Should travel agents disclose the carriers whose tickets they sell or do not sell and information regarding any incentive payments they receive in connection with the sale of air transportation? The Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA) board of directors says no. ARTA objected to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed rulemaking to require disclosure and called the DOT's plan "overkill, excessive, and without the slightest justification."
ARTA's Board unanimously voted against the move and against a DOT proposal that agents also disclose any preferential display of individual fares or carriers in agents' internet displays.
ARTA's directors met today to discuss plans envisaged by the DOT to broaden the scope of industry disclosures "this time, directly involving commercial arrangements between travel agents and industry suppliers."
ARTA said the DOT is also proposing that travel agents be required to adopt minimum customer service standards in relation to the sale of air transportation.
"In much the same fashion that ARTA did not agree with the DOT's plan to widen reporting of airlines' ancillary fees, ARTA is concerned that the new proposed rulemaking regarding travel agents has not provided any justification of the economic costs, consumer benefits, nor the true costs of the resulting imposition of added technology infrastructure on the travel industry to support the proposed additional requirements," ARTA said.
"Without such justification and analysis, ARTA does not believe the DOT has clarified the intent nor purpose of the agency disclosures, nor is there any substantiation to believe that this additional information is needed," ARTA said.
ARTA fears that if the DOT moves forward with this plan that there would be a vacuum of unknown factors and consequences which may negatively alter the relationship between agencies and consumers and agencies and travel suppliers.
"It is hard to imagine that any of these proposed rules have a shred of consumer benefit, nor has the DOT even explained in what way professional travel agents are not providing appropriate customer service to air travelers. If anything, travel agents provide exceptional customer service to both air and non-air travelers, a fact clearly supported by the willingness of most consumers to pay travel agents for their expertise and assistance. As for the commercial disclosures, what other industry is required to share internal, proprietary pricing, incentives, and inventory with the end consumer? The DOT's plan is overkill, excessive, and without the slightest justification", said ARTA Managing Director Bruce Bishins.
ARTA said it will provide an official position once the DOT opens the public comment period expected in April 2012.