Safety advice: a liability issue for travel agents?

Terror alerts, disease and catastrophes continue to plague the world. How much negative information are you supposed to share with your clients? And, if you fail to share this information, are you legally responsible if something goes wrong?


In South Africa, travel agents are legally obliged to divulge certain information to their clients, according to Advocate Louis Nel. He told ASATA that it’s not impossible for a travel agent to be sued for negligence if they fail to share important information.


Nel warns: “Mainly, the travel agent owes passengers a duty of care and such duty of care includes any dangers that the travel agent should be aware of. In the case of a breach of that duty, liability may well arise.”


According to Nel, the Consumer Protection Act also places a distinct obligation to disclose all the dangers, as well as any unusual threats at a destination, to passengers. “This disclosure must take place as early as possible. This means at the time of making enquiries, and not once the booking has been confirmed,” he says.


This topic was recently also raised in Travel Weekly, where US industry lawyer Mark Pestronk explained that in general, agents “should warn about a destination danger that your agency knew about or should have known about but the client would not ordinarily have known about.”


Lawyer Rose A. Hache added it would be safe to adopt the following standard of what to share with clients: “What would a reasonably prudent businessperson in the travel agency industry know?”. She said: “You can be enthusiastic about a particular destination, but if you know something that you would want to know prior to visiting a destination, I would share it.”


That range of knowledge extends to travel industry-specific knowledge, for example, a supplier’s probable insolvency or the spread of a tropical disease in a particular region. Things like that should be disclosed.


Some practical steps, such as including disclaimers on your agency website and requiring clients to sign a contract with disclaimers, can help protect travel agents in the case legal issues crop up.


The best way for travel agents to share potential dangers or destination issues with their clients is in writing. Says Nel: “It is best to make sure that the traveller briefing is very comprehensive, that all the terms and conditions as well as indemnity are discussed and that everything is signed.”

Travel agents should also have clear disclaimers on their websites. Nel explains: “This can be a combination of comprehensive terms and conditions as well as an indemnity. The latter is especially important for adventure tourism. This should go hand in hand with the traveller briefing and insurance.”