“Like everyone, we need the state to take action against Prime Travel Protection”

Florida regulators today filed a revised notice of intent to issue a cease and desist order against Legendary Journeys, a Sarasota, Fla., travel agency, as part of its investigation into Prime Travel Protection. It appears to be the state’s biggest action against a single company, with 17 counts and half a million dollars in outstanding claims, according to a government report. Here’s the order (PDF). Unlike some of the other agencies affected by this scandal, Legendary Journeys has been candid about its role and eager to face its critics. So I asked Al Ferguson, a vice president at Legendary Journeys, to answer a few questions.

Why do you think the state decided to revise its intent to issue a cease and desist today?

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The intent is unclear. I think there is even conflicting opinion in Tallahassee on this.

We have complied on anything asked and submitted a mountain of paperwork to support everything that occurred. The revision is the same notice [we received a year ago] to not sell Prime Travel Protection policies. We stopped doing that six months before the first intent was issued.

It has now been 1½ years since we did anything with Jerry Watson [president of Prime Travel Protection]. All of that was clear when I provided information to you a year ago and absolutely nothing has changed in the last year.

How have you been cooperating with the state in its investigation?

We provided great detail on every client that was affected by the insurance default. We will continue to do so.

According to a report obtained through a public records request, Legendary Journeys has 174 outstanding claims related to unlicensed insurance worth $503,957. I only see 17 in this order. What happened to the rest?

First, I want to point out that Legendary Journeys will handle tens of thousands of guests every year. If 174 is correct — and I do not think it is — the number is very small.

Second, much of what the state thought were clients of Legendary Journeys actually were not. They were thrown into a big bucket and we had to demonstrate that most were not clients of Legendary Journeys. And we did that.

Third, we reached out to every client affected by Prime Travel Protection and Jerry Watson. We helped solve those clients’ problems through a variety of remedies that satisfied them. Our clients effected signed agreements with us that we satisfied them.

In fact, while we just got your notice today, already many that are listed in the addendum have agreements with Legendary Journeys that their problems were resolved. Many on this list have already traveled again with Legendary Journeys.

While the Prime Travel Protection and Jerry Watson situation is very serious and needs to be pursued to conclusion, we have worked extremely hard to satisfy the small number of Legendary Journeys clients affected by this terrible event.

Lee Smolinski at Palm Coast Travel/Smartcruiser.com seems to believe a lawsuit is the best way to stop the media from covering this story. Why haven’t you joined him?

Free Speech. I am the first to say that some of the things said about Legendary Journeys have been unfair. But you take the good with the bad. I can only hope you and others covering this event are fair with me. Alternative approaches are not a way to resolve this situation.

Speaking of Palm Coast Travel, there’s been a lot of buzz in the comments of my blog, alleging a connection between Palm Coast Travel and Revelex. I’m thinking of investigating this apparent link. You mentioned Revelex in our previous conversation. What role did Revelex play in selling Prime Travel Protection?

That’s a key point that has been so missed. The conspiracy that so many alleged, I think, is more likely insurance selling default.

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Revelex, a very common travel agency reservation portal, offered Prime Insurance. Travel Agencies sold insurance offered by the reservation system.

A small number of people that do the vast majority of blog commenting do not understand or want to understand this simple fact. I told you one year ago that hundreds of agencies are effected by Prime Travel Protection bankruptcy and this is why: It was a default insurance program that could be sold through this and other reservation systems.

If you were investigating Revelex, what kind of questions would you be asking?

The only thing I do not know at this moment is the Department of Financial Services’ opinion of licensed travel agents to sell insurance. That will be resolved in due course and every travel agency in Florida will follow that.

It’s unclear now because can a reservation service like Revelex sell insurance to Florida residents and how do they comply with the regulations that the state says must be followed. That will be resolved in due course and frankly, we look forward to that clarity and will follow it.

In our previous conversation, you said you were planning to sue Jerry Watson, the president of Prime Travel Protection. What happened?

Currently, nothing. The states action toward Prime Travel Protection and Jerry Watson is important for our action. However, there is no question that Legendary Journeys has been harmed by Prime Travel Protection and Jerry Watson, and we will try to recoup our losses for selling this product. Like everyone, we need the state to take action against Prime Travel Protection.

It has been reported that you also sold Trip Assured policies prior to its demise at the end of 2006. How was Trip Assured different from Prime Travel Protection? Did Watson give you any assurances that this was on the up-and-up?

This is incorrect. Legendary Journeys had no clients affected by Trip Assured closure. As far as I know, Jerry Watson was not involved with Trip Assured when their closure problems occurred.

How has Legendary Journeys changed since dropping Prime Travel Protection last year? Do you still sell travel insurance?

We do not. We are waiting on Florida to rule exactly what is required for travel agents to sell travel insurance in Florida. This includes the agency and the individual agent. As I pointed out to you a year ago, 99 percent of travel agencies do not carry an insurance business license and individual agent insurance license, like State Farm or other full-insurance sellers. There is conflict between the Department of Agriculture, which regulates travel and the Department of Financial Services, which regulates insurance. We are hopeful that the state will provide clarity soon.

If you could say one thing to the people who purchased unlicensed insurance, what would it be?

Legendary Journeys stood with all of our clients and will continue to do so. If they need any assistance please contact me.