Written By: Joanie Ogg CTC, MCC, Co-founder and Editor – Travel Professional NEWS®
It would seem a simple yes or no answer should do the trick for this question, yet as we know only too well, it is not quite that simple. It really depends on where you are located and who you sell travel to, and then of course there are even more differentials to look into. There are also licenses necessary in some states to sell travel insurance, but we will cover that for you in a future article so as not to confuse the various processes.
We thought it might be helpful to share some insight here and help our Travel Professional readers to better understand the process and needed compliance. Typically State and Governmental agencies don’t like to make these processes simple, so bear with us as we try to simplify this process for you. Keep in mind, we are not lawyers but we have garnered this information from industry organizations and travel industry focused attorneys who know and specialize in this area.
There is NOT currently a license needed to sell travel in the United States. However, there are a few states that do have what are commonly referred to as Seller of Travel Programs, Laws, Regulations, Registrations or whatever term a particular state should decide to call this process. We have taken the time to carefully research this for our readers. Be aware that you may see other information on other websites stating that there are fewer then the number of states you will see as you read on.
Rest assured we did our homework for you. If you are located in one of the following states there is currently (July 16th, 2019) a need for you to check into what you need to do in order to comply.
California “The Golden State”
Delaware “The First State”
Florida “The Sunshine State”
Hawaii “The Aloha State”
Iowa “The Buckeye State”
Washington “The Evergreen State”
California “The Golden State”
Here we are starting with California where the Seller of Travel requirements are some of the strictest. California not only has some very detailed regulations regarding the sale of travel, it also has been seriously enforcing penalties on those who do not have their travel business registered as a Seller of Travel. It sounds rather ominous when you read the requirements and steps needed to take, but rest assured it is not as hard as it appears to be.
In 1995, the California legislature enacted the Seller of Travel Law, creating the Travel Consumer Restitution Fund for the benefit of consumers located in California who suffer losses as a result of the bankruptcy, cessation of operations, insolvency, or material failure of a seller of travel to provide the for transportation or travel services contracted.
In 2017 they made some changes to the past program and there are positive and negative elements with those changes. The positive side is there are actually now some sellers of travel that are exempt from the process. The new requirement is that sellers of travel must adhere to the California Business Regulations if you fall within the guidelines of needing to comply with the California Seller of Travel program. Following are some helpful links.
California Business State ID
If you do not reside in the state of California you can use the Foreign Entity Form.
All travel sellers that do business with California consumers, no matter where the seller is located, must register with the CST program through the Attorney General’s office. In addition, the law requires that certain disclosures be made, in writing, at or prior to the time payment is made.
To be exempt from the California Seller of Travel Law you MUST meet ALL SEVEN of the below conditions. Read carefully as it can be a bit confusing. If you need more clarification we have provided links and contact information.
1. You are a Sole Proprietor, single-member LLC, or a single-shareholder S Corporation.
2. Have a written contractual agreement with a host travel agency who is registered in California.
3. You must only sell travel through the registered host travel agency with whom you have the contract. You cannot work directly with suppliers unless it is managed through the host agency. Additionally, you cannot work with an unregistered Seller of Travel.
4. Use the registered hosts agency’s supplier appointments for all sales made. If you maintain additional appointments and wish to use those, you are not exempt from registration.
5. Fees such as consultation and service fees you wish to charge must be managed through the host agency.
6. You must require your clients to make payments through your registered host or they may also be made directly with the supplier.
7. Always disclose to every customer that you work through a host travel agency. You must include the name of the host agency, address, and phone contact and of course the Seller of Travel Registration Number.
In addition to California’s Seller of Travel Program there is the Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation (TCRC). This was created to decide claims made against the restitution fund. The TCRC is a Private Corporation governed by the Seller of Travel Law.
You will need to register for the TCRC if you sell to California consumers and either (1) your principal place of business is in California and you do business in California, or (2) your stock is listed on a national securities exchange or market quotation system, you are required to file this form and pay an assessment as calculated in Section 4. You will not be allowed to register as a Seller of Travel unless you participate in the Travel Consumer Restitution Fund. Your registration with TCRC does not constitute registration with the State of California, Seller of Travel Program.
The TCRC administers a consumer fund intended to compensate California residents who purchase air, sea or land-based travel (either alone, or in conjunction with other travel services) from a registered California travel agent, and does not receive what they were promised. All California travel agents must participate in the TCRC by paying $275 per business location initially, and annual/periodic assessments to maintain the TCRC fund at $1,600,000 (the assessments are capped at roughly $450 per year). California-based travel agents must join the Restitution fund before filing an application to the State Attorney General’s office to register as a California Seller of Travel. (The Fund will issue you a receipt that is to be included with your AG application).
Contact the TCRC for an application at:
Delaware “The First State”
In the state of Delaware a travel agency includes every person operating a business of operating a full service travel bureau or department that assists in the planning and acquisition of tickets for contemplated trips of its customers by land, sea or air and for related accommodations.
A travel agent is required to obtain a business license, which is $225 for the first location and $25 for each additional location — which must be renewed annually on or before December 31st of each year.
