Travel pioneer Gillian Bowler dies

Budget Travel founder and former Irish Life & Permanent chairperson Gillian Bowler has died at the age of 64.

The death of Ms Bowler — one of the most recognisable figures in Irish business circles over the last 40 years — was announced yesterday.

It is understood Ms Bowler — who sat on numerous boards including Fáilte Ireland and Grafton Group — passed away following a long illness.

She was generally seen as one of the pioneers of the Irish travel industry; establishing — along with her husband Harry Snyder — Budget Travel in the mid-1970s.

The pair grew the business from a small office on Dublin’s Baggot Street, at a time when overseas holidays were still a new and exotic concept to many Irish consumers, into a nationwide business employing nearly 400 people across a network of 30 shops.

Budget was fully sold by its founders in the 1990s but Ms Bowler returned to her travel roots in 2010 with the launch of clickandgo.com, an online bespoke travel package operator.

In between, however, she also courted controversy after becoming the first female chair of an Irish banking institution, taking the seat at IL&P in 2004.

Having joined the board of Irish Life in 1998, she kept her seat after the 1999 merger with Irish Permanent, to form IL&P, but came under heavy pressure to resign as its chair — at the height of the banking crisis — when it emerged IL&P had propped up Anglo Irish Bank with €8bn of deposits.

In early 2009, a year before resigning, Ms. Bowler said she had been left shaken after being verbally abused and shoved , whilst out shopping, by an angry pensioner just days after news broke of IL&P boss Denis Casey and two other senior executives resigning in light of the Anglo scandal.

Shaun Quinn CEO of Fáilte Ireland, of which Ms Bowler was chair for five years, said she was “a very dynamic, effective, and truly inspirational chair who successfully guided our organisation during its early formative years with her unique blend of insight and enthusiasm”.

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

Grafton Group CEO Gavin Slark yesterday said the company was “deeply sorry” to hear of Ms Bowler’s passing, adding that her contribution to the group, over many years, “was very much appreciated”.

A celebration of Ms Bowler’s life will take place tomorrow at the Victorian Chapel at Mount Jerome Crematorium, in Dublin.

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