The following letter to the Travel Editor from Richard P. Ramaglia, executive vice president of the American Society of Travel Agents, concerns a story by syndicated columnist Jane Morse that was published in this section on Feb. 19.
The article by Jane Morse . . . typifies the kind of misunderstanding that has plagues the drive for federal registration of all sellers of travel by proponents including the American Society of Travel Agents, Inc. (ASTA). Ms. Morse's article takes the federal registration proposal to task for failing in areas it was actually never designed to cover. At the same time, the article does nothing to explain the real intent of federal registration.
ASTA is seeking, in some form, federal registration of all travel sellers because of the society wants to avoid the uneven and cumbersome patchwork of state licensing bills that is now in danger of developing. The type of nationwide uniform standards of business operations and the industry-wide financial requirements that federal registration would offer can provide consumers throughout the United States with more assurance of dependable travel services.
Federal registration will also offer retail travel agents concrete ways to evaluate the stability and professionalism of the programs and packages they sell to their clients.
Obviously, Ms. Morse cannot expect that any U.S. action can directly control the street-corner hustlers in a foreign city, a hotel's practices in another country or an airline that does not fly within our boundaries. ASTA maintains, however, that federal registration will develop new levels of professionalism throughout the industry that will even filter down to affect those foreign travel suppliers that are not directly covered by the provisions.
Federal registration will do a great deal to reduce the problem of fly-by-night operations that take the consumer's dollar and then go out of business without providing the travel product. Federal registration will do more to insure that there will be a company for the travel agent and the consumer to hold accountable if the trip goes sour. And, reputable sellers of travel, who have met federal standards and know that they could be held accountable, are not likely to knowingly deal with disreputable foreign suppliers.
Ms. Morse also questions ASTA's Principles of Professional Conduct and Ethics when she alleges that some of its members could not answer her specific travel queries. It should be pointed out that if she - or any consumer - believes that an ASTA member has violated the principles, it should be reported to the ASTA Consumer Affairs Department, ASTA, 711 Fifth Ave, New York, N.Y. 10022.
ASTA, as the largest international travel and tourism industry professional trade association with 16,000 members throughout the world is proud of the level of professionalism set by its members. At the same time, the society constantly seeks to improve the already high standards and sees federal registration as one of the paths of further improvement. In the long run, federal registration will upgrade professional standards for all sellers of travel.