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.