Agents Struggle To Interpret Latest TICO Requirements About Zika

TICO’s latest Compliance & Enforcement Update advises agents to be sure to be aware of any changes to requirements affecting them.

The Update from the Ontario travel registrar says the province’s Travel Industry Act requires registrants “to warn customers of the reports of Zika Virus.” The organization has released a bulletin on the subject, in response to what it says were a number of calls and e-mails from registrants regarding their responsibilities.

TICO cited the following wording from the Act: “Pursuant to Section 36(a) of the Regulation, before reserving travel services for a customer, a travel agent shall bring to the customer’s attention any conditions relating to the purchase of travel services that the travel agent has reason to believe may affect the customer’s decision to purchase.

“To satisfy this section of the Regulation, a travel agent is obligated to inform customers of any safety concerns relating to their travel destination at the time of making the reservations, whether or not the Federal Government has issued a travel advisory in relation to that destination.”

Perhaps more concerning to agents is TICO’s interpretation of the Act’s wording that suggests clients already booked may also need to be informed about Zika.

“Travel agents may also have a continuing obligation to inform customers of a deteriorating situation in the travel destination after the travel services have been reserved,” TICO’s bulletin states.

“Section 37 of the Regulation states that if, after a customer has purchased travel services, the registrant becomes aware of a change to any matter that is referred to in a representation and that, if known, might have affected the customer’s decision to purchase, the registrant shall promptly advise the customer of the change.”

If booked customers decide they wish to cancel or change their reservation because of Zika, they are subject to the terms and conditions of the travel wholesaler. Agents won’t be on the hook financially, but they may end up in the middle, as current Zika policies vary by operator and airline.

“There is no provision in the Act or the Regulation which requires a registrant to provide a refund or offer alternate travel services because a government advisory has been issued,” the TICO bulletin states.

There are reports that travel agencies are scrambling to interpret the extent of their requirements in wake of the TICO bulletin. Some say the wording of the Section 36(a) of the Travel Industry Act is too vague to offer clear direction and that the TICO bulletin takes a broader interpretation of registrant responsibilities than in the past.

ACTA is weighing in on the issue with a news release on agent responsibilities regarding Zika and Open Jaw is seeking further clarification from TICO officials.

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