Monday, July 10, 2000

Don't Be Taken for the Wrong Ride
(ARA) - Just as you consult a physician when you are sick or a stockbroker when you want to invest money, you should consult a professional tour operator when investigating a packaged tour.

One easy way to check a travel company's professionalism is to find out whether they are a member of a professional association, such as the National Tour Association (NTA), the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA) or the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).

"Your travel dollars are an investment, and you shouldn't trust that money to just anyone," said Hank Phillips, executive director of the National Tour Association. "When it comes to planning travel, there are many choices to make. Consulting a travel professional who is a member of a national association, like NTA, can help travelers feel confident that their plans are solid and their travel investment secure."

Fly-by-night tour companies prey on students, seniors or anyone looking for discounted vacations or hoping to get tickets to special events, like the Olympics. During this year's spring break season, for example, complaints were filed in several states against a tour company called Surf & Sun Tours Inc., located in Jupiter, Fla.

According to records from the Better Business Bureau in Florida, the complaints, which stem mainly from college students and their parents, allege "misrepresentation of the tour package, delays in both departure and return flights, changes in hotel reservations or no reservations made at all, and delays in refunds." An article in the Palm Beach Post reported that students on spring break who had bought from the company were "stranded in airports without flights and in foreign countries without hotel rooms."

The company, which bills itself as "America's No. 1 Student Tour Operator," apparently targets college students wanting to go on summer break, spring break and graduation trips. The Surf & Sun Tours web site, complete with pictures of partying college kids and headlines like "World's Best Student Vacation Packages!" and "Party Headquarters," is particularly attractive to this kind of audience.

In response to reports like these, members of the National Tour