News for the Hospitality Executive
The Bluestone Project - a New Generation Short-break
Destination Resort in Wales, UK
|by Barry Napier, December 2007
Wales, UK, consists of green valleys, beautiful mountains, and grand coastal views. The main towns tend to be on either the south or north coasts, with a few smaller conurbations in between. The central and western areas are mainly rural. Because the population is sparse in these places, Wales has never really built up a reasonable economy since the demise of coal-mining, which pushed the principality into near-terminal decline.
Wales already has a vast resource of beauty, majesty and natural interest. And its southern valleys, once crammed with hundreds of coal-pits, are worth visiting for historical value, even though they are still recovering from pit closures. But, a huge tourist project, now well underway, hopes to help turn around this decline, with a high-profile, huge-capital venture.
Opening in summer 2008, Bluestone, set in rural Pembrokeshire and named after the area, near the village of Narberth, will be one of the biggest and newest attractions in the UK. It will boost the local economy, and hopes to be the forerunner of similar projects in the future. With a budget of $220 million, this is no small-fry operation!
Driving force behind the project is CEO William McNamara, who built
nearby Oakwood Park, which is now a top attraction in Wales. Once a dairy
farmer, his farm was crippled by milk quotas imposed by government in the
1980’s, so he opened Oakwood Park, something I witnessed growing from small
to big and very successful. He was rightly awarded an OBE for his services
to tourism. In 2002 he left his brainchild to concentrate on Bluestone.
He is joined by ex-Oakwood sales and marketing head, Pamela Joseph, who is now Commercial Director for Bluestone. If Pam repeats the way she made Oakwood Wales’ No.1 venue, Bluestone will quickly be an established icon in British tourism!
Finance Director is Allan Christopher and non-executive chairman, Steve Brown. Accountant Chris comes to Bluestone from British Ceramic Tile, Devon, UK, where he saved the company from extinction, building revenue by a massive 500%, making BCT the largest supplier of ceramic tiles in the UK in just two or three years.
Steve is also an accountant, with long experience in tourism and leisure. For three years he was financial director for the UK’s Center Parcs group. He was also Group Managing Director of Champneys, and is now chairman of the East Midlands Tourist Board, following time as deputy chairman of the East Midlands Development Agency. With such impressive track-records in his team, why should William need anyone else?
William’s sense of excitement is palpable as he explains his feelings about such a ground-breaking venture: “It’s taken ten years to get where we are today, and there’s still a lot of work to do before we open in June 2008. But, more lodges go up every day, the Blue Lagoon is almost finished, and recruitment is well under way. There really is a growing sense of excitement here!”
Asked what he thought made the venture so exciting, he said, “When I go home at night, I’m already looking forward to coming back to work in the morning, because I only have to look out of my office window to know we are creating something very, very special, that will be wonderful for Pembrokeshire and for Wales as a whole. And, as a Pembrokeshire man, born and bred, that makes me very proud.”
The project nearly did not get off the ground, because of opposition from the Council for National Parks (and a few others), after Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority gave permission for the project to go ahead, in 2003. An appeal (by others) to the House of Lords was successful, late in 2005. It is generally true that building on protected land would be detrimental if unchecked. But, it is also true that this kind of development, designed to be ‘natural’ and giving much-needed employment and business, is needed even more, which is why the government backed the project financially. Mainly, though, it is just a thumping-great idea!
The National Park says the business will bring in 2,000 residents plus 5,000 day visitors, whose interest in the prime Bluestone site will spill over to the surrounding area, to good effect. I predict there will be far more visitors than that. This view is not shared by opponents, who see the project as an intrusion, with a site as large as the towns of Tenby and Saundersfoot (Source: cprw.org.uk). Tenby in particular is stunningly picturesque, and will certainly enjoy even greater popularity once the attraction is open. Otherwise, it is a long way from larger conurbations. So, the closeness of a resident attraction can only be for the better.
