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CYA for Travel Agents

Sandy Saburn, CTIE[/caption]Things going wrong is not something anyone wants to focus on – nor should you. But you should be prepared and put processes in place to keep as many problems from happening as possible. Yes, dear travel agent, you need to cover your ass (CYA).Thankfully, there isn’t a tremendous amount of liability in this profession, and if you put the right processes and procedures in place, you’ll have done everything you can to protect yourself.Here are a few areas to evaluate to ensure you have the right coverage for yourself and your business.Business Structure: It’s a good idea to consult with both an attorney and accountant on the right structure for your business that both protects your personal assets and gives you the best tax advantages. For many advisors that is an LLC (Limited Liability Company). However, you need to talk to the right professionals to ensure you pick the right option because it differs from state to state.Errors & Omissions Insurance: It is critical that every travel advisor have their own E&O policy and not rely on that of their host. You need to make sure you know exactly what type of protection you have in place including what the deductibles are and the coverage limits. Some host agencies have policies with very large deductibles ($10,000 or more) which can be akin to not having any coverage at all. You can also add riders to your policy that may be helpful like misquote coverage. You need a policy with a minimum of $1,000,000 coverage per occurrence.Liability Insurance: Every business should have a general liability policy. Your E&O policy won’t cover everything that can happen in your business, and you should have this other policy to protect you in other instances including bodily injury, property damage, and other situations. You should have a minimum of $1,000,000 coverage per occurrence for this policy as well.PCI Credit Card Handling: I am astounded at how many advisors still take credit card numbers from clients over the phone and write them on a piece of paper. That is certainly not in compliance with Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards on how to handle credit card information. The best way to receive credit card numbers from a client is via a secure system. Many GTN members use TravelJoy, which is a workflow management system for travel advisors. It is PCI compliant. Regardless of what you do, make sure you are handling client card numbers in a PCI compliant manner to protect yourself and your client.Credit Card Authorization Forms: In addition to receiving credit cards in a PCI compliant manner, you also need to have authorization for the charge being made to the client’s credit card. If the client later disputes the charge, you will be required by the travel supplier to provide written authorization that the client authorized the charge. If you cannot provide this it makes it harder for the travel supplier to defend the charges. That may seem like a good thing for your client, but if travel supplier loses they can come back to you and require to pay the charges. A system like TravelJoy makes this very easy to get the client’s signature on a document with the details of what will be charged to their card. Send this to every client every time.Travel Insurance Waiver: When a client refuses to purchase travel insurance, you should always have them sign a waiver. This protects you from a client coming back later and saying that you didn’t offer them insurance or that they didn’t understand the process. Oftentimes when you present a client with a waiver that outlines all they stand to lose they will decide that perhaps they should purchase insurance after all.One additional CYA tip for you: make sure you follow your process for every client every time. In my 20+ years in travel, the advisors I have known who have either been sued by clients or have been threatened with lawsuits were being threatened with that by repeat clients or sometimes even friends or family. In most of the cases the advisor skipped part of their normal process because it was a repeat client or someone they knew well. They all learned that they will never do that again. Learn from their situation and remember to follow the same processes no matter who the client is.