Paddy Mahon, Dalton Philips, Niamh Donlon, Mark McGovern, Fiona Egan (Cloughan Farm & Cookery School), Martina Burns (Richmount Cordial) Sheila Reilly, Micheal Carrigy, Picture: Shelley Corcoran
A veritable ‘who’s who’ of local business representatives gathered in Longford Golf Club last week, for an exciting 'Build Brand Longford' event organised and hosted by Longford Chamber of Commerce.
Ahead of the €233 million Center Parcs Longford Forest holiday resort welcoming its first visitors on Monday, July 29, this Chamber breakfast briefing heard from an expert panel, including Center Parcs CEO Martin Dalby, Dalton Philips, CEO Dublin Airport Authority and Mark McGovern, Hidden Heartlands.
RTÉ’s Sineád Hussey was MC and Longford Chamber President Niamh Donlon welcomed everyone present and she highlighted the significance of Center Parcs for county Longford and the region.
Ms Donlon explained, "The big change that comes with Longford forest is psychological. For the first time we will have 2,000+ people saying they are holidaying in Longford each week. It is changing the narrative, the perception and is worth an absolute fortune in marketing for us."
The Chamber President continued by stating that Longford should be an obvious go-to destination for activity loving tourists.
"We should be an obvious destination for lovers of activity based holidays and outdoor pursuits.
"The hope is that our speakers this morning, all industry leaders, will provoke us, challenge us and ultimately inspire us to do better, think smarter and work towards the investments that will underpin a cohesive and commercially viable tourism offering."
Following this address, Cathaoirleach of Longford County Council, Cllr Micheál Carrigy, lauded the benefits Center Parcs will bring to the locality, before urging people not to waste this golden opportunity.
“Where once we could have only dreamed of becoming a tourist destination, now we face a very bright future, a future, where Longford will become a tourism hotspot,” he told attendees.
“Almost overnight we have developed a tourism sector that has the potential to add real economic value to our county. Tourism brings visitors and provides us with a real opportunity to present our county as a great place to live, to work, to invest in and to spend time in.
“We cannot waste the opportunity that Center Parcs has afforded us.”
Cllr Carrigy then called on Longfordians to become brand ambassadors for their county.
He said, “To build a brand, people must passionately believe in the project and that is the message we are trying to convey with our local authority and here today.
“Those of us who believe in Longford must never shy away from talking up our county.”
Center Parcs CEO Martin Dalby was first of the guest panelists to share his experience and he advised local business owners of their window to catch some of the tourist footfall from the park.
“We believe next year we will get 250,000 visitors coming to the region and Center Parcs for a three night stay or four night stay and that is where your opportunity lies,” he said.
“When people come to Center Parcs, they will typically drive in with their car, deposit their luggage in the lodge, put the car in the car park and stay put for the three or four days.
“They very rarely leave the park, so don’t get excited that you will be getting business from people who are actually at Center Parcs. What you have to do is get the business from both sides of their visit.” he advised, before reaffirming the long-term commitment of Center Parcs to Longford.
Dalton Phillips, CEO of the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), offered an insight into his role and the work done by the team of DAA in their bid to attract more users for the airport and, in turn, more people to Ireland.
Mr Phillips reiterated the call that Longfordians need to present their county in it’s “fullest light’, before admitting an improvement in accessibility is something that needs work, with currently only 23 daily bus services in operation from Dublin airport to Longford county. He committed the support of DAA to improving upon this, before calling on Longford to make the most of the Center Parcs opportunity.
“We will do everything we can to facilitate that connectivity,” hevowed.
“Center Parcs is a big beast of a machine that can only help with brand recognition and what Longford are trying to do.
“I would be excited for Longford, it is a very exciting development,” he added.
The final speaker on the day was Hidden Heartlands Manager, Mark McGovern, who first explained in depth the concept of the Hidden Heartlands initiative and what they are trying to achieve. Mr McGovern said Longford need to utilise their tourism assets, such as rivers, lakes, bogs, forests and monuments, before advising that to further develop as a tourist hotspot, more hubs and accommodation are needed in the area.
“We need the shop window to be very, very strong,” he advised, highlighting that increased choice of accommodation will help with this.
The event concluded with a Q&A session with Dalton Phillips and Mark McGovern, facilitated by RTÉ’s Sineád Hussey. The take-home message of the event was one championed by Longford Chamber president, Niamh Donlon, who encouraged people to get out and sell their county for what it is.
She emphasised, “We have a niche and truly immersive experience to sell here in Longford.”