To register with the Division of Revenue and obtain a business license, one must complete a Combined Registration Application, available on the Internet, and mail to the Division of Revenue with the appropriate fee or file on-line.
State of Delaware
Division of Revenue
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE 19899
Phone: (302) 577-8205
Florida “The Sunshine State”
Florida is another state with a rather stringent Seller of Travel Program in place. It has been in effect for as long as we can remember and is certainly one you will want to pay heed to if you are planning on selling travel to residents of Florida. Read this carefully to be sure you understand and comply.
The “Florida Sellers of Travel Act” requires sellers of travel, located both inside and outside the state of Florida, who offer travel services to Florida consumers to register with the state. This extensive registration law imposes the necessity of posting a $25,000.00 bond or letter of credit (or you can secure it with a Certificate of Deposit) for the purpose of consumers to make claims against if they are damaged by the Seller of Travel. In addition to the bond or L.C., you must also pay an annual $300.00 registration fee to the Department of Agriculture and Division of Consumer Services.
The state definition is as follows: ”A Seller of Travel is any resident or nonresident person, firm, corporation, or business entity who offers for sale, directory or indirectly, at wholesale or retail, prearranged travel or tourist-related services for individuals or groups, through vacation or tour packages, or through vacation certificates in exchange for a fee, commission or other valuable consideration.” The term includes any business entity offering membership in a travel club or travel service for an advance fee or payment, even if no travel contracts or certificates or vacation or tour packages are sold by the business entity.”
Their website is actually very user friendly and the Frequently Asked Question area is clear and concise. They even have a chat feature on their site!
The Seller of Travel Law is defined in Florida State Statutes 559.926 – 559.939.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Plaza Level 10, The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0800
Phone: (800) 352-9832
Hawaii “The Aloha State”
Each travel agency must be registered before engaging in the business of selling or advertising to sell travel services. “Travel Agency” means any sole proprietorship, organization, trust, group, association, partnership, corporation, society, or combination of such, which for compensation or other consideration, acts or attempts to act as an intermediary between a person seeking to purchase travel services and any person seeking to sell travel services. “Travel services” includes transportation by air, sea, or rail; related ground transportation; hotel accommodations; or package tours whether offered on a wholesale or retail basis.
Whether you are located within the state or out of state, you must register for a travel agency license if you are selling to clients in Hawaii. Hawaii also requires sellers of travel services to maintain a trust account in a federally insured institution located in Hawaii as a financial security requirement. There is a possible exemption to this if you are located in Hawaii but are working through a host agency that is located on the mainland. In this case the agent may not accept any client funds at all and all payments and financial transactions must go through the host agency located on the mainland. For this exemption to be valid, the agent must apply for a waiver for the trust account requirement.
To apply for the application for the Hawaii Seller of Travel you will need to complete the registration information and provide the needed trust account verification. The website that provides all the necessary information is really very complete and has a great FAQ area as well. The fees are $215 in an even-numbered year and $146 in an odd-numbered year. All registrations are subject to renewal on our before December 31 of each odd-numbered year.
Contact for Travel Agency Information:
Sandra Matsushima, Executive Officer
P.O. Box 3469
Honolulu, Hawaii 96801
Phone: (808) 586-2702
Iowa “The Hawkeye State”
A travel agency doing business in this state shall register with the secretary of state as a travel agency if it or its travel agent conducts the solicitation of an Iowa resident. An applicant shall complete the registration statement form provided by the secretary. The registration statement must be accompanied by the required bond or evidence of financial responsibility and the registration fee.
Secretary of State – Iowa
First Floor, Lucas Building
321 E. 12th St.
Des Moines, IA 50319
Phone: (888) 767-8683
Washington “The Evergreen State”
As with many of the other states noted previously there is an important registration program to adhere to for sellers of travel in the state of Washington. In fact, all Sellers of Travel that directly offer or sell travel services to Washington consumers are required to register with the state and comply with the Washington Seller of Travel Law. In addition to registration, Sellers of Travel in Washington must also maintain a trust account in a federally insured financial institution located in Washington or hold a surety bond or letter of credit in the amount of $10,000-$50,000 (depending on sales volume). This law is administered by the State of Washington, Department of Licensing. The annual registration fee is $202 for each business location, plus a $20 processing service fee.
It is important to note that new registration or renewal may be denied if the Seller of Travel does not meet all of the specified requirements and/or has committed any of the following: previously had its registration revoked, convicted a felony involving moral turpitude in the past 5 years, found guilty of a misdemeanor or suffered a judgment concerning fraud, conversion or misrepresentation, made a false statement on the application, failed to display the registration, has committed any act with the intent to deceive, misrepresent or mislead the public, or found in violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act. Registration materials and documents issued by the Director of Licensing to enforce this law are available by contacting the office of the director of Licensing.
Washington has a great resource available to you on “How to get your license” at https://www.dol.wa.gov/business/travel/tlicense.html. The site is chocked full of information and clarification.
And there you have it! While the research and information provided is current and correct at the time of writing this piece, there can of course be changes made by the above states and or new registrations and laws may be added in other states. Please be sure to do your due diligence and check with your state and or any states where you plan to sell travel to clients to be sure you are following all the necessary regulations and procedures. Happy selling!