California's Department of Consumer Affairs has done well in
proposing an expiration date to a bill that would have made the
state's Seller of Travel Law, now up for renewal, permanent.
The year 2006 is too far in the future, in our view, but at
least it ensures that this unfortunate law -- which unduly
penalizes agents -- does not continue forever without a scheduled
stop for a reality check.
The California Coalition of Travel Organizations, one of the
cheerleaders of the bill, to its credit, does not oppose the idea
that another look at the bill may be warranted down the road.
Corranne Gibson, president of the coalition and owner of
Brickroad Travel in Orange, Calif., said, "Who knows where the
industry will be in eight years? At that point, we can write
another bill." Precisely.
By that time, it should become apparent that it is the agency
community, under the badge of industry professionalism, that time
and again is being asked to pay the price for failures by larger
Yes, it can be argued the good guys always are left to cover the
misdeeds of the mismanagers. But if that is what this bill demands,
retailers should be fully aware of the extent to which they are
picking up the tab before this legislation gets locked into the
machinery of the bureaucracy.
The recent failure by Los Angeles-based Mexico Travel Advisors,
leaving hundreds of travelers to switch vacation plans, lends
support to those who say retailers are bearing too much of the
load. So far, three collapsed tour firms and an agency with a group
have been responsible for about 75% of the claims.
What's wrong with the law, among many things, is that virtually
all sellers of travel -- no matter how much business they do -- pay
the same registration fee. And the big publicly traded agencies,
such as American Express, are exempted.
It should be noted that the new bill would increase the
restitution fund to $1.6 million and, unlike the 2-year-old bill
that expires at the end of this year, would authorize its
administrators to levy emergency assessments to keep the
restitution pot full.
It's when retailers get pinched for further payments that the
backers of this law may be happy the year 2006 is in the cards. We
hope it won't be too late.