Q: In last week's column, you praised the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO) regulations as "an excellent enumeration of agents' duties." Aside from duties about investigating and advising the client, do the TICO regulations provide a source of any other duties for counseling agents or fulfilling agents?
A: The distinction between counseling agents and fulfilling agents is my own, based on the fact that many agents today do not offer much advice and are not expected to do so, and that they therefore fall into the latter category. For both counseling and fulfilling agents, the TICO rules provide a number of additional duties that provide useful guidance for U.S. agents and agencies.
When an agent quotes a price for travel services, the quote must cover "the total amount that the customer will be required to pay including all fees, service charges and surcharges." This is like the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rule with respect to airfares and packages with air, but it applies to all modes of travel.
In addition to requiring a quote of the total price, the rules require the agent to provide "an itemized list of the cost for each fee, levy, service charge and surcharge, or the total cost the customer will be required to pay for fees, levies, service charges and surcharges." This separate breakdown of fees and charges is beyond what the DOT requires, and it is no doubt a good practice.
When the names of the air carriers, hotels and wholesalers providing a package become available to the agent, the agent must "disclose their identities to the customer that has entered into an agreement to purchase the package." There is no equivalent federal or state regulation in the U.S., but there certainly ought to be one.
Written price quotes must describe the deposit and final payment requirements, cancellation charges, availability and cost of trip insurance, and "the date or anticipated date of any construction or renovation that is likely to interfere with the use and enjoyment of any accommodation." Considering that hotels will be undergoing a record number of capital improvements during 2013, the last requirement seems very beneficial, provided that the agent has easy access to the information.
When an agent receives travel documents from a supplier or issues an e-ticket, the agent must "ensure that the information contained on it is correct before giving it to the customer who purchased the travel services from the travel agent." For both counseling and fulfilling agents, this is certainly a good practice that would help avoid many disputes between agencies and clients.
After the sale but before travel, if the agent "becomes aware of a change to any matter ... that, if known, might have affected the customer's decision to purchase, the [agent] shall promptly advise the customer of the change." This post-sale disclosure requirement is certainly not the usual practice in the U.S., but it ought to be, at least for counseling agents.
If your agency does not routinely follow these rules, you should make sure that clients agree to the terms of a disclaimer stating that the agency has no liability for failing to advise about any matter or failing to make any disclosures about travel services you sell. In the U.S., courts will usually uphold such disclaimers.
Mark Pestronk is a Washington-based lawyer specializing in travel law. To submit a question for Legal Briefs, email him at [email protected].