What’s this – travel agent licencing in the land of the free? It could happen soon in New York, with the introduction of legislation requiring all travel agents to register and be licenced in a bid to stop “lies, scams” and “false travel packages”.
“Consumers are ripped off every day,” New York Senator Jose Peralta fumed. His bill, if passed, will force all travel agencies to register and obtain official licences from the state to increase consumer protection and weed out unscrupulous agents.
The proposed registration scheme would safeguard consumers against fraud, misrepresentation, and false advertising, while also addressing security concerns, Peralta said.
At a new news conference to discuss his bill, Peralta was joined by several victims of recent travel scams.
Under his proposal, New York’s Department of State (DOS) will assign a registration number to each travel agent, “and that number must be displayed by the travel promoter at his or her place of business, as well as on all documents created by a registrant’s business, including on business cards, all personalised stationery, and all documents produced for each individual customer.
“DOS would maintain a database of all registered agents on its internet website, easily accessible to the general public. In an effort to adequately fund enforcement, the registration application fee would be USD 100, followed by an annual renewal fee of USD 100.”
Peralta’s proposal would make travel agent licensing mandatory, not voluntary. In some ways, it would resemble Australia’s former Travel Compensation Fund (TCF), though it would be cheaper.
New York State’s existing Truth in Travel Act already offers consumer protection to travellers, but Peralta’s legislation goes further by creating a centralised registry and by strengthening penalties mandated by the General Business Law.
“Under my proposal, we replace the Truth in Travel Act with a registry for travel consultants and promoters,” Peralta said.
“Currently, the Department of State can already investigate consumer protection allegations, but my legislation will further protections by implementing a more regimented system where consumers can play a proactive role in protecting their interests.”
Consumers in Britain and Ireland, where travel agent bonding systems operate, are generally better protected than those in Australia and in many US states.
Peralta wants to beef up consumer protection.
“Travel agents provide vital assistance and planning when one plans a trip, and this is why it is important that the consumer receives the exact services he or she pays for.
“If someone spends their hard-earned money to book a beach resort for their family, he or she should not arrive at their destination only to find an unsanitary or unsafe motel that was not what they bargained for. This is about preventing fraud, and this is common sense.”
Recent travel scams in New York have generated bad publicity for the travel agency industry there.
One consumer bought tickets to Colombia from a travel agent, only to arrive at the airport and find his tickets were not valid because they had been paid for with a fraudulent credit card.
When the victim went to complain to the travel agent, he says he was laughed at.
Another case involved groups, including students at a Jesuit High School. They paid a travel agent for overseas plane tickets, hotels and a tour of World War I and II battlefields in France. At the last moment, they found the agent had failed to make many of the bookings. Rather than flying out and risk being stranded in France, most of the students stayed home and lost their trip.
The incidents are uncannily similar to some recent occurrences in Australia.
Written by Peter Needham