The story of Center Parcs is one that has many chapters, and many pages still to fill. Whilst we have been operating in the UK since 1987, the story of Center Parcs really began in 1968, near the village of Reuver in The Netherlands. A Dutch businessman, named Piet Derksen, opened a holiday village at De Lommerbergen, called Sporthius Centrum – with accommodation in the form of tents, this was a far cry from the Center Parcs we know today. But this was the first step on the Center Parcs journey.
As the business evolved and grew, tents became lodges and Sporthius Centrum became Center Parcs. By 1987, when the first village opened in the UK, there were already Center Parcs villages in The Netherlands, Belgium and France. The first village in the UK, Center Parcs Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, opened in 1987, closely followed by Center Parcs Elveden Forest in Suffolk, which opened in 1989. Six years later, Center Parcs Longleat Forest in Wiltshire was added to the family.
In 2001, the business purchased Oasis Lakeland Holiday Village, in Cumbria, and renamed it Center Parcs Whinfell Forest. In the same year, owners Scottish & Newcastle split the business into two separate enterprises – Center Parcs Europe and Center Parcs UK. Center Parcs UK was bought by Deutsche Bank Capital Partners, before being floated on the stock market in 2003.
In 2006, private equity firm The Blackstone Group bought Center Parcs UK and, in response to increased demand, in 2012 construction started on a fifth UK village, Center Parcs Woburn Forest in Bedfordshire, which opened in 2014.
In 2015, after nine years of ownership, The Blackstone Group sold the business to Brookfield Property Partners. In the same year, it was announced that the business intended to expand to Ireland and had found a site in County Longford, with construction beginning on Center Parcs Longford Forest in 2017.
The sixth village (and first village in Ireland) opened in 2019 but, less than a year after opening, Center Parcs Longford Forest and the five UK villages were forced to close in March 2020 due to the global coronavirus pandemic. This sparked the first-ever closure of all villages in the history of the business, and it would be 2021 before all six villages fully re-opened.
In 2021, the business announced that a seventh site had been identified, this time in West Sussex, close to Worth. At the same time, a major expansion of Center Parcs Longford Forest was also planned, adding 200 additional lodges to the hugely successful village.
Whilst a lot may have changed since 1968, the underlying ethos of the business has remained the same. Piet Derksen believed in the need to listen to feedback from our guests, the need to always be improving and innovating and the importance of existing in synergy with the forest surrounding us. These values remain at the heart of the Center Parcs brand today.