TOURISM leaders hope to attract nearly four million extra visitors to Ireland over the coming years by upgrading walking routes and rolling out special facilities for hikers.
The Walkers Welcome initiative is signing up 150 businesses who will adapt their shops, accommodation and facilities for walkers, particularly those travelling from abroad. Walking in Ireland attracts some of the largest numbers of visitors each year, with more than 517,000 overseas visitors taking part in walking activities here in 2008.
Under the plans, local communities have signed up to guarantee regular maintenance and upkeep of local walks. These will include developing forest tracks and shorter looped off-road walks. The majority of walking visitors to Ireland seek looped walks of up to four hours with good scenery, says Fáilte Ireland. By the end of 2009, more than 130 looped walks in 26 counties will be completed, with trails off to facilities such as car parks, map boards and picnic areas, under the plans. Fáilte Ireland says it is providing expertise and materials to upgrade trails and walks free of charge to communities. Other parts of the initiative will include putting up mapboards and signage, identifying Walkers Welcome-approved accommodation and arranging friendly services in shops and pubs such as packed lunches and spaces for walking boots and gear. Up to 11 rural recreation officers have been appointed with responsibility for rolling out the walks in their areas in conjunction with community leaders.
Five areas and popular walking regions have signed up to help perfect popular hiking spots, including: the Burren, Co Clare; Donegal town and surrounding areas; Tinahely, Co Wicklow; The Slieve Blooms, Co Laois and Offaly; and the Glen of Aherlow, Co Tipperary.
According to Fáilte Ireland, there are potentially more than one million British residents who would get involved in walking here in the next three years. This is followed by 900,000 German visitors, 800,000 visitors from the US and 700,000 from the Netherlands...........Irish Examiner, Aug 2009