KINGSTON — An Act to amend the Travel Agency Regulation Act, which will impose harsher penalties for travel agencies operating illegally in Jamaica, was passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday July 19, 2011.
Minister of Tourism, Hon Edmund Bartlett, who piloted the Bill, explained that the increase in the number of illegal travel agencies was as a result of the reduction in commissions paid by airlines to the agencies, which are down from 9 per cent to 3 per cent.
“This reduce commission has caused a number of closures and mergers in some cases. So, with the decline in the number of travel agencies, some staff cuts occurred and some former travel agencies plus some new entrants decided to set up a number of unregistered agencies across the island,” Mr. Bartlett said.
He said that the unregistered agencies are able in some cases to access tickets by sharing commissions, or piggybacking with registered travel agents buying tickets online or directly from airlines.
“This has resulted in a raft of unregistered travel agencies operating in this sector. These entities therefore operate in contravention of Section Three (2) of the Act. Several of these unregistered travel agencies have gotten into trouble with customers who pay for travel which did not materialize,” Mr. Bartlett said.
He stated that, under the Act, registered travel agencies must secure a bond with surety in the sum of $100,000, which is kept by the registrar of travel agency. This bond is used to offset claims, in case the entity develops financial difficulties or there are issues concerning refunding or cancellation of tickets.
“As a result of not being registered there are no bond or insurance and, therefore, no protection for the client,” the Minister stated.
Currently unregistered travel agents are charged $20 each day they operate illegally or, on summary conviction by a Resident Magistrate’s Court, spend a maximum of 12 months in prison.
“The intention is to amend section three of the Principal Act, to allow for an increase in penalties to a maximum fine of $1 million, or a maximum custodial sentence of 12 months,” Mr. Bartlett said.
Opposition Spokesperson on Tourism, Dr. Wykeham McNeil, supported the amendments to the Bill.
“It's very important for us to ensure that the regulations are in place and not just regulations, but the penalties. It’s something that we have to ensure that the regulation of this industry, which is so important to all of us, is maintained,” Dr. McNeil said.
The Bill was passed without any amendments in the House of Representatives, and will be sent to the Senate for its approval.
By LATONYA LINTON, JIS Reporter