06 Dec 2021

Center Parcs can be a gateway to Longford and Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands

Center Parcs can be a gateway to Longford and Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands

Center Parcs can be a gateway to Longford and Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands

When Ray D’Arcy visited Richmond Harbour in Clondra earlier this month as part of his show’s focus on Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, he spoke about being ‘absolutely taken aback’ by all the activities and attractions on offer in the region.

All week these sentiments were echoed by the crowds who took time out to join the broadcasts along the way.

Since April of last year, when Fáilte Ireland launched Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, we’ve witnessed countless similar reactions from visitors travelling from across the globe.

For years, people living in the midlands have been aware of its natural gems – the lakes, walks and blueways, but when the region is discovered by fresh eyes its beauty is truly revealed anew.

The opening of Center Parcs Longford Forest offers an incredible opportunity for the county to be introduced to thousands of visitors eager to discover Ireland’s natural beauty.

The new resort not only represents the single biggest private investment in Irish rural tourism ever (€233 million) and around 1,000 permanent jobs; it offers an experience that is a perfect fit for Longford and Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands with its focus on being ‘active in nature’. It will put the Midlands on the map as a great place to take a holiday.

The resort can accommodate 2,500 holidaymakers, and while most of these visitors will come to Center Parcs for a three or four-night stay, it offers an opportunity to entice them to extend their holiday and take in more of what the local area has to offer.

While the direct economic impacts from Center Parcs (1000 additional jobs created) will be immediate and tremendously beneficial, the indirect impacts (growing the wider visitor economy of Longford and the Hidden Heartlands region) will take a longer time to achieve and require a number of improvements to be made. 

There are three things in particular that need to be significantly improved if Longford’s tourism industry is to capitalise on the wave of visitors that Center Parcs will undoubtedly bring to the area. 

(1) Building brilliant visitor experiences

Longford has an excellent range of natural and cultural assets, such as the Shannon and Lough Ree, the Royal Canal, leafy woodlands, Corlea Iron Age Trackway, Granard Motte, picturesque villages such as Ardagh, as well as a rich rebel and literary history. However, investment is needed in many of these assets to ensure they meet the needs and expectations of our visitors. 

Earlier this month we at Fáilte Ireland were excited to announce an investment of €640,000 to build a Norman Heritage Park in Granard. This village will provide a state-of-art experience for visitors, unique to Longford, and we look forward to welcoming at least 45,000 visitors a year by 2030. Investments like this, and last year’s €67,000 grant for Edgeworthstown’s Maria Edgeworth Centre are just part of a much wider plan to make Longford key to the success of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.

Fáilte Ireland is also working with Waterways Ireland and each of the County Councils in the Hidden Heartlands to prepare a Tourism Masterplan for the River Shannon which will be completed by the end of the year.

(2) Creating better first impressions online

Research tells us that prospective visitors will only book their accommodation in a destination if they are convinced from an online search that there is enough for them to see and do in the area. At present, across the Hidden Heartlands, the websites of key visitor attractions and activity providers are generally not doing this job as effectively as they could. To address this, Fáilte Ireland has launched a €1m Website Improvement Programme for the Hidden Heartlands region which will help tourism businesses to significantly improve the functionality and content of their websites. 

(3) Forging effective tourism networks

Effective networks between tourism businesses are essential to success. It has been proven that effective tourism networks can help to increase the dwell-time and the spend of visitors in a destination. Over the coming months and years, Fáilte Ireland will help facilitate the creation of stronger and more effective tourism networks to increase the level of cross-promotion and cross-selling between businesses. 

Tourism is a bigger industry than almost any other, and it operates best when business and community pull together. The arrival of Center Parcs in Longford is just further evidence of the potential hub for tourism that Longford can be.

As we at Fáilte Ireland continue to develop Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, we look forward to working with more local businesses to reveal the county’s beauty to those who are yet to discover it.

- Paddy Mathews, Fáilte Ireland’s Head of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands

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