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Q: Is there a legal responsibility to share specific advice about a destination with my clients?
A: Even before the name change from “travel agent” to “travel advisor,” travel professionals had a duty to provide timely, relevant information about their customers’ travel arrangements.
This is even clearer now — after all, advisors are in the business of providing advice. Just like a financial advisor, you are legally obligated to tell the client information that you know about, whether it be about a destination, an airline or something else.
This obligation also requires that you stay abreast of current affairs in the industry. (And although this does not mean that you must scour every news report or spend all morning on the internet, you should subscribe to and read trade publications on a regular basis.)
The law views your relationship with the lient as a “fiduciary relationship,” or one in which one party places confidence in the other.
In the law, that phrase carries with it lofty responsibilities.When you have a fiduciary duty to someone else, you must act in a way that will benefit the other party (in this case, your client).
As a travel advisor, you have a duty now to not only know about the problem, but to also tell your clients about it.
Fiduciaries must act reasonably. Again, think about your financial advisor. You place your trust in her and rely on her recommendations for your investment advice. You expect that she will be aware of the market and, when recommending a purchase, you assume that she has researched the company or fund.
Your customers expect the same.
Let’s look at a couple examples. Recently, USA Today reported on widespread cases of sexual assaults at resorts in Jamaica. As a travel advisor, you have a duty not only to know about the problem, but also to tell your clients about it. The same could be said in regard to the Allegiant Air safety concerns that were reported on the television series “60 Minutes” earlier this year.
Although we can hope that our travelers read the news, it’s on us to pass along this relevant information, and judges do not look favorably upon advisors who do not share this type of important information. A lawsuit can be brought, typically within two or three years of the facts that give rise to the claim. Therefore, it is important to document when and how you shared the relevant information. In a courtroom battle, it will be on the travel advisor to prove what he or she told the consumer.
So, how do we prove this?
First, document the file. If a client wants to do something against your best advice, have them sign a statement confirming that 1.) you gave the advice, and 2.) they are choosing to go anyway. I know this doesn’t sound fun, but it protects you.
And, in the area of self-protection, it’s also important to make sure that your agency has insurance for these types of claims, commonly known as “error and omission claims.” Talk to your insurance advisor to make sure you are covered.
We live and work in a new world when it comes to safety and travel. We are the experts, which is why customers come to us for their travel-planning needs. As a former travel agent, I understand the unique relationship created when someone calls you and asks that you plan their upcoming trip. And now, as a lawyer, the best advice I can offer is to be current, knowledgeable and informative. And, importantly, to share what you know with your clients.
Jeffrey Ment currently works as a travel law attorney and previously worked as a travel advisor, airline sales manager and tour guide. For more than 27 years, he has represented individuals and companies in the travel industry.
Have a question for Jeffrey? Let us know by sending an email to [email protected]
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