A Tynwald committee has heard that promoting the island as a walking destination could be worth up to £26m a year to the Manx economy.
The Select Committee on Public Footpaths Bridleways and Green Lanes, chaired by Sarah Maltby MHK, was created after a Tynwald Day petition by David ‘Butch’ Buttery calling on a single entity to be placed in charge of all the island’s footpaths.
Angela Byrne, who heads up Visit Isle of Man, said research into the opportunities for the island as a walking destination had been underway since 2020 and that her agency wanted a ‘quality product we can take to market and drive visitor growth’.
In Visit’s written submission, they said there was scope for 65,000 walking visitors a year to the island, which would be an annual increase of 40,000 compared to pre-pandemic figures. However, if this was achieved, it would be worth £26m to the Manx economy.
Garff MHK Daphne Caine asked Ms Byrne whether that was really achievable.
‘I’d say we have the product to support that, but we need to obviously have a quality product to attract them in the first place. I think it’s about working together, across all the government departments, but also the walking groups and volunteer groups that we have.’
One of the issues around the island’s footpaths, identified by both local and tourists is a lack of consistency in signage and furniture. Ms Byrne said there was a ‘myriad’ of differences across the island which wasn’t helped by having so many different agencies involved.
She added that this wasn’t only an issue for visitors who may be unfamiliar with the island, but was also highlighted by locals who took to walking during and after the lockdown periods.
Improving accessibility to all footpaths is, unfortunately, never going to be possible, neither financially or in some places practically. However, Business Development Executive Jade Foster said where this can be done, it should.
Giving the examples of Scarlett or the work being done by the Rotary Club at Bradda Head, she said: ‘Every time there are footpath improvements, we should at it with accessibility in mind.’
Again, the committee was told this wouldn’t only benefit the island’s residents but would improve our attractiveness as a walking destination to tourists.
Ms Foster also told the committee that there is are ‘handfuls’ of complains about the footpaths each year and repairs are made by whichever department is responsible for those sections, with a focus on any which have issues around safety.
Ms Byrne added that work has also been done in the last 12 months to improve footpaths and overall access to glens and forests but said there should be an easier way to record issues so they can be resolved when they do arise.
With the focus of the committee being on whether a single gov body should manage all footpaths, Ms Byrne told committee chair Mrs Maltby that she believed this would be a better approach as there are too many ‘moving parts’ currently and a single body with an agreed vision could improve things.