Ben Alcock

Have you ever made travel arrangements directly with an overseas supplier? Do you create your own bespoke tours with operators abroad? Yes? You might already be an occasional tour operator, & with that may come some consequences.

The Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) is raising awareness of the possible ramifications for retail Travel Agents that look directly to overseas operators when packaging itineraries and creating custom tours for clients.

Examples of this might include an Australian retail Agent working directly with a local ground operator in France’s Champagne region to create a private cycling journey; with a US-based operator to develop a unique New York shopping tour for its own customers; or it could be as simple as contracting airport transfers directly with a local service provider.

Travel Agent

CATO Managing Director, Brett Jardine

CATO Managing Director, Brett Jardine said that “where a Travel Agent is piecing together components from off-shore suppliers—as opposed to suppliers with a commercial presence in Australia—there is the possibility for unintended consequences like the agent being deemed a tour operator and, therefore, potentially liable in the event of incidents and accidents in destination.”

“There is nothing to stop anyone from choosing how their business operates in this regard, but retail Agents are encouraged to be well-informed from a legal perspective and also confirm their insurances provide appropriate coverage in cases like this.”

Brett Jardine, CATO Managing Director

Travel Agent

Would you, as a ‘tour operator’, be liable for an incident involving a client?

CATO Associate Member spokesperson Aaron Zoanetti, Head of the Travel & Events division at Melbourne based law firm Pointon Partners said, “whilst having a robust set of Booking Conditions is an effective way to help protect your interests if something goes wrong during travel, Booking Conditions themselves can provide a false sense of security.”

Significantly, Zoanetti added that “if you package up components from different suppliers and sell at an inclusive price on your own terms then, irrespective of what your Booking Conditions say, there is a real risk of crossing over from ‘agent’ to ‘principal’. If a customer suffers personal injury due to the negligent actions or omissions of your local supplier or operator, then you could be directly responsible.”

Travel Agent

A robust set of Booking Conditions might not be enough to protect your interests if something goes wrong.

According to Zoanetti, “Once the retailer crosses over from ‘agent’ to ‘principal’, the services the retailer supplies to the customer are not limited to simply arranging the booking. They also extend to the actual operation of the tour including services provided by local suppliers.”

“Things can go wrong. But if you have the right legal documentation in place, you should be able to mitigate the risks associated with the negligent acts of your suppliers.”

Aaron Zoanetti, CATO Associate Member Spokesperson

CATO urges Travel Agents who may think they’re exposed this kind of risk to seek independent legal advice.

Did you know that CATO produces a high-quality, quarterly e-Magazine for the travel trade? It’s called ‘Ground Control’, and it’s free. CLICK HERE to view the first two editions, and follow the prompts to subscribe!