By Dr. Peter Tarlow
The Tourism/Visitor industry is a one of the world’s great industries. Large industries, however, mean that there are large cash flows and large amounts of cash often mean multiple lawsuits and other legal problems. Often local CVBs or tourism offices are unaware of their own nation’s laws and obligations. This ignorance of the law can be very costly. Tourism Tidbits does NOT give legal advice, and it strongly encourages all readers to ask specific questions to a licensed tourism legal professional. Please note that the information found below is only meant to be useful in helping tourism/travel professionals to obtain the correct needed legal advice to stay out of court or to defend oneself once in court.
-Take the time to ask you legal team to develop a series of questions about tourism law? What questions are you not asking? In what areas of the law are you ignorant or ought you to have more information? Then do a tourism law legal assessment with your legal staff, professional or department? With what laws are you failing to comply? What are the consequences of a compliance failure?
-Review the statues concerning your aspect of the tourism industry on a regular basis with a qualified legal expert. Often tourism bureaus hire lawyers and legal experts who have never studied their part of tourism law. As tourism and terrorism become more intertwined it is essential to know your city’s, state’s or nation’s legal requirements. For example, there is a section of the US PATRIOT act and published in the Federal Registry of Friday May 9th,2003 (Vol.68, Number 90m p.25092) which specifies casino’s legal duties in anti terrorism. Casinos that chose to ignore this act may be faced with a very difficult situation.
-Develop a tourism/travel legal information exchange. Tourism law is so complicated and changes so quickly that many legal experts are simply overwhelmed by it. Therefore there is no “one stop legal shopping”. Instead develop with other local professionals a listing of who is an expert in various aspects of tourism law. Develop tourism law exchanges and remember that a legal mistake in any one part of the tourism industry can impact the entire industry. Do not forget to include the local police departments in these seminars and work with its members so that the local police department does not act (or fail to act) due to legal confusion.
-Review your obligations and duties with your legal staff. How are these different within different types of law such as maritime law, international law, airline codes, local property law, contract law or statutory law? Then make sure that you understand legal subtleties. For example you should know if there are differences between a local person as a guest in your hotel or a visitor as a guest? Do you know your rights and obligations with a trespasser? How are you expected to treat a VIP and is there a clear definition of who is and who is not a VIP?
-Know what help can you expect from a government regarding damages? In some nations, tourism is considered a critical asset and governments have special agencies to help with recovery. For example, in the US Homeland Security and FEMA may be able to provide funding which will aid you in avoiding a costly lawsuit. The smart tourism/travel professional takes the time to meet with government agencies to learn of all of their services and what legal help these agencies can provide.
-Know what types of damages can you be accountable for and for which types of damages can you not be held accountable!. Tourism is different from other types of laws in that the victimizer and the victim may not be in the same community? What are your rights and obligations if you are sued from a different locale? How can you protect your community from someone who comes into it, victimizes it and then leaves? Are there different laws dealing with how locale interacts with physical damages or financial damages or emotional damages caused by a ruined vacation?
-Do you know what are your assets? Many tourism assets are non-tangible assets? For example, is your locale’s reputation an asset? How much damage someone coming to do harm might do to the reputation of the locale? What is the asset damage multiplier effect? If your business goes under how much are other tourism related businesses impacted by your error or having suffered an attack?
-Make sure that you understand the differences between a criminal act and a terrorist act. These two negative events have very specific definitions in different nation’s laws and the legal consequences are determined by how the courts may define the event. It is essential that you review with your legal team these differences and understand what your rights and responsibilities are should either of these two events occur.
-Take the time to review what is happening in the world. Are you aware of the tourism risks that your particular industry is facing? All too often tourism/travel professionals are stuck in the old paradigm that stated that tourists were afraid of security and the less mentioned the better. Today’s world is different. It is essential that your visitors understand that you locale worries about all aspects of security, from food safety to terrorism, from mismanaged property to crime on the streets. The best way to avoid or win a lawsuit is to take the time to do good risk management and know what are your obligations.
Again, please consult a licensed legal professional before making any decision. The above is merely to present questions for you to consider with your legal professional.