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Contract Updates Tour Operators Should Make

The best way to protect yourself and your clients from unforeseen circumstances is a strong contract upfront. After the past year, we're all familiar with the realities of disaster striking unexpectedly.

As travel increasingly resumes, everyone involved will be looking for peace of mind. Contracts—along with how operators treat their clients in general—will require updates.

To prepare for those changes, we turned to Jeff Ment of Ment Law Group, who has decades of experience in counseling travel companies, from operators to vendors and trade associations. Here are his general tips.

Yes, you can require proof of vaccination—but should you?
Regardless of your choice, you should at least know that requiring vaccinations is OK from a legal perspective. The question here isn't about liberty or freedom, but demographics. If you're handling a domestic trip of senior travelers, a vaccinated-only trip may be the only way they'll feel safe getting onboard. However, if your trip is soon, or includes people who can't get vaccinations like teens, the requirement obviously doesn't work.

Be prepared to be surprised.
For now, traveling comes with plenty of unknowns. By the time you visit a planned destination, it could be closed, and travel groups should know that. In both the contract and general communication, transparency is key. Make sure clients know the trip may not go exactly as planned, but you'll work to make sure they have the best trip possible regardless.

Craft your COVID waiver.
As much as you're here to help, the contract is here to protect you and your business. Make sure this waiver is conspicuous and includes new client responsibilities. As COVID restrictions are all public information, you can share the burden of staying informed if need be. Here's one idea for wording:

"Some locations may require you to have a vaccination or proof of a negative test. You must be aware of restrictions and have all appropriate documentation for any stopover destinations. Upon returning home, there may be additional requirements. You are responsible for understanding all of these requirements and must not rely on [INSERT NAME OF TOUR OPERATOR] to provide information."

When it comes to cancellation, transparency is key.
As Ment says, "We can no longer afford to hide our obligations to third parties." Share your own cancellation policy, as well as the cancellation terms of all suppliers—but first, make sure to advise guests that they are subject to contracts you enter on their behalf with those suppliers. If you want to do more, consider pushing for flexibility and transparency with the suppliers. For instance, you could question why a deposit needs to be put down months ahead of time on something like a meal. Those deposits rarely go toward specifically funding your meal, which is why the well ran dry for refunds when COVID hit last year—the money was already spent. "It's very hard to negotiate these things but it's a concept that is certainly ripe for conversation," Ment said.

Look closer—MUCH closer—at travel insurance.
Remember: As a tour operator, your job is not to be an insurance agent. When it comes to insurance, don't tell your client what to buy, but you can offer guidance—travelers need to look closely at what coverage and exclusions apply. Many plans now claim to offer "quarantine coverage," but there are loopholes or qualifiers to watch out for.

Plan for a quarantine.
This should become less of a problem as cases decrease, but regardless, you should have a transparent plan in place for what will happen if a guest shows symptoms. Tests for the entire group, escorted medical attention, communicate with any parents or guardians immediately (without stating fault), etc.

Written by Josh Veal, Contributing Writer for Groups Today.

This article originally appeared in the May/Jun 2021 issue of Groups Today.


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