SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A war of words erupted between California
travel industry leaders and the state's travel agent lobbying group
over a bill that would do away with a hotel reservations service
accessible through the state's Web site and toll-free numbers.
Both sides are vowing to show up in force at an April 10 hearing
of the Senate Business and Professions Committee in Sacramento.
State travel officials, speaking at an industry conference last
week, charged that Senate Bill 1606, introduced by state Sen.
Jackie Speier (D-South San Francisco), threatens the entire
California Marketing Act, the state's unique private-public
partnership to raise funds to promote travel to California.
Contracts with private companies, such as San Mateo,
Calif.-based WorldRes, which handles the Web site booking service,
are an integral part of the marketing act, said James Abrams,
president of the California Hotel and Motel Association.
The bill, which would prohibit the state Division of Tourism
from entering into contracts with private companies to arrange
travel-related services, would jeopardize not only the reservations
service but other Division of Tourism activities, such as the
publication of visitors guides, he said.
However, travel agent leaders of the California Coalition of
Travel Organizations, which is sponsoring the bill, said industry
leaders' statements about SB 1606 are misleading.
They said the measure would have no impact on the marketing act
and only targets the state's Web site and toll-free numbers, which
are now linked to the booking service.
Susan Tanzman, a CCTO official and owner of Martin's Travel, Los
Angeles, said industry officials are "trying to unite the entire
travel industry against this bill by saying it would do away with
the marketing act, and that isn't the case."
"All we want to do is make sure that the state of California's
Web site and toll-free numbers are not used to promote one or two
The issue rose to the forefront last week at two conferences
held days apart -- the California Conference on Tourism in
Sacramento and the ASTA Western Regional Conference in Victoria,
At the Sacramento conference, John Marks, president of the
California Travel Industry Association and the San Francisco
Convention and Visitors Bureau, urged industry professionals to
sign petitions to kill SB 1606.
Marks called the travel agents' continued focus on the
reservations service "absurd" because the travel agent community is
faced with larger competitive threats than the Web site and
toll-free numbers, which are generating little business at
In addition, he said the agent community "is isolating itself
from the travel industry and that is a problem."
Abrams was also forceful: "The leadership of the CCTO is fixated
on the reservations system, and at this point they are looking at
winning for the sake of winning."
Abrams and Marks said the compromise reached two years ago to
include a "Find a Travel Agent" button on the Web site, which links
to ASTA and ARTA sites, should appease the agents.
ARTA, which had not opposed the booking service once the
agent-link button was installed, never launched its agent-referral
The ASTA site includes an agent-referral system; however, a
recent check showed few participating agents declaring themselves
to be California specialists.
At the ASTA conference several CCTO members who are also ASTA
chapter leaders urged agents to sign a petition supporting SB 1606,
saying the state has no business using its Web site and toll-free
numbers to compete against agencies.
Also supporting the CCTO in its efforts is the U.S. Tour
Operators Association, which successfully blocked plans by the
Irish government last year to sign a contract with one private tour
operator to operate the Irish Tourist Board's Web site and
CCTO president Diane Embree said tour operators and travel
agents want "a level playing field" and for the state Division of
Tourism to stick to providing tourism information and not compete
against private business.
At a press conference, ASTA president Joe Galloway said the
Society has not taken a stand on SB 1606 at the national level but
that ASTA, in principle, is opposed to taxpayer-sponsored services
-- such as California state Web site and toll-free numbers -- being
used to compete against private industry.
ASTA has not taken a stand because the San Diego chapter, which
is not a member of the CCTO, has not endorsed CCTO's efforts in
regards to SB 1606, Galloway said.
ASTA and CCTO officials said it is important to stop the state
of California's efforts to accept reservations on its Web site and
toll-free numbers so that other states do not follow suit.