Staying safe on an international vacation — should U.S. law be involved?

by Janice Hough on October 31, 2011


A bipartisan bill in the Senate, cosponsored by Mark Kirk (R-IL) would require travel websites to provide detailed information about the health and safety services provided at each advertised destination. The bill is cosponsored by Senators Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and John Kerry (D-Mass.). Called the “International Travelers Bill of Rights Act,” apparently the bill came about after an eight year old boy drowned in a Mexico hotel pool.

Senator Kirk said if the mother “had been aware that this particular hotel did not offer adequate emergency care, perhaps she would have chosen to stay at another location where such services were offered. Because of this, I feel strongly that websites must do their best to make sure travelers are aware of the available onsite health and safety services before they book.”

If the bill became law, website operators would have to include information about what on-site health and safety services are available at each listed property, including but not limited to the availability of a nurse or physician on the premise and the presence of a lifeguard on duty. This information must be displayed by U.S.-based website operators such as Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline and the major hotel chains such as Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott or Westin.

The bill would require the operators to request and publish that information for every hotel with which they do business, and post if they could not get such information. The websites would also be required to include State Department travel warnings that relate to various destinations.

(Regarding the warnings, that means these days any destination in Mexico could have to be flagged with the current U.S. government warning.)

And if the online travel agents followed these rules about providing information, and had no reason to believe the information was inaccurate, the website operators would be immune from any liability related to safety issues. (The FTC would determine if the sites were in compliance and would enforce the law.)

As a parent, I can only imagine the pain of losing a child, especially while on vacation. But a law to require that “health and safety services” are divulged up front for foreign lodgings seems over the top? The proposed law makes it the responsibility of travel websites to report this information on all “overseas” hotels and resorts mentioned on their sites, however, only if they receive it after asking for it. (So far, regular travel agents would be exempt, as would print advertisements and presumably travel articles in magazines and on blogs.)

Then there’s the question of what health and safety services? A lifeguard on duty, a doctor or nurse on premises, a debribrillator? (I have called on behalf of a client to check on that last one, but only one client in nearly 30 years.) And what of people with allergies? Should it be a requirement for website to post if a location has say, peanut-free zones? Or allergan-free rooms?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that for anyone with a serious medical condition it’s important to have information before travel. But, that can be done now. Similarly, parents concerned about particular issues can easily call or have a travel agent or major hotel chains find answers out in advance.

Moreover, would posted information potentially give travelers a false sense of security? People have drowned in pools with lifeguards present and they have died on ships with doctors onboard, for just two examples.

But what do you think, Consumer Traveler readers? Do you think the proposed bill would be a good law? Opinions are welcome, whether or not we agree.

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  • Bodega

    US schools are closing, US roads are falling apart, medical costs are soaring outside of our consumer control but these Senators want to focus on protecting travelers by extending the nanny state to ourside the US? What is wrong with this picture?  Will they extend this to requiring with the hotels that have restaurants to post allergy warnings, caloric count and health inspection reports, too.  What about police reports on crimes at each hotel?  When you leave the US you aren’t in Kansas any more, so take some responsibility as a traveler and quit expecting everyone else to pave the road ahead for you!

  • Guest

    Ridiculous.  False sense of security, waste of money, time and energy for the websites, hotels, etc., as well as for the general public who have to wade through the disclosure.

    If you are interested, ask.  If you have specific medical conditions or needs, ask…and consider your international destinations carefully. 

  • Guest

    Ridiculous.  False sense of security, waste of money, time and energy for the websites, hotels, etc., as well as for the general public who have to wade through the disclosure.

    If you are interested, ask.  If you have specific medical conditions or needs, ask…and consider your international destinations carefully. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/saucywench S E Tammela

    I can’t even imagine how this could work. Wait, yes I can. The big companies see that it’s an advantage to add a nurse, CPR training, allergy-free rooms, etc. The small ones can’t possibly compete with all that and get less business. Aren’t most of the USA already complaining that big businesses are the 1%? Way to make it worse, give people more red tape to mess around with, and achieve approximately nothing.

  • Anonymous

    Holy Regulatory Overreach Batman!  What a joke.  This won’t even clear committee. (Which, by the way, is the fate of most bills, so I don’t think the travel industry has much to fear.)

  • GH

    Are US hotels and resorts really any better?   Why not extend the legislation to them as well?

  • AirlineEmployee

    Ridiculous indeed.   International bill of rights ??……..If you can’t handle third world situations, don’t go there !!…..Was the mother even watching this kid ?  What’s next,   No Smoking in every international country because we don’t allow it here in the United States in any hotels, restaurants, parks, etc. ??   “The Ugly American” — just another reason to be hated everywhere else in the world. !!

  • Cmbaker69

    What a ridiculous idea! The cost for general travel websites would be high and the benefit low. Anyone who wants the info can and should contact the property or location directly.

  • Joelw

    I am embarassed that both of my senators hve chosen for who knows what reasons, to co-sponsor this ridiculous piece of legislation. Surely they know that there are more important issues facing this country. On the other hand, with the gridlock in Congress maybe this is the only kind of thing that can get done. What a joke!

  • DCTA

    This really is craziness.  At some point, consumers have to take some responsibility for some research on where they are going!  To suggest that this poor woman may have made a different decision regarding destination/resort had she known that there was inadequate emergency care at the resort she chose is ridiculous!    Let’s be honest here – people buying vacation packages on the internet are pretty much making decisions based upon price point – they are not considering infrastructure or emergency services at all in the decision making process.

  • DaveB

    Note to all of Congress:

    GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR BUTTS!!!!! WE NEED A BALANCED BUDGET AND JOBS.
    SCRATCH HELPING WITH JOBS OTHER THAN HELPING COMPANYS THAT HIRE.

  • catherine

    Just one more demonstration of the spoiled and coddled American.I have spent years traveling, working and living in countries where there were no medical facilities within hundreds of miles. Also no bathroom facilities or ‘clean’ drinking water. Definitely no swimming pools, life guards, or health regulations in the kitchens. You use your common sense and quickly learn how to take care of yourself. Anyone planning to travel outside of US borders should take responsibility for him or herself. Grow up! Go online and ask the necessary questions.Take essential precautions and don’t expect the US Government (or Military to swoop in with guns blazing) to get you out of a tight spot you willingly got yourself into on your own. If you’re not old enough to travel without a babysitter, stay home!

  • Clankiska

    We can HOPE it won’t clear committee. There are so many things that should never have survived that primary screening.  Remember the McDonald’s hot coffee case??? That should have never made a court docket, but that STUPID woman who drove off with a “paper” cup of hot coffee between her legs got a big settlement.  HELLO?????  Talk about nanny state.

  • Anonymous

    This is a classic example of taking a tragic incident, and politicians seeing a need (or political advantage?) to doing something about it legislatively. A child sadly drowns in a pool somewhere so websites dealing with properties all over the world may be burdened with endless disclosure requirements. Can you imagine how much work it would be for a website to gather all this information for every property they list? And then keep it up to date? 

  • Wiseword

    Ridiculous idea. Turn the whole world into babysitters for dumb Americans?  WE are not IT. We’re just one  part of humanity. Suck it up.

  • Clankiska

    EVERYTHING is wrong with this picture!

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