Ryanair launches strategy to boost tourism and calls for end to air tax
Ryanair used its AGM in Dublin yesterday to launch an "Irish tourism recovery strategy". It wants the government to scrap the €10 per head tourist tax to stem the rapid decline in tourist numbers.
Ryanair claimed it could increase passengers to Dublin, Cork and Shannon by more than one million a year if its plan is adopted.
Some of the strategy was a re-hash of attacks on what Ryanair sees as the anti-competitive Dublin Airports Authority, operator of Dublin, Shannon and Cork airports. Ryanair would like to see it broken up and sold off to increase competition.
But the call to scrap the €10 tax levied on all air passengers out of Ireland will be harder for the government to ignore. Governments across Europe have scrapped similar charges and the call comes as visitor numbers plummet.
A spokesperson for Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin said: "The minister has acknowledged the concern among many in the tourism industry that the operation of the Air Travel Tax potentially affects the competitiveness and viability of air routes to and from Ireland."
But, the spokesperson said: "Viability of access routes is not necessarily dependent on a single tax."
Paul Gallagher, president of the Irish Hotels Federation, disagrees. Mr Gallagher, who manages Boswells Hotel in Dublin, said: "This tax has a major effect, and its impact is far greater than the revenue the tax generates."
The number of overseas visitors from the UK was down 34pc in the first six months of this year, compared with two years ago.
"This extra cost makes people considering Ireland look elsewhere," Mr Gallagher said.
In his view, revenue the tax generates for the government is more than offset by the loss of income across the economy from visitors who opt not to come.
The Hotels Federation said there are 75,000 fewer seats per week on planes into Ireland, and they fear further cuts as operators switch planes to more popular destinations.
Ryanair also called on EU governments to limit the power of European air-traffic controllers' unions, after a summer of industrial strife.
Under EU rules, Ryanair was forced to meet the costs of passengers caught up in the strikes, as well as those affected by the Icelandic volcano.
At Ryanair's AGM, shareholders backed all of the motions put to them overwhelmingly.
Shareholders also voted themselves a €500m one-off dividend to be paid in October.
Shareholders then backed the appointment of former EU commissioner and government minister Charlie McGreevy and former PwC accountant Declan McKeon as company directors.
Commenting on renewed speculation that Are Lingus could be a takeover target, Michael O'Leary said the only way to secure the future of its Irish rival is for Ryanair to buy the airline.