Travel agents and their agencies are subject to "travel law." Travel law applies federal, state, common law and international laws to regulate the workings of the travel industry. Every state has general consumer disclosure and fraud statutes, as well as refund policy requirements to address businesses that arrange or sell travel services. Some states have gone so far as to create specific laws for the regulation, registration and licensing for sellers of travel.
Most states do not need travel agents to gain a license. However in California and Florida, travel agents must register with the applicable state agency.
Travel agents are fiduciaries (representatives) of their customers. These agents are responsible for a number of general duties when arranging travel plans, including:
- Making and confirming reservations (including itinerary changes and delivery of tickets);
- Disclosing the identity of the supplier or tour operator responsible for the services;
- The agent may also vouch for the supplier’s reliability or provide a warranty for services.
- Investigating the availability of travel services (like cancelled flights or overbooked hotels);
- Conveying needed information and provides needed travel documentation;
- Providing information on health and safety hazards;
- Advising of any travel insurance; and
- Informing customers of any restrictions on transportation tickets.
The state courts have ruled that because of the special relationship between travel agents and consumers, the standard of care for travel agents are higher and they have special duties and obligations owed to their consumers. Travel agents are subject to the following duties and obligations:
- Duty to Warn the Consumer: A travel agent has a duty to reveal any negative information they know about a certain destination that the traveler is traveling to. For example, if the town or area is an area of crime.
- Duty to Investigate and Disclose: Travel agents have a duty to investigate travel plans and be knowledgeable about the area the consumer is going to and whether there are certain conditions that would affect the consumers travel plans.
- Duty to Inform: Travel agents have a duty to inform clients about critical travel information. Travel agents must inform clients about limitations on tickets changes, the types of travel documentation needed to travel, whether a certain country have certain requirements, and the availability of travel insurance.
- Duty to Make Reservations: If the consumer requests reservations to be made, then the travel agent has a duty to make those reservations and follow up to confirm the reservations.
- Duty to Confirm Reservations: When a travel agent makes travel reservations and travel schedules, the travel agent have to confirm that the reservation went through and is ready for the consumer.
Travel agents are liable to customers for violations of general duties, fraudulent misrepresentations, and violations of applicable state regulations. Common issues travelers have against travel agents include:
- Lost, stolen or damaged baggage;
- Violation of consumer protection laws; and/or
- Deceptive port charges.
Just like any other commercial business, travel agents would benefit in having business insurance to protect them from any business liability. The following are two common insurances carried by a travel agent or travel agency:
- Professional Liability Insurance: Protects the travel agent for any errors occurred in business activities or services or is sued by a consumer for not providing the service that the consumer was promised in the contract.
- General Liability Insurance: General liability insurance is insurance travel agents and agencies carry if they have any office where they meet with client in order to protect against claims related to injuries such as a “slip and fall” incident.
Each state has specific regulations regarding travel sellers, and travel law encompasses domestic and international laws, you should contact a lawyer to handle any claims you may have against your travel agent. Generally, an experienced business lawyer should be able to handle any dispute between you and your travel agent.