Sue Goddard is gearing up for the opening of Center Parcs’ sixth property in the summer of this year. Arguably the holiday company’s biggest opening to date, Longford Forest will be its first outside of the UK, marking its most significant move in its 30 years of business. As group leisure manager, Goddard has played a leading role in the development of the new site. “We’ve been developing the site at Longford for a number of years and we’re really excited as it’s going to be quite a unique offering in the Irish market,” she says.
Located in County Longford, around an hour and a half’s drive from Dublin, the new holiday village is aimed at the domestic short break market, which Goddard says isn’t as mature as it is in the UK. So, to give itself the best possible chance of replicating its UK successes on the emerald isle, the company is pulling out all the stops and building the biggest standalone spa in Ireland, at nearly 27,000sq ft and costing €10 million (approx £8.8m).
“Our thermal suite in particular is a different proposition to what you normally find in Ireland. There are some fantastic spas there but they’re mostly based in hotels,” says Goddard. Final details of the newest Aqua Sana spa (Center Parcs’ spa brand) were still under wraps as PB went to print, but it is to include many of the popular elements from the other spas. 14 treatment rooms will accompany an extensive thermal suite and treatments from skincare brands Voya and Elemis. “The village is in the middle of a very beautiful, dense forest. We’ve got a big lake and a lovely man-made beach area filled naturally with rainwater, which again is very different for the Irish market, having a beach in the middle of a landlocked county,” says Goddard. “The zip line will whizz over the lake, and we’ll have all our other trademark high-adrenaline outdoor activities and the more traditional indoor options too.”
Longford isn’t the only the project that has been demanding Goddard’s attention of late. Center Parcs’ Longleat Forest, Wiltshire location began extensive refurbishment works in December of last year, in order to bring the proposition in line with Aqua Sana’s forest spa concept, which was launched at Sherwood Forest two years ago and will also be replicated in Ireland.
“We’re transforming the spa with many of the key elements from Sherwood as well as some new, including two unique thermal experiences that won’t be anywhere else,” says Goddard. “As we move the concept through the estate over the next few years, we’ll have that forest spa footprint throughout but there will be something unique at each site too.” With facilities inspired by the seasons and designed to stimulate guests’ senses, the spa will feature frost, rainforest and hot springs experiences.
This reined version of the Aqua Sana brand and forest spa concept is the result of years of assessment behind the scenes at Center Parcs, with Goddard and her colleagues focusing much attention on thoughtful evolution. “When we opened Woburn Forest [in Bedford] in 2014 we assessed the business; looking at what was working, what wasn’t, and what we wanted to do next to evolve the brand,” she explains, “Forest spa was the result of that and it really been the key driver in the evolution of the brand. Our unique proposition is our forest locations and how we can bring the outside in, letting guests feel the forest wherever they are in the spa journey.”
“Aqua Sana was born of a notion that spa should be for everybody, no matter your experience or lifestyle”
In the 30 years that Center Parcs has had a presence in the UK, it has become synonymous with short breaks for families and groups who want the freedom of planning their own itinerary with multiple options. While spa was always part of this, the five Aqua Sana spas now see more than 355,000 guests collectively each year. Goddard puts this down in part to Center Parcs’ inclusivity amid a sometimes-elite spa industry
“Aqua Sana was born of notion that spa should be for everybody, no matter your experience or lifestyle. We started 30 years ago in Sherwood with four treatment rooms, a wet lotation area and a team of five running the spa, which was bolted onto the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. Now we have up to 26 different experiences within Aqua Sana, and each spa has around 100 people involved,” she says.
The explosion of the wellness industry has undoubtedly impacted Aqua Sana, though Goddard says it has been just as important to focus on what to ignore as which new ideas to incorporate into the spa offer. “It’s our responsibility to keep ourselves educated with what’s going on in the sector and with the social contexts of trends, attitudes and opinions, especially with wellness, because it isn’t just in the spa industry. But we need to keep a clear understanding of our brand vision and what our priorities are – ultimately whether or not something fits with the demand of our guests,” she says. “At the same time though, it can be about educating guests with something new they’re not familiar with but that we think might benefit them.”
Goddard sees plentiful opportunities for Aqua Sana to continue its evolution, owing not just to wellness trends but also “the growing population across all ages who are much more in tune with health and wellbeing. Baby boomers and Generation X are realising the key to health is in their own hands; and then we’ve got millennials wanting to offset the effects of overuse of technology… all this demand is there for leisure providers in a much greater sense than ever before,” she says.
With increased demand comes the challenge of delivering, but Goddard is confident that Center Parcs’ reputation and skilled teams stands it in good stead for the future. “The audience has higher expectations now, especially with the growing conscience to consume ethically, but if we listen and evolve with our current and future guests we can stay ahead in the sector. It’s there for the taking.”
First Center Parcs village opens at Sherwood Forest, Nottingham
Goddard joins Center Parcs as deputy general manager
Becomes group leisure manager
Forest Spa concept debuts at Sherwood Forest
Refurbishment works begin at Longleat Forest
Longford Forest, the group’s first property outside of the UK, is set to open summer 2019