Fota resort up for sale

FOTA ISLAND’S acclaimed Golfand Spa resort will be put on the open market by the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) “within weeks”.

The five-star facility in east Cork was owned by the bankrupted property developer, the Fleming Group but NAMA are expected to appoint a selling agent shortly, the resort’s chief executive Jonathan Woods has confirmed.

“An agency will be appointed, they’ll go through the process of when and where the best place to present the product for sale is and then put in the public domain,” he said yesterday. “Once NAMA hand the sale to an agent, the auctioneer will advise on the best course of action going forward.”

Even in these straitened times, it is expected the 560-acre resort would fetch over €20 million.

It has enjoyed a strong trading performance in 2011 across its diverse range of facilities. The average room rate at the five-star hotel is higher now than at any point since March 2009, according to Woods, while the 27-hole golf resort, which hosted the 2001 and 2002 Irish Opens, continues to thrive.

The chief executive predicted that any sale would have little or no effect on the 600 full-time golf club members. “Fota has been owned by four different organisations and the members have benefited every time. It would be very difficult to envisage a business model that wouldn’t have golf membership as a backbone,” he declared.

The club’s membership is only marginally back from its peak of around 660. The joining fee of €15,000 can now be spread over a 10-year payment period, with an annual members sub of €1,950.

There has already been firm enquiries from potential overseas investors but Woods stated: “Fota is a beautiful place but the reality is that the agents will sort out who’d love to own it and who can (afford to) own it.”

Woods said that a driven management team had delivered impressive trading figures in each of the four cornerstones of the business at Fota — golf, accommodation, food and beverages and the hotel spa.

“We target particular segments of the (spa) market such as yoga, boot camps, boxercise. We have a very mature team of managers who know their business. At this point we have 100,000 customers a year coming through our gates,” he added.

Its location has been a help too, not least with the amount of corporate business generated by the proliferation of pharmaceuticals in East Cork. “This side of the city is in good shape at the moment,” he agreed.

However the mention of NAMA and sale is somewhat untimely, given how well the resort has been performing?

Explained Woods: “Because Fota is an established business and there is huge public confidence in the product and the people, I don’t see any issue in terms of perception. From the moment of NAMA’s involvement, there’s been an expectation that this was an asset that would come on the market.

“Once you always communicate with people you will retain the trust of the customer — whether that’s a member of the golf club or a bride-to-be. We’re talking to our customers all the time which is one of the reasons that 2011 will be one of the most successful years for the resort in recent times.”

THE new Barryscourt nine holes at the golf resort was embraced by the EuroPro Tour this year and while golfers will always yearn for the existing (Deerpark) 18-hole layout, Woods says that the response to the Bellvelly layout (original back nine, new nine) is cause for encouragement.

“A lot of single handicap golfers like playing that course. We’ve had EuroPro and Senior Cup golfers play it this year and there’s been nothing but positive feedback. There is going to be a transition programme for a new course with regard to the greens but over six or seven years, that issue recedes.”

The resort opened in 1993 and has had four owners. The hotel was built in 2006 by the last owners, the Fleming Group. Before that, the Killeen Group developed the golf course.

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