California's 1994 Seller of Travel Law is up for renewal. This time
it is to be made permanent. A bill with several amendments --
including potential fee hikes -- has advanced through the state
Senate. The pity is it's sailing through with almost no public
Recently a board member of the Travel Consumers Restitution
Corp. -- a private agency that oversees the $1.2 million fund and
adjudicates claims by consumers -- resigned with these words: "If
anyone knows how the [law] and the TCRC benefit travel agents,
please let me know."
The administration of the complicated law has been a stumbling
block from Day One. After three years, according to the attorney
general's office, 5,759 sellers are registered. No one knows how
many sellers should be registered because the law applies to people
nationwide who sell air or sea travel to California residents. A
technicality that has not got a lot of notice is that those who
sell over the Internet in the state must register.
Those who have registered have found the process complicated.
Sellers who have missed the deadlines for registration ($100 a
year) have paid out $370,105 in late fees over a three-year period.
The fees represent 24.4% of the $1.5 million collected by the
attorney general's office. Late fees are charged at the rate of $5
a day up to a maximum of $500 payable to the AG's office and to the
restitution fund. The law does not allow fees to be waived,
although a few apparently have been, in exceptional
The big hits on the fund have resulted from the failure of a
handful of tour firms, leading opponents to argue that agents are
bearing the burden of indemnifying residents from shaky tour
operators who pay no more than agents to register. Defenders claim
that the law offers consumer protection, raising the
professionalism of agents, and good guys often have to pay to
protect the public from the bad guys of the world.
It may well be that the law has not had time to prove itself.
But if that is the case, it should not now be set in concrete.