A Deregulation of the Travel Industry in Rhode Island: A Win for the Home Team?

By Sally P. McDonald, Esq.

“WE NEED FOUR TICKETS,” my mother stated firmly.  And then she said it again, and again.  My mother is nothing if not determined, and the stakes were high.  But although the people she was speaking to were well aware we needed four tickets, they only gave us two.

It was 1994 and my parents, sister and I had traveled to Pasadena, California to watch our beloved University of Wisconsin Badger football team play in the 80th Rose Bowl Game.  The last time Wisconsin had made it to the Rose Bowl was 1963.

Badger fans flocked to California in droves for a chance to see history made once again, this time led by hometown hero Coach Barry Alvarez, who had breathed new life into our college team.  In spite of the fact that the opposing team, the UCLA Bruins, played their regular season home games at the Rose Bowl Stadium, Coach Alvarez had assured his kids that so many Wisconsin fans would make the trip that it would feel as if they were playing a home game.  And he was right.  Tickets were in incredibly high demand for the place he named “Camp Randall West.”

Like many others, my family booked our trip with a travel agency.  It was a package deal including a flight, hotel and four tickets to the game.  Or at least that is what was promised.  It was not until after we had made the long trip out that we discovered our travel agency did not have enough tickets to the game for the entire group it had brought to California.  The available tickets would be distributed by lottery.  “Travel crisis” is a relative term to be sure, but this sure felt like one to four die-hard Badger fans.

As an attorney, I found it interesting to learn that only a handful of states, known as “seller of travel” states, have registration programs and financial security requirements for travel companies, travel agencies and tour promoters.  Right now, there are less than ten “seller of travel” states, but the list does change from time to time.  For example, Rhode Island used to be a “seller of travel” state, but no longer is.

At one time, Rhode Island had what some considered the most stringent law in the country regulating travel agents, which included a licensing exam, disclosure requirements and a bond requirement.  The bond requirement was available to damaged consumers after all legal remedies had been pursued. However, this law was repealed by House and Senate bills and Governor Donald Carcieri in 2008.  At that time, the Governor issued a Commercial Licensing Bulletin, entitled “Deregulation of Travel Laws,” stating that “Travel Agencies, Managers and Agents no longer require a license or bond to conduct travel business in the state of Rhode Island.”

Whether that is a good or a bad thing depends on who you ask.  Critics of “seller of travel” laws argue that the laws do nothing to protect consumers, but do a lot to discourage people from exercising the freedom to create their own jobs.  The old Rhode Island law required a $10,000 bond, which may have been out of the reach of some would-be travel agents.  On the other hand, should the entire industry be totally unregulated by Rhode Island law?

Thankfully, my family’s travel story had a happy ending.  In the parking lot of the Rose Bowl stadium, we found a student selling two tickets in the UCLA student section.  Surrounded by UCLA students, my dad and I watched the incredible fourth quarter running touchdown by Darrell Bevel which sealed the deal. Wisconsin won 21-16 and we were there to see it… “Crisis” averted.

If you have questions or would like to speak to a member of the PLDW Team, please call Attorney Sally P. McDonald at 401-824-5100 or email smcdonald@pldw.com.

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Avatar About the Author: The Rhode Island Small Business Journal is a printed monthly magazine and an online resource for the aspiring and start-up entrepreneur and small business owner.

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