Sustainable tourism in forest surroundings
A Center Parcs case study

Page 1: Introduction

Center Parcs 7 Image 2The products and services that an organisation produces are the reason why it exists; timber merchants exist to sell timber, china factories to produce and sell china, holiday firms to sell holidays. These days, however, all businesses are expected to look and think beyond what they produce. Simply by existing and operating, they take upon themselves certain duties and responsibilities. These are not only to their customers, their employees and their shareholders, but also to the world as a whole: to its present inhabitants, to future citizens yet unborn and to the environment as a whole. There is a strong argument that all organisations today should seek to develop principles of conservation within all levels of business activity. This message has not yet been accepted by every country or by every firm, but it is becoming harder to ignore.

As many modern products depend on non-renewable resources, many people are now understandably concerned about how quickly these resources are being used up. In the past, when production levels were so much lower, it may have been possible to concentrate on present needs without much regard for the future. Today, however, it is becoming increasingly important to construct the present with the future very much in mind. This is done through a process called sustainable business development.

The rapid increase in popularity of mass tourism has raised a series of concerns about how far present levels of such activity can be sustained. One key problem is that tourism is a private sector activity in which participating firms are motivated by profit. Left to their own devices, firms in the leisure and tourism industry tend to make their output decisions around considerations of profit, with little or no regard for the social costs of their activities. One result can be, for example, a straggling assortment of ugly hotel and leisure developments, traffic congestion and pollution in various forms.

As the tourist industry matures, however, more and more people have come to realise and accept that firms within the industry must plan and manage their activities in a way that reduces their environmental impact.

Center Parcs

Center Parcs 7 Image 1Way back in 1968, Alan Ruff in his book "Holland and the Ecological Landscapes" discussed the beginning of a new environmental movement. The Center Parcs concept was developed around the same time and in the same country: Holland. Its aim was to provide people with short breaks close to nature in a forest setting in a way that linked business development to responsibility for land management, based upon sound ecological principles.

This case study focuses on the Center Parcs concept. It illustrates how major investments in rural locations within the UK:

  • have represented a major innovation in British tourism
  • have generated widespread interest in the concept of sustainable tourism.

Center Parcs was established by Piet Derksen, who was Dutch. His first venture into creating short holiday breaks in forested areas was in 1967, when the first holiday village, De Lommerbergen, was opened in Holland. In 1981, the company opened its first centre outside Holland, in Belgium. In 1987, Center Parcs UK commenced business with the opening of the Sherwood Forest village.

The ‘villa in the forest’ was born out of Derksen’s love of escaping from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and getting back to nature. When Center Parcs first set up in Britain, the English Tourist Board dubbed it 'the most important innovation in British tourism since the war'. The 700 villa Sherwood Forest site is innovative in several ways. It was:

  • the first large scale investment made in a rural forest location
  • the first significant import of a continental holiday product into the British market
  • aimed at the long and short-break markets
  • developed as a product that would be open all year round.

Given the British climate, the ‘open all year’ concept was certainly bold and forward-thinking! A massive capital injection was made into the Sherwood Forest site. Within weeks of opening, occupancy rates were above 95%, with most customers coming from families in the ABC1 socio-economic groups. Since then, Center Parcs has developed two more British centres: Elveden Forest in Suffolk, Longleat Forest in Wiltshire and acquired Oasis in the Lake District.

Center Parcs | Sustainable tourism in forest surroundings

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