A Park spokesman said, “Pembrokeshire certainly needs new inward investment and a wider range of job opportunities.” The balance between protecting an area of beauty and providing much-needed jobs and income should really be maintained, because lovely countryside without income may as well be a wasteland! It is very easy to get carried away with concern for land, but what comes first? Land or people? It has to be people… and you need people to enjoy any protected area. What’s the point of it, if no-one sees it? In fact, Bluestone will make far better use of the land than previously, when farms used pesticides and fertilisers, and no-one actually saw it. For Bluestone there is no question of balance – it is just a great idea.
97,000 native trees will be planted, 14,000 ornamental shrubs, 115,000 bulbs, 5000 aquatic plants, 1600 semi-ornamental and native trees are all going into the first phase alone! And mature trees are carefully maintained.
Pembrokeshire is an area of outstanding natural beauty, and the venture hopes to capitalise on this relationship. Based on an idea by CEO, William MacNamara, OBE, Bluestone is a short-break destination covering a large area. It will contain 335 luxury, five-star log lodges, and 60 cottage units set around a traditional-style Welsh village, with facilities for catering, leisure, retail and other services, and exceptional views across the Preseli Hills. The aim is to create the atmosphere of a thriving, lively Welsh village, surrounded by cycle paths, nature trails and picnic areas.
The all-weather Blue Lagoon Waterpark caters for indoor activities, together with a sports club and a sophisticated snow centre. The final outcome should be quite something. Unlike so many UK facilities it will be open all year round.
The Blue Lagoon is huge! Heated by biomass, it will provide fun in all weathers. It has the largest wave machine in the UK that will join with two exterior hot pools via a ‘lazy river’. Inside will be jacuzzi-type hot tubs and kids’ wet play areas. The theme of the inside reflects Pembroke’s marine environment, with foliage, rocks and timber features. Patios, walkways and observation decks, with controlled temperature, finish this feat of attraction-design, provided by Gareth Howell of Powell Associates.
Readers will probably not have heard of coracles, but they were the
main means of water transport in rural Wales, and are still used by lone
fishermen, Basically, they are made of egg-shaped reeds covered in taut
oilskin or leather. The Blue Lagoon mimics this tiny means of transport,
upturned, but in a very big way, 45 meters wide and 70 meters long! And
if you want to see actual fishing coracles, just go to the nearby River
Cleddau and wonder how on earth fishermen manage to keep them afloat –
it is a definite art!
The beams of the infrastructure are made of ‘glulam’ made by Swiss specialists, Harings. They are constructed of multi-layered, bonded softwoods, very strong and more energy-efficient than metal or concrete. By using this material the designers were able to apply it to very large domed shapes. Cedar shingles are on the outside and light is given through ETFE panels, similar to those used in the Eden Project in Cornwall. Everything is state-of-the-art and energy conscious, making the project an exceptional example of sound management practices.
Work on this vast project began a year ago, and Phase One, with 186 cabins and all major facilities, should be finished for opening next summer. That is fast work for something on such a huge scale. Everything is designed to be environmentally friendly, so Bluestone will satisfy all who look for this kind of assurance. The biomass will mainly be provided by local farmers and it is expected the facility will pour at least $70 million into the local economy annually.
By Phase One alone, Bluestone will employ about 400 people full-time, throughout the year. This figure will rise to 700 when all phases are complete, and will fill posts mostly from the locality. It has joined with Pembrokeshire College to establish a training academy, so it’s ethos of keeping things local is very much like that of celebrity-chef Rick Stein in Padstow, Cornwall (see previous article on this). The principles behind it can only be commended.
To expand its influence, Bluestone is partner with all the attractions in Pembrokeshire, so everyone will benefit. And, of course, Oakwood Park is almost next door. The visitor will therefore have an unique experience, combining Welsh culture & heritage, natural beauty and other delights. I have a feeling this will be a very successful concept, replicable elsewhere. As I know the area well, I look forward to seeing the finished product and how it combines with, and hopefully enhances, this wonderfully rural region.
© December, 2007. Barry Napier
|Also See:||Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association Recognizes Hotel Employees of the Year; Colin Findley Named Hotelier of the Year / January 2007|