Why bad travel agents are being outed — and why that’s a good thing

Now we know the bad ones.

The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), the largest industry association for travel agents, late yesterday posted a list of agencies it had expelled.

It’s the first time the association has ever disclosed the members who were sent packing, or had other appropriate action taken against them if found to have engaged in violations of the ASTA code of ethics, or the organization’s bylaws, or were determined to have submitted false information on any ASTA membership application.

In other words, these are agencies you don’t want to do business with.

Why is ASTA doing this? Because of you. More specifically, because of an ongoing discussion I’ve had with the association, its communications team and its general counsel. But make no mistake — this is being done for the benefit of the traveling public.

It all started when ASTA sent me a press release touting its new ethics course. That made me curious, and I started looking into ethics claims made by other travel organizations. The results will be published soon in my Washington Post column.

I still can’t believe what I found. (You’ll have to wait for the article to read the details.)

ASTA’s code is pretty impressive, when compared to other ethics statements. The first four points are probably the most relevant to consumers:

1. Accuracy.
ASTA members will be factual and accurate when providing information about their services and the services of any firm they represent. They will not use deceptive practices.

2. Disclosure.
ASTA members will provide in writing, upon written request, complete details about the cost, restrictions, and other terms and conditions, of any travel service sold, including cancellation and service fee policies. Full details of the time, place, duration, and nature of any sales or promotional presentation the consumer will be required to attend in connection with his/her travel arrangements shall be disclosed in writing before any payment is accepted.

3. Responsiveness.
ASTA members will promptly respond substantively to their clients’ complaints.

4. Refunds.
ASTA members will remit any undisputed funds under their control within the specified time limit. Reasons for delay in providing funds will be given to the claimant promptly.

ASTA has, for some time, published a list of logo violators. But it’s not the same thing as expulsions. In an early draft of my article, I mistook the violators with expulsions. ASTA helped me fix that during the fact-check process, but that prompted a discussion about why the organization hadn’t provided a list of expulsions to the public.

Related story:   "Unethical" travel agent claims commission after client finds a bargain online

Wouldn’t an ethics statement have more credibility if people could see it working?

To my surprise, ASTA quickly agreed. And late yesterday, it published the list on its consumer-facing website, TravelSense.org.

Here, then, are the names of ASTA members or former members that have been disciplined for violations of the code, the organization’s bylaws, or both, within last 36 months:

Member Name Location Discipline Imposed Effective Date
CBS International Group Inc. Astoria, NY Expulsion 12-15-15
Classic Travel Bluffton, SC Expulsion 12-9-15
Emslies Ltd. Winter Park, FL Expulsion 8-31-15
Fare Depot Arlington, VA Expulsion 8-23-16
Global Housing Services Corp. Astoria, NY Expulsion 12-15-15
Insignia Travels LLC Wilmington, DE Expulsion 9-1-15
Universal Travel System Santa Monica, CA Expulsion 8-23-16

I can predict our commenters will sharpen their Google-Fu search skills to find out why these agencies were booted. And I can already make an educated guess about some of them. For example, Fare Depot has a rap sheet on our forums and is the subject of an upcoming Troubleshooter column. No surprise there.

But the only point of this list isn’t to publicly shame the bad agents, although that’s certainly one component. It’s to let us know that ASTA’s ethics statement is a real thing. Naming names accomplishes that.

I’m grateful to ASTA for its transparency. Actually, we should all be grateful.

(PS — I know what you’re thinking. Why don’t they publish a list like this for journalists? If they did, I’m sure some of you would have nominated me for it a time or two. And maybe I deserved it. I’m not perfect. The good news is, your name rotates off the list after 36 months.)

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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