Page last updated at 11:42 GMT, Monday, 8 June 2009 12:42 UK

40,000 visit eco-tourism village

Bluestone village
The village has a traditional style centre with shops, restaurants and a pub

by Clare Gabriel
BBC News

Management at Wales' first five-star holiday village say it has attracted 40,000 visitors to Pembrokeshire.

The £110m Bluestone attraction suffered a "difficult" start with construction "not going to plan" followed by the "worst recession in living memory".

But the second phase of the village is planned to start later this year, said chief executive William McNamara.

The heritage minister said Bluestone was making a "great contribution" during tough economic times.

Bluestone opened in July 2008 after several years of planning wrangles because it was partly sited in the Pembrokeshire National Park.

In a county which has traditionally provided B&B and self-catering holiday accommodation, the venture into the luxury bracket was seen as a bold move by many. But it achieved five-star status from Visit Wales only after nine months.

We are very pleased because we are bringing a lot of high quality visitors who have never been to Pembrokeshire
Chief executive William McNamara

Analysis shows that the 960-bed village is attracting new visitors who have never sampled the delights of west Wales. Four out of 10 are travelling more than four hours from the M25, Lancashire or the west of England.

Mr McNamara was encouraged that Bluestone was already making a net contribution to Welsh tourism. He said most of holidaymakers said they would come back to Pembrokeshire within a year.

"We knew that this was an opportunity at the top end of the market and that's what we have gone for and that's the result. We are very pleased because we are bringing a lot of high quality visitors who have never been to Pembrokeshire."

Families with pre-secondary school children are a target market, as are the "fit and fifties" looking to enjoy an active out-of-door holiday and seven out of 10 visitors travel out of the resort to explore.

Bluestone, once a dairy farm, has a new village centre built around the ancient church of Newton.

It is hoped the church, which was a stopping-off point on the pilgrim route to St David's Cathedral, will play a bigger part as time goes on, with weddings being held there.

William McNamara and Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones
The development won five star status in April

The coracle-shaped Blue Lagoon water park, not far from the Oakwood theme park which Mr McNamara and his brother originally started, is one of the main features, and is proving popular with day trippers are well as guests.

So far 182 sustainably built lodges have been created and Phase 2, which Mr McNamara said he wants to start later this year, will bring the total number to 400.

Restaurants and shops on site are careful to source their produce from local suppliers wherever possible.

The longer term aim is to increase biodiversity, encouraging as much wildlife as possible. There are ducklings on the man-made lake and red kites and badgers have been spotted.

As Mr McNamara admits, launching Bluestone against the backdrop of a deep recession has raised many challenges.

Instead of visitors booking up to five months ahead, people were now increasingly making last-minute arrangements, sometimes just days before their holiday.

Inside a lodge at the park
The lodges are fitted with all the latest mod cons

"But I am pleased to say that were sold out for Easter, Whitsun and we will be sold out for the summer holidays.

The company is concentrating on the British and Irish holiday sector but is already making moves to draw in corporate visitors.

Earlier this year it accommodated crew members filming scenes for the last Harry Potter movie at a nearby beach and next July 250 disabled children and their carers are taking over the village for a week with the Knights of Malta organisation.

Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones said: "As Bluestone approaches its first year of business, I'm delighted that we have recently been able to award William McNamara and the team a five-star holiday Vvllage status.

Economic storm

"This is testimony to the hard work of the staff and their commitment to quality.

"Quality is key if tourism in Wales is going to weather the current economic storm.

"We have seen time and again that people are willing to pay and travel for quality, and as people's purse strings tighten they want to feel reassured that when they're booking a holiday they're having the best quality possible for their money.

"Bluestone is making a great contribution to the Pembrokeshire economy during these tough economic times I hope that the promise of a warm summer and the possibility of more people holidaying at home will make for a successful summer."

Already Bluestone is one of Pembrokeshire's top 10 employers.

"I am very pleased that we have been able to create 350 full and part time jobs. Ninety eight per cent of our staff live locally in Pembrokeshire and west Carmarthenshire. It's a £5m wages bill that goes back into the local economy," said Mr McNamara

"It has been a tough year, one of the toughest I can remember, but now we are putting that behind us."

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