TORONTO — As if travel agents didn’t have enough to worry about making sure that clients have the right documentation and understand all the terms and conditions that apply to whatever travel product they have bought, now travel agents in Ontario are expected to warn people about health risks in their destination, specifically the Zika virus, including those clients who have already booked.
Registrants were reluctant to go on the record about the directive, but several told Travelweek that the industry is scrambling to interpret the bulletin and understand just how far they are supposed to go in giving such warnings.
One travel agent commented that this goes way beyond how TICO has interpreted Section 36 (A) of the Regulation in the past. “To tell travel agents to warn all our customers about the Zika virus, just how are we supposed to do that?” she asked.
A tour operator told Travelweek that putting the onus on registrants to warn people of health risks such as Zika is new and makes no sense. “In the case of Zika, it is only a particular group of people who are at risk so are we supposed to ask every client if they are pregnant or trying to get pregnant?”
Richard Smart, CEO, TICO had this to say when asked about the directive: “As Registrar, it is my view that TICO has a duty to remind the industry that certain disclosures, pre and post bookings, are required under the Travel Industry Act. Since our registrants vary from very small operators to large enterprises, each registrant will need to determine those measures, reasonable under their own circumstances.”
“I guess I don’t see the same burden to our registrants (as suggested by Travelweek) when it comes to the safe travel of consumers. TICO is not expecting our agents to be current on all medical advisories, and certainly not to give medical advice (this should only be provided by doctors and/or other qualified health practitioners). When a disease, like Zika, has captured international attention, it’s very prudent for TICO to remind the industry of the legislation to ensure consumers make informed travel decisions.”
In a Registrar’s Bulletin issued earlier this week by TICO, all registrants (which means agents and tour operators) “have a duty to warn customers of the reports of Zika Virus.”
The bulletin refers to Section 36(a) of the Regulation, which requires registrants to” bring to the customer’s attention any conditions relating to their decision to purchase”. The bulletin goes on to say that this applies “whether or not the Federal Government has issued a travel advisory.”
The TICO bulletin goes even further “Travel agents may also have a continuing obligation to inform customers of a deteriorating situation….”
An industry insider and former TICO board member said that the problem is that Section 36(a) is badly written and can be interpreted too broadly. “It has always been open to interpretation and could leave the travel agent liable for disclosure issues that are way beyond the agent’s control or expertise,” she said.
Then of course there’s the issue of the negative message. “On the one hand we are trying to sell travel, to send people on their dream vacation, and then we have to say, oh by the way, you might get this disease or that disease if you do go … that’s crazy.”