Ryanair snubbed Varadkar request for help with Gathering tourist drive
RYANAIR boss Michael O'Leary has snubbed proposals by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar for the airline to support The Gathering tourism initiative.
Mr Varadkar wrote to the airline's chief executive after Mr O'Leary had expressed an interest in helping the government scheme that aims to bring an extra 325,000 visitors to Ireland this year.
He suggested Ryanair launch a "one million free seats sale" which would have far exceeded the Government's goals for The Gathering in one fell swoop.
But just days after Mr Varadkar sent the letter, Ryanair began publicly criticising The Gathering, with Mr O'Leary later describing the Government's plans as "The Grabbing".
And, in a further rebuff, Ryanair announced plans for a 400,000 increase in passengers to Scotland in 2013 which it said dwarfed the plans for The Gathering.
Mr Varadkar wrote to the airline boss on November 14 saying: "I very much welcome and appreciate Ryanair's interest in making a contribution to the success of The Gathering Ireland 2013."
He continued: "As promised, I am coming back to you with a number of specific suggestions."
The suggestions included:
• A "one million free seat sale", including support with the marketing of the sale with investment from Tourism Ireland.
• Special fares to coincide with horse-racing events in Ireland.
• Free online advertising on the Ryanair website.
• Inclusion of The Gathering message in emails to Ryanair's consumer database.
• References to The Gathering in overseas advertising.
Mr Varadkar said that "an Ireland-only €0 core fare (excluding taxes and baggage charges) would be distinctive and motivating" in terms of promoting The Gathering.
Mr Varadkar added: "Finally Michael, I want to again thank you for your openness to consider assisting."
Two days after the letter was sent, Ryanair complained about increases in Dublin Airport Authority charges, saying they showed "that The Gathering is yet another vacuous tourism initiative by the Government under which visitors will again be ripped off".
Mr O'Leary criticised The Gathering on December 3 at an aviation conference in Dublin.
He spoke to 200 delegates saying: "May I welcome you to The Grabbing" and added "because this time, you're screwed".
Mr Varadkar responded at the time saying that Mr O'Leary "should look at his own business before he talks about money-grabbing".
A spokesman for Ryanair did not respond to questions asking why Mr O'Leary snubbed the suggestions and if the airline had since made commitments to help with The Gathering.
Ryanair’s Robin Kiely said: “Ryanair does not comment upon confidential communications.”