Is Center Parcs the definitive sustainable holiday destination?

Opening the doors to its new holiday village in Woburn Forest next year, Center Parcs has carved out a strong position in the holiday market as one of the UK's most economic and sustainable options, finds Leigh Stringer.

The company claims it ‘revolutionised’ the holiday market in Holland over 30 years ago and did the same in the UK when it opened its first village at Sherwood Forest in July 1987.

Today, Center Parcs occupies a unique position in the market with annual occupancy rates in excess of 95%. Many in the industry suggest that the global economic volatility is the reason for this transfer to vehicle or train travel. This is of course a major factor, particularly when Eurostar passenger figures are showing a steady increase, rising 2% year-on-year in the UK in 2012.

However, despite the cost often being cheaper to travel locally or via high-speed rail, prices can be only marginally lower than flights. Price isn’t the only factor – it has now become apparent that environmental considerations are entering the conscience of the public.

Because of this, holiday operators are taking environmental and resource consumption issues far more seriously, particularly in Europe. Center Parcs made this evident in 2010 when it reached the top spot in the CRC league table.

In May, the company was recertified to the Carbon Trust Standard for all of its UK operations, including its four villages, and claimed that it “remains on track to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020”.

Speaking to edie, Center Parcs sustainability manager Chris Brooks said “We decided we wanted to do everything we can to get to the top of the CRC table as well as the Carbon Trust standard, which involved rolling out metering and we have 300 meters across four villages.

“Not only is this important to us it’s important to our guests. Our guests expect us, and rightly so, to look after both the immediate environment and our impact on the wider environment,” said Brooks.

Building on these achievements, the company made sure sustainability was embedded into the development of its new holiday village in Woburn Forest – the first Centre Parcs site to be opened in more than 10 years.

Brooks said: “With the expansion through our new village we were determined to learn from all the best measures, initiatives and technologies that we have at the existing villages.

“We also learned from all the energy efficiency initiatives that we have carried out over the past five or six years but then also reap the benefits of having a blank canvass to start the design from”.

Brooks could not divulge too much information on the environmental and efficiency details of the new village but said “rest assured there is a big push on renewables”.

The company states that it is investing in energy efficiency and renewable technologies, such as biomass district heating, to achieve its target of consuming 25% less energy than the average existing village.

Undoubtedly, the new village will increase the company’s sustainability credentials but Brooks explains that even without all the installed sustainability measures, Center Parcs is essentially reducing the environmental impact of the country through its ability to simply reduce flight and vehicle emissions.

“It would be interesting to know how many people that have decided to holiday with Center Parcs instead of flying, and converting that into the amount of emissions offset. The impact of 1.6 million guests deciding to fly is likely to be significant.

“Everything from avoiding plane flights to parking the car up and getting on a bike also subtly make guests think more about the way they travel,” added Brooks.

However, one area where expansion has created a greater impact is water consumption and because of this the company is focusing on reducing its water impact.

Brooks said that the rise in water consumption is a direct result of an increase in guests. “We have implemented measures such as efficient shower heads, restricting the flow of the taps to an acceptable level. But when we are adding new accommodation units and new water rides the water consumption has increased.

“However, we are now having a big push on water in terms of how we can reduce consumption. This is a great challenge as the business grows but we’re determined and with focus and a push we can look closer at how to deal with our consumption,” he added

Leigh Stringer is edie energy and sustainability editor

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