DISCLOSURE: The opinions in this post are by JW Surety, the #1 surety bond agency in the US and seller of Florida surety bonds.
The Florida legislature made a bold move in March when it introduced a far-reaching 281-page bill aimed at deregulating more than two dozen industries in the state. Movers, interior designers, talent agents, sports agents, time share operators and travel agents have all been targeted by the bill.
Republican leaders promoted House Bill 5005 as a way to eliminate unnecessary government oversight, in turn promoting the growth of new businesses. As Florida still struggles to recover from a 10.6% unemployment rate, it was hoped new businesses would bring in new jobs for out-of-work residents.
Most notably, the bill targeted travel agencies and time shares in its deregulation sweep. The bill would have abolished requirements for travel agents and time share builders to be licensed and bonded by the state. In effect, Florida would become the wild, wild south of travel brokers, allowing anyone to set up shop in their living room and start taking credit card numbers from unwitting vacationers.
According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, there have been more than 13,000 complaints against travel agents and agencies in the past five years. Currently, bond requirements up to $50,000 for sellers of travel allow wronged customers to be compensated for shady or irresponsible travel deals. Getting rid of this requirement would leave Florida’s more than 80 million annual vacationers at the whim of individual agents with no mandated opportunity for appeal or reimbursement should something go wrong.
After news of the bill was picked up by the press, lobbyists and government representatives stepped up to strongly oppose the measure. As one of Florida’s largest employers with significant interest in the travel industry, Walt Disney World was quick to denounce the bill. Disney, which owns the Disney Vacation Club time-share business, cited a “colorful history of land fraud” in Florida that threatens a resurgence if government entities are not responsible for identifying and eliminating unethical developers.
Following fierce debate, the original bill was reduced to less than a quarter of its original size, leaving time share deregulation on the cutting room floor. While Disney was successful in keeping the time-share industry as-is, it is still fighting the prospect of revoking travel agent regulations. As a huge draw for families nationwide, it is in Disney’s best interest to have reputable agents servicing travellers as they make their way to the happiest place on earth. Even though unscrupulous travel deals made online wouldn’t necessarily be Disney’s fault, it will be their problem to deal with families arriving in the Kingdom, disappointed to find their travel agent never actually booked a room.
It’s been nearly a month since the bill was approved by Florida’s House of Representatives and it is now awaiting a vote in the state Senate, expected to come this week. If passed, the bill is set to take effect July 1. As experts anticipate the Republican-majority senate will pass the bill with little further resistance, and consumers making plans for summer vacations will need to be extra wary of travel agents promising a picture-perfect getaway.