Death occurs of travel trade pioneer Gillian Bowler

Entrepreneur was influential figure who grew Budget Travel from small beginnings

Gillian Bowler, pictured during her time as Irish Life and Permanent chairwoman. Photograph: David Sleator

Gillian Bowler, pictured during her time as Irish Life and Permanent chairwoman. Photograph: David Sleator

 

Gillian Bowler, pioneering founder of Budget Travel and one of the best-known figures in Irish business, has died following an illness. She was 64.

Ms Bowler was most closely associated with Budget, which she started in 1975 from a basement on Baggot Street in Dublin at the age of 23.

She began selling holidays to Greece and grew the business by competing aggressively on price and service and capturing consumers’ attention through sharp and imaginative marketing.

It expanded over the next decade to become one of the biggest players in the market, with a network of 30 shops, making Ms Bowler and her husband and co-director, Harry Snyder, influential figures in the travel industry.

British group Granada bought 90 per cent of it for 4.5 million Irish pounds (€5.7 million) in 1987, Ms Bowler and Mr Snyder kept 10 per cent. Nine years later, Thomson paid between £9 and £10 million for the company, buying out the couple in the process.

Ms Bowler remained with the business at that time, pledging that it would stick with its policy of offering good value holidays to consumers. She left the company and the travel industry in 2000.

Media profile

An English native, Ms Bowler’s profile grew alongside that of her company, and she featured frequently in the media, where she was never afraid to speak her mind.

In 1988, she caused ripples after she told a Fianna Fáil’s women’s gathering: “Business must always come first, ahead of any outside interests you have, even ahead of your family”.

Discussing her early career, she told The Irish Times in June 2000 that when she first arrived in Dublin from London to set up a subsidiary of Greek Island Holidays in the early 1970s, she found businesses were unwilling to give responsibility to women or young people.

“There was no way I could settle for answering the phone and making the tea at a time when it was natural for me to be entrepreneurial,” she said.

A wave of tributes followed news of her death. Jacinta McGlynn, of trade publication Travelbiz.ie, described Ms Bowler as a trailblazer who was never afraid to take a risk.

Shaun Quinn, chief executive of Fáilte Ireland, the State body of which she was founding chairwoman between 2003 and 2008, said she was dynamic, effective and inspirational.

“On behalf of Fáilte Ireland, I would like to extend our condolences to her husband Harry and her extended family,” he said.

Gavin Slark, chief executive of Grafton, owner of Woodie’s DIY and Atlantic Homecare, where Ms Bowler also served as a director, said that the company was “deeply saddened” to hear of her passing.

Directorships

In the years after she left the travel industry, Ms Bowler took on a range of directorships, including those with Fáilte Ireland and Grafton.

She chaired the pensions and banking group, Irish Life and Permanent between 2004 and 2011, leading the board through the aftermath of the financial crisis.