Banbridge, Co Down at the official launch of Center Parcs Longford Forest. Picture: Naoise Culhane

Center Parcs Longford Forest officially launches today ahead of its opening on Monday next week.

A number of celebrities and influencers attended the launch - including sports stars and TV personalities - but Center Parcs CEO Martin Dalby said that Maura Higgins couldn’t be there despite the Longford connection.

“Her sister works in the spa, though,” he said.

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Maura Higgins on Love Island

Mr Dalby also defended the company’s high holiday prices and insisted that Center Parcs was here to stay in Ireland, despite the burden of Brexit and higher insurance costs.

The firm has been criticised in the UK for hiking prices during school holidays, with one mother creating a stir on Twitter last week with a satirical post about its pricing model. She said Center Parcs offered a ‘handy tool’ for parents to work out when the school holidays ended - because that’s when their prices dropped.

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Amie Finnegan (9) from Dublin at the official launch of Center Parcs Longford Forest. Picture: Naoise Culhane

Mr Dalby admitted that prices might range from around €400 to as much as €1,600 for the same accommodation during a short break at Longford, depending on the time of year.

With Irish school holidays lasting longer than the UK, those higher prices are likely to stretch right through July and August.

“It’s a €233m investment, so we have to make a  return,” he said.

READ MORE: From Center Parcs to Love Island - Longford is having a moment

“There’s a price point for every person. Our bookings for the next four weeks, which is summer, is mostly full – the value is amazing – there’s nothing like it in Ireland whatsoever.

“We are not any dearer than the UK. It’s based on a similar pricing system.”

Center Parcs Longford Forest certainly offers unique attractions including Ireland’s largest waterpark, heated to 29.5C, more than 100 indoor and outdoor activities, as well as restaurants and a spa.

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Brian Finnegan and his son Brian (11) from Dublin at the official launch of Center Parcs Longford Forest. Picture: Naoise Culhane

Although there are some notable differences from the five parks in the UK – including an Irish pub, independent coffee shop, and striking green phone boxes.

GAA is also among the list of activities being considered to join the likes of soccer, archery and badminton.

After the company spent up to €3m on marketing and advertising in Ireland, Mr Dalby is confident that consumers here will be persuaded it’s worth the price, and that the park’s 466 accommodation units will be full.

“We expect 90pc occupancy,” he says of the first year – even in the depths of winter, as Center Parcs is open 365 days a year.

READ MORE: Center Parcs: A sneak peek inside Ireland's enchanted forest

He foresees that 70pc of custom will hail from the Republic, 20pc from the North and 10pc from the UK even with the threat of a hard Brexit.

“We’re here to stay,” he said. “We’ve pumped a significant amount of money into this project. We don’t think Brexit will have any impact whatsoever. We are going to ride it through and carry on.”

He thinks British customers will stop in Longford as part of a longer break, touring other parts of Ireland and bringing a wider economic benefit.

However, the company has had to absorb higher insurance costs, Mr Dalby said.

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Effie (4) and Hugo (3) and mum Shari Wilson, from Banbridge, Co Down at the official launch of Center Parcs Longford Forest. Picture: Naoise Culhane

“There is no problem as such, but we pay more on average in Ireland than we do in the UK for the same type of cover,” he acknowledged.

Darragh Feighery, general manager at Center Parcs Longford Forest, said he was excited that the brand was coming to Ireland.

“I am reassured by the response we had to job advertisements,” he said, after the company got 10,000 applications for the 1,000 positions.

“I’m so proud of the team we’ve put together. We know it’s been an employment blackspot.

“The response in terms of bookings has been really reassuring. We know we’ve a fantastic product.”

READ MORE: From Center Parcs to Love Island - Longford is having a moment

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