Fáilte Ireland will promote the country as a destination for walking and hiking to attract more visitors to rural areas.

Last year, more walkers than golfers and anglers visited Ireland and it is now one of the most popular tourist activities worldwide.

Almost three hundred thousand tourists strolled, walked or climbed the highways and byways of Ireland last year, generating over €170 million in revenue.

Through the National Walking Initiative, Fáilte Ireland hopes to balance the regional spread of tourists from overseas.

Fiona Buckley of Fáilte Ireland says that promoting Ireland as a location for walkers allows for tourism growth. Walking is a clean and sustainable activity and is central to tourism development.

It allows us to use our natural resources that we have here.

Fáilte Ireland have identified fourteen loop walks around the country which will be marketed on a new website walking.ireland.com. There are plans to add another thirty walks next year.

One of the latest walking trails to open is the Beentee Loop in south Kerry which has already attracted a lot of walkers to the area. Joseph McCrohan of the South Kerry Development Partnership says that visitors are getting real value for money as they are getting to see probably the most beautiful part of the country.

Access to walking routes remains a contentious issue for many farmers throughout Ireland. The success of the Beentee Loop is partly down to the fact that around twenty local part-time farmers worked on developing the route. Brendan O'Donoghue, supervisor for the Rural Social Scheme, says it is important to get the full cooperation of farmers during the process of developing these walkways.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 26 August 2006. The reporter is Jennie O’Sullivan.