aivers, disclaimers and
"responsibility clauses." Liability, discrimination, fiduciary
obligations. These terms get thrown around a lot when you have a
room full of lawyers. And I found myself surrounded by attorneys at
the Fourth Annual National Law Symposium, cosponsored by Travel
Weekly and ARTA.
The room was full to capacity -- additional chairs were brought
in. Though attorneys were in the majority, it wasn't just lawyers
in attendance -- travel agents, tour operators, representatives of
ARC, journalists, insurance company officers and executives from
major travel agency groups showed up at the Washington
The symposium's topic was "Travel Law and the Terrorism Crisis:
Issues and Strategies." The presentations were professional but not
overly laden with jargon. Many of the presentations were as
riveting to a layman as to those with "Esquire" attached to their
First, the good news: "The body of law protecting travel agents
is pretty good," said Mark Pestronk, a Fairfax, Va., travel law
attorney who is also Travel Weekly's legal columnist and host of
the Legal Ease forum on TWcrossroads.com.
However, confusion among consumers about who is liable for trip
mishaps is probably the biggest problem facing travel agents.
Travel agents are agents. An agent isn't responsible if it rains,
if the principal supplier doesn't deliver as promised ... or if a
terrorist act disrupts a traveler's schedule.
"If it's not your fault, you're not responsible," Pestronk said,
Unless. Unless you knew about risk and didn't disclose it.
That's where agents can get into trouble.
There was plenty of advice for travel agents. Alexander Anolik
of San Francisco, ARTA's general counsel, was among the speakers
strongly urging the use of disclaimer forms.
Other speakers suggested that when in doubt, have the client
call the supplier directly rather than trying to interpret, for
instance, the differences between two travel insurance
The most colorful speaker of the day was Rodney Gould of
Framingham, Mass. From a lawyer's perspective, "it's better to have
a dead client than one whose toast is burnt," he said.
He went on to explain that it's more difficult to win a case in
small-claims court where "rough justice" may be biased against
business and in favor of consumer complaints, no matter what their
merit. However, if you're being sued for a lot of money, it'll get
into a court of higher jurisdiction, where the case is more likely
to be judged on the fine points of law.
Somehow, I think that may be small comfort to someone who's
being sued for a lot of money. As another presenter, Beverly Susler
Parkhurst of Chicago reported, one of her travel agent clients once
told her, "We don't think like you lawyers do."
And that's true. Travel agents are service oriented. They don't
want to tell a client to call the supplier for information, they
don't want to present an exhaustive list of what can go wrong, and
they don't want to ask honeymooners to sign a sheet of paper filled
with fine print that protects the agent from liability.
Travel agents are willing to do a lot of things for their
clients, but one thing they shouldn't be expected to do is give up
their right of self-preservation.
A car rental agency wouldn't dream of letting a car off the lot
if the renter didn't initial three times and sign on the dotted
line. They've trained their customers what to expect. Travel agents
might do well to follow their lead.
• • •
The following white papers from the National Travel Law Symposium
can be read in Adobe .pdf format:
•Protecting Customer Lists and Other Trade Secrets
After September 11 (File size=70K)
•Travel and Terrorism: A Canadian Perspective
•Terrorism Incidents and the Legal Problems
Confronting the Travel Agent Community as a Result Thereof
•Travel Agencies and Civil Rights in Light of
September 11 (File size=33K)
•Personal Liability of Travel Agency Officers Based
on Trust Obligations Under the Agent Reporting Agreement (File
•Checklist for Downsizing or Closing Your
Business (File size=9K)
•The Changing World of Travel Insurance (File
(Note: These files require Adobe Acrobat Reader. Click here to visit Adobe's Web site and download the