Budget Travel icon Gillian Bowler described as ‘ahead of her time’

Gillian Bowler at her Budget Travel office on Baggot St, Dublin, in 2000. Picture: Colin Keegan

Tributes were yesterday paid to businesswoman Gillian Bowler, who has died aged 64.

The co-founder of Budget Travel, Ms Bowler also served as chairwoman of Irish Life and Permanent and was the founding chairperson of Fáilte Ireland.

Ms Bowler and her husband, Harry Sydner, founded package holiday company Budget Trave in 1975, before selling a 90% stake in it to UK group Granada in 1987. The remaining 10% was sold in 1996. She was non-executive chairwoman of the company until 2007.

Ms Bowler was chairwoman of Fáilte Ireland from 2003 to 2008, and yesterday the authority paid tribute to her.

“Gillian 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,” said CEO Shaun Quinn

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

Ms Bowler was appointed to the board of Irish Life in 1998 and retained her seat when the company merged with Irish Permanent the following year. She was chairperson from 2004 until the end of 2010.

In 2009, she apologised on behalf of the board of Irish Life & Permanent, because the institute had propped up the balance sheet of Anglo Irish Bank.

In announcing that the board had accepted the resignation of chief executive Denis Casey, Ms Bowler said that, “in providing support to the broader financial infrastructure, mistakes were made, for which I, and the board, apologise unreservedly”.

Budget Travel icon Gillian Bowler described as ‘ahead of her time’

Earlier this year, Mr Casey was found guilty, along with former Anglo Irish Bank executives John Bowe and Willie McAteer, of agreeing a conspiracy to defraud, with a view to misleading the public as to the true state of Anglo finances.

Jacinta McGlynn of industry trade website travelbiz.ie described Ms Bowler as someone who was “ahead of her time”.

“Who will ever forget the Budget Travel January sales, when clients camped out all night to grab a bargain or, even better, get a free holiday?” she said.

“All the handling agents and collaborators at home and abroad held her in high esteem, when she negotiated her contracts. She was fair, but fearless, and never afraid to take a risk — a woman of indomitable spirit. An icon of the Irish travel business is gone.”

“Those who knew her will attest to her goodness and generosity and her kindness and magnanimity. The lady was a legend and a trailblazer.”

Ms Bowler is survived by her husband and her step-daughter Rachel. Her family said a “celebration of Gillian’s life” will take place on Saturday morning in the Victorian Chapel, Mount Jerome Crematorium, in Harold’s Cross, Dublin.


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