There is some misinformation out there on the Interwebs, posted by someone who should know better, that I’d like to clear up. And while I’m at it, I’d like to do a little ranting. My apologies in advance.
Here’s the problem: Several U.S. states have so-called “seller of travel laws.” The misinterpretation and misinformation is that these laws amount to “travel agent licenses.”
That’s absolute rubbish!
What’s a license?
First of all, let’s try to define the common word “license.” My Webster’s Dictionary says:
license. 1. a formal permission to do something; esp authorization by law to do some specified thing [license to marry, practice medicine, hunt, etc.] 2. a document, printed tag, permit, etc. indicating that such permission has been granted.
The license that most of us are familiar with is the driver’s license. To obtain one you have to pass a test about traffic laws and driving safety, you also have to prove that you can see reasonably well. In other words, you have to prove to the state that your are able to drive a car. Note, also, that when you have a driver’s license in your home state you do not need another license to drive in another state. In fact, your driver’s license is valid in most foreign countries as well!
The same can be said of a license to practice medicine — you have to prove you’re not going to kill someone because you’re a moron. A license to hunt, I suppose, is an exception. Here in the United States we assume that any moron can handle a deadly weapon, the hundreds of accidental shootings to the contrary notwithstanding.
But for the most part I think that reasonable people can agree that a license presumes some sort of vetting process to ensure that the person is qualified to do whatever the license says they can do.
What is a seller of travel law?
The stated purpose of all the seller of travel laws with which I am familiar is the same — to protect the consumer.
Seller of travel laws came about as a “solution” to a perceived problem. People were getting “ripped off ” by travel suppliers, travel wholesalers, and in some cases travel agents. Some of these “ripoffs” occurred because of things like bankruptcies, which are perfectly legal — just ask Donald Trump. Some were the result of criminal actions — fraud.
But whatever the reason, some people found themselves out of pocket and they complained to their attorneys general and their state representatives.
Now as you may know, politicians have become quite expert at appearing to accomplish something while actually accomplishing very little and seller of travel laws are a classic example of this principle at work.
Instead of going after the criminals (where criminal acts were the cause) and instead of pointing out to those affected by bankruptcies that maybe they should go to the bankruptcy court for redress and maybe they should have insured themselves against potential loss in the first place, some politicians had a better idea.
Why not make the honest travel agents pay for the misdeeds of the criminals?
And so seller of travel laws came into being, requiring anyone who wanted to be a travel agent to chip in annually to a fund that would be used to reimburse anyone who claimed a loss.
Note to criminals: If you are looking for a way to defraud consumers may I suggest travel fraud in states with these laws. The state authorities aren’t interested in finding you; they’d much rather go after a travel agent.
As far as seller of travel laws being the equivalent of a “travel agent license,” here’s what the State of California has to say on the subject (emphasis added):
Registration is not the same as licensing, which usually involves some review and approval. For sellers of travel, so long as the seller discloses the necessary information in its application, a registration number will be issued to the applicant.
That, to my mind, is the smoking gun. Alexander Anolik, a noted California travel attorney was interviewed by Travel Weekly.
Travel attorney Alexander Anolik, who represents ARTA, a long-time critic of the law, claims it places an unnecessary and unfair financial burden on travel companies while offering little consumer protection.
“This is a fund-raiser for the attorney general’s office,” Anolik said, charging that the proposed legislation is prompted by the state’s budget crisis.
That’s another thing our politicians have become good at, disguising what are in effect tax increases as noble efforts to “protect the consumer.”
By the way, if you are thinking this is another effort at governmental meddling, over-regulation, and ever increasing taxation foisted on the public by liberals, consider this: The California law was introduced by a Republican legislator and signed into law by a Republican governor. And the far-right governor of Florida, Rick Scott, apparently has no problem with his state’s law. On the other hand, old line lefty Jerry Brown, the current governor of California, has made no moves to repeal the law, and Democrat Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson has introduced legislation to make the law even more onerous, so I guess it’s a case of a pox on both their houses.
Along the same lines, one of the biggest boosters of the California law while it was under consideration was a travel agent who was also a lawyer. Once the law was passed, she hung out her shingle offering to assist (for a fee) travel agents with the law’s confusing and cumbersome requirements.
Bizarrely, to my way of thinking, travel agent associations like ASTA ardently supported such laws. My belief is that they saw these laws as a minor inconvenience to their storefront members but a great way to stem the rising tide of home-based agents who were entering the industry in the mid 90s.
The great irony is that, as home-based travel agents became the wave of the future and ASTA membership plummeted, ASTA reversed course and embraced the home-based agents it fought so hard to keep out, going so far as to purchase an organization that represented them! It is very possible that without home-based agents ASTA might have ceased to exist. And yet, as far as I know, ASTA has made no effort to lobby for the repeal of these laws which impose such an unfair burden on their members.
But even some people who spoke for home-based agents thought it was a good idea when California was proposing its law. What were they thinking? They want to punish us, I guess that means we’re important?
If it’s not a travel agent license, what is it?
In my not so humble opinion, seller of travel laws are what former New York Republican governor George Pataki liked to call “job-killing taxes.” They erect barriers, or at least disincentives, to entry into the travel distribution system and thus discourage people from creating honest income for themselves while protecting vested interests.
Moreover, they do nothing to stop criminal activity. If anything, they encourage criminal activity because potential fraudsters know their misdeeds will be paid for by honest travel agents.
As Alexander Anolik put it, “they are fund raisers.”
They are not licenses in the commonly understood sense of the term because they make no effort to determine if travel agents who register are competent travel agents. Come to think of it, it is probably only the competent travel agents who would register anyway. The incompetent are, by definition, clueless. Crooks, by definition, don’t comply with the law.
Seller of travel laws should be repealed.
If states are truly concerned that their citizens might lose money through no fault of their own when they book travel and then something unforeseen happens, they should pass laws requiring every traveler to take out travel insurance.
Of course that won’t happen because we live in a country in which many elected officials think it’s perfectly all right to require its citizens to buy insurance that will fix their dented fenders in case of an accident, but who draw the line at making them buy insurance to take care of their bodies.
And if these legislators think their seller of travel laws are such a hot idea, how’s about this? Crooked politicians have been known to defraud their constituents. Why not make all the honest politicians chip in annually to a fund that would reimburse the people when a politician goes bad? Don’t hold your breath.
But let me make one thing perfectly clear: Seller of Travel laws DO NOT EQUAL a travel agent license.
End of rant.
For the record, at the time of this post, the following states have seller of travel laws: California, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Washington. If you live in one of these states, write your elected representatives and tell them to repeal the law. It probably won’t do any good, but it will make me feel better. Maybe you too.
In the meantime, I must in all good conscience advise you to comply with these laws if you live in those states or wish to sell travel to residents of those states. (These are so-called “extra-territorial” laws.)
There are alternatives. It may be that you can be exempt from at least some of these laws, but the requirements are strict and restrictive. Or, if you don’t live in one of those states, you can simply refuse to sell to people who live there. But that, too, can cause problems; for example, what if my Connecticut client wants to bring their Californian child and grandchildren on a cruise?
At any rate, if you are half way serious about being a travel agent, the cost of these laws is relatively minor. If you live in one of these states there are circumstances in which you will not have to register, although at the cost of some freedom. Assuming you don’t live in one of these states, you can get started and only register when it becomes absolutely necessary.