Travel Agents Win Fight Against MA Bills

ASTA is praising its members for their grassroots efforts after a decision by the Massachusetts Legislature not to move forward with two bills that would have had a negative impact on the state’s travel agencies. before the end of its formal sessions on July 31.

"The fact that the Legislature backed off these bills is due in large part to the Massachusetts travel agents who answered ASTA’s grassroots calls to action, as well as the hard work of the leadership of ASTA’s New England Chapter, including President Gabe Garavanian and Immediate Past President and Chapter ASTAPAC Chairman Mike Spinelli,"ASTA said.

“Fighting punitive bills like these and preventing discriminatory, burdensome regulation from being applied to travel agents is one of ASTA’s top priorities,” said ASTA President and Chair Nina Meyer.

“On behalf of the thousands of travel agency small-business owners in Massachusetts and across the country, ASTA commends the Legislature for its decision and stand ready to work with state legislators toward a stronger travel industry and safe, affordable and enjoyable travel experiences for the American public,” Meyer said.

ASTA said the first bill (H. 2690) would have required any seller of travel to provide a written, itemized description of any “commissions” the seller gets from a third party. Travel agents are already required by state law to disclose fees charged to consumers, and this bill would have added the requirement to provide detailed information about commissions agents sometimes earn – which can change with each transaction and are often a moving target, especially in the case of group sales.

"The disclosure also would be difficult, if not impossible, to manage with online booking engines. Such burdensome and duplicative requirements would have been unprecedented in the travel industry, penalizing travel agents to no conceivable consumer benefit," ASTA said. At a July 2011 hearing, then-New England Chapter President Mike Spinelli testified against H. 2690 on behalf of ASTA.
ASTA reports the second bill (H. 4116) would have required agents to provide information to consumers “in a clear and conspicuous manner” regarding the potential health and safety risks associated with overseas “vacation destinations” marketed by that business. The bill did not require destinations themselves to provide this information to consumers or agencies, ASTA notes.

With more than 150,000 hotel and resort properties around the world, there is no practical way for travel agents to ensure on their own that information for each destination is available, accurate and up-to-date,  ASTA said. H. 4116 would have also required agents to notify customers who travel to certain destinations that those destinations “may pose an increased risk to your health or safety,” a statement that risks discouraging travel choices from a particular travel agent, or perhaps at all.

In June 2012, Chapter President Gabe Garavanian wrote to the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, where the bill was pending, laying out the adverse impacts H. 4116 would have on Massachusetts travel agents, ASTA said.
The Legislature also removed the Governor’s proposed new tax on travel services from the state’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget, which became law last month,ASTA reports. The proposal would have subjected consulting, service and other fees charged by travel agents and other intermediaries for hotel bookings to state (5.7 percent) and local (between 4.5 and 6.5 percent depending on the municipality) hotel occupancy taxes.
In working against these bills, ASTA said it was supported by the Interactive Travel Services Association. ASTA said it is deeply grateful for this ongoing partnership.
The Massachusetts travel agency industry includes 467 retail locations that contribute 2,485 full-time jobs and $136.4 million in direct economic impact to the state. These are predominantly small businesses, ASTA notes, with 89 percent of them employing less than 10 people and 78 percent employing less than five.
For additional information, contact Eben Peck, ASTA’s Vice President of Government Affairs, at [email protected]


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