Getting there: Airlines flying direct routes: Aer Lingus (www.aerlingus.com), American Airlines (www.aa.com), Continental Airlines (www.continental.com), Delta Air Lines (www.delta.com), Flyglobespan (www.flyglobespan.com) and US Airways (www.usairways.com).
There are five new routes launching in 2007 on Flyglobespan and Aer Lingus, and there will be more routes opening next year under the Open Skies Agreement. Aer Lingus is considering an additional five gateways.
Currently, visitors can fly direct to Ireland from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark, New York/JFK, Orlando, Philadelphia and Washington/Dulles. In October, Aer Lingus will launch San Francisco and Orlando routes. Direct flights land at Shannon (www.shannonairport.com), Dublin (www.dublin-airport.com), Belfast (www.belfastairport.com) and Ireland West Airport Knock (www.knockairport.com).
Getting around: Clients walking Looped Walks on their own need a rental car. Consult the Car Rental Council of Ireland (www.carrentalcouncil.ie).
Looped Trails: The new Looped Trail System has 32 loops around the country; there will be 50 by the end of 2008. Loops range from 1.5 to 4.5 hours to complete, and often link to further trails for full-day outings. Walking guides for the Looped Trails should be arranged in advance.
Additional walking experiences: Walking trails crisscross the country, and can be found in six national parks, 11 forestry reserves and numerous towns (137 routes developed by the Irish Heart Foundation), in addition to 31 long-distance Waymarked Ways, 60-plus Waterway Walks, five Pilgrim Paths and 32 Looped Trails. Walks are graded easy, moderate or hard.
Visitors can hike independently with maps; join free group walks organized by local walking clubs; attend one of the more than 30 multi-day walking festivals; or book a packaged walking tour, either guided or self-guided. Packages offer better commissions, and a walking guide adds the historical, archaeological and cultural highlights.
Tour operators: For clients who plan to do some of the Looped Walks on their own, Ireland specialists Sceptre Tours (800-221-0924, www.sceptretours.com) can package air, car and lodging. This agent-only service offers a live 2,300 strong lodging inventory ranging from bed-and-breakfasts to five-star castles, plus commissionable air, transportation, tours, golf and activities, including a series of guided walking tours. Agents earn 10 percent commission on land (5 percent on air), while "Emerald Partners" earn 12 percent commissions on land. You can add a mark-up to system bookings. Emerald Partners also get a free referral from the web site or call center for every three clients booked.
Specialist walking tour operators based in Ireland have the best selection of guided tours, as well as independent walking tours with logistical support and lodging flexibility. South-WestWalks Ireland (www.southwestwalksireland.com) offers guided walking tours ranging from four to eight days, plus self-guided walking tours ranging from six to 11 days. Tours are offered at a net price to travel agents, who build their mark-up into the package price. Call John Ahern, co-owner (011-353-66-712-8733).
Go Ireland (www.govisitireland.com) offers guided, independent, women-only and solo walking tours, from easy culture walks covering a maximum of six miles a day to avid hiking trips of up to 12 miles a day. Standard agent commission is 10 percent. The agent liaison is Jean Curtayne (800-721-4672).
To enhance packaged walking tour commissions, agents can upgrade lodging from family-run guesthouses to upscale hotels where possible or add a castle stay to the end of the trip.
Lodging: Types of accommodation in the country range from bed-and-breakfasts and farmhouses to small inns, luxury hotels, historic manor houses and castles.
Foley's Townhouse (www.foleystownhouse.com), in the heart of Killarney, is a charming, 18th-century, family-run hotel. There are 29 rooms; numbers 30 and 48 are suites with a sitting room and Jacuzzi. There's a 10 percent commission. Call owner Carol Hartnett (011-353-64-31217).
Built in 1897, the family-owned Park Hotel Kenmare (011-353-64-41200, www.parkkenmare.com) is in an excellent location for walking. A member of The Small Luxury Hotels of the World, it has 46 rooms individually decorated with antiques; some feature canopied beds, while others showcase views of Kenmare Bay. Deluxe rooms connect for family convenience. The Presidential Suite, number 224, has a sitting room in a turret, dining area, balcony, an antique bed draped in Italian linen and oversized marble bath. Rooms are commissionable at 8 percent. Contact John Brennan, managing director ([email protected]).
The Mustard Seed Country House and Restaurant (www.mustardseed.ie) in Ballingarry was built as a country manor house in 1884 and opened as a four-star hotel in 1996 with 18 rooms furnished with antiques. The most romantic is number 3, which has an ornately carved four-poster bed. Suites 14 and 15 have a sitting room and kitchenette downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs with views over the front garden. There's a 10 percent commission. Ask for John Edward Joyce, manager (011-353-69-68508).
Destination training: Agents must complete four informational modules to earn Shamrock Specialist status through Tourism Ireland's online educational program, the Shamrock Club. Agents must complete three educational modules to become an Emerald Partner with Sceptre Tours. Both programs provide destination updates. Sign up for Failte Ireland's e-newsletter at www.failteireland.ie. —KMM
- 1. Tourism Ireland (travel trade): 800-669-9967, www.tourismirelandinfo.com|~www.tourismirelandinfo.com/
- 2. Tourism Ireland walking web site: www.walking.ireland.ie|~www.walking.ireland.ie/
- 3. Northern Ireland Tourist Board (travel trade): 011-44-28-9023-1221, www.nitb.com|~www.nitb.com/
- 4. Northern Ireland trails: www.walkni.com|~www.walkni.com/
- 5. Northern Ireland walking clubs: www.ufrc-online.co.uk|~www.ufrc-online.co.uk/ , www.walkingandhiking.co.uk|~www.walkingandhiking.co.uk/
- 6. Walking maps: Republic of Ireland www.osi.ie|~www.osi.ie/
- 7. Northern Ireland www.osni.gov.uk|~www.osni.gov.uk/
- 8. Ballyhoura Mountain Park: www.ballyhouracountry.com|~www.ballyhouracountry.com/
- 9. Beara Peninsula and Bere Island: www.bearatourism.com|~www.bearatourism.com/
- 10. Forest park trails: www.coillte.ie|~www.coillte.ie/
- 11. Killarney National Park: www.killarneynationalpark.ie|~www.killarneynationalpark.ie/
- 12. Irish Heart Foundation's Slí na Sláinte trails and walking club list (national park trails): www.npws.ie/nationalparks|~www.npws.ie/nationalparks/
- 13. Pilgrim Paths: www.heritagecouncil.ie/walkways/pilgrim_paths.html|~www.heritagecouncil.ie/walkways/pilgrim_paths.html
- 14. Walking World Ireland magazine trail article archive: www.walkingworldireland.com|~www.walkingworldireland.com/
- 15. Waterway Walks: http://walks.iwai.ie/main/index.shtml|~walks.iwai.ie/main/index.shtml
- 16. Waymarked Ways of Ireland and walking event list: www.walkireland.ie|~www.walkireland.ie/, www.irishheart.ie/iopen24|~www.irishheart.ie/iopen24/