RYANAIR CHIEF executive Michael O’Leary has come clean and admitted that his proposals to charge passengers to use the toilet on aircraft was just a cheap publicity stunt.
Despite telling reporters on Thursday that “it’s going to happen”, Mr O’Leary told a tourism conference yesterday that it was technically impossible and legally difficult.
Mr O’Leary joked it was a “new visionary strategy and a wonderful idea” but also conceded that it could be construed as “taking the p***”. He told the conference, organised by city tourist bodies around Europe, that Ryanair had bought Boeing aircraft in recent years, but the doors were not suitable for charging customers to use the toilet.
“Boeing can put people on the moon, design fighter aircraft and smart bombs, but they can’t design a bloody mechanism to go on doors that will accept coins,” he admitted. Mr O’Leary also confessed that it would not be possible because some “bureaucrat in Brussels” had decreed that establishments where food and drink is served have to provide toilets free of charge.
“It is not likely to happen, but it makes for interesting and very cheap PR,” he told the audience at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Co Dublin.
Mr O’Leary also proposed a travel tax which would be based on a percentage of the fare as an alternative to the €10 departure tax which will be introduced on April 1st. Such a proposal would favour Ryanair which has low fares, but higher ancillary charges such as baggage and credit card handling charges than most other airlines.
He said that a 10 per cent tax on the cost of the airline fare would target business customers who could afford to pay such charges, rather than budget travellers.
“We accept that the Government finances are in a mess, but if you are going to have a travel tax, at least make it fair and not this regressive nonsense we have here,” he said.
“Don’t target the price-sensitive visitor, target the higher fare passengers who are clearly price insensitive,” he said. Tourism Ireland chief executive Paul O’Toole said he agreed with Mr O’Leary that the €10 tax would hurt tourism business. “It is adding pressure on competitiveness at a difficult time,” he said, though he would not be drawn on whether it would lead to a serious fall in visitors.
Mr O’Toole told the conference that Tourism Ireland, which markets the whole island, will be embarking on an aggressive marketing drive abroad, which will focus on Ireland as a value-for-money destination. Figures for 2008 indicate that the number of visitors to the Republic of Ireland declined by 6.6 per cent in the last six months of the year.