'What a mess they will make' - Ryanair Schools Travel service slammed
Ryanair's proposed 'Schools Travel' service has come in for stinging criticism from Irish travel agents.
The airline announced the service, which it says will help schools save millions in booking and managing trips, at a press event last week.
'Ryanair Schools Travel' will launch this summer as a dedicated and bonded "travel agency for school tours", says Robin Kiely, its Head of Communications.
"It will be a fully bonded travel agent, based in Ireland for Irish schools, who can enjoy discounted group fares and will have access to a dedicated schools travel team."
School fares will be available on flights across the full Ryanair network, with schools able to book and manage their own trips on a "bespoke" platform, he added.
The proposal has come in for sharp criticism from travel agents, however.
"No airline has the experience to become a travel agent at the flick of a switch; if they think they do, what a mess they will make," says Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents' Association (ITAA), which has 100 members in Ireland.
"I wonder how real is it," adds Martin Skelly of Navan Travel.
"The school tours we organise take a lot of micro-managing. Parents, teachers and organisers need a lot of reassurances with school tours. Travel agents live in the communities. Our kids go to school in the communities. We can stand over everything.
"From my experience, that's not the Ryanair model."
"An awful lot of this business is about trust," says Gráinne Quinn, Managing Director of The School Tour Company, a leading educational travel agent based in Dublin.
"I'm working with schools and principals for 30 years. They don't do school tours lightly. You need to be available 24/7, and my reputation depends on that."
'Always Getting Better'
Ryanair Schools Travel was announced as part of a suite of new services for Year 3 of the airline's 'Always Getting Better' programme.
Other innovations announced for 2016 include a new Leisure Plus product, simplified baggage fees, 'one-flick' payments on its app, and an upgraded 'My Ryanair' offering that will give its member database priority access to sale fares.
At its press launch last week, Ryanair's Chief Marketing Officer, Kenny Jacobs, reiterated the airline's aim to become "a one-stop travel shop".
Ryanair Schools Travel will cater for both primary and secondary groups, with marketing brochures dispatched to schools outlining a "fully bonded" service that will "comply fully" with Department of Education travel guidelines.
Several agents contacted by Independent.ie Travel expressed concern about the expertise involved and exact nature of the service, however, which will not offer bundled flight and accommodation packages at this point.
"As the saying goes, they own the ball, the pitch and the players and now they want to be the referee," commented Pat Dawson.
"With that kind of dominance comes a worry that they are in control of the market and therefore prices, and that's not good for the consumer."
Ryanair responded to say its European route network and dedicated schools team will ensure "a better choice and better service than any travel agent can offer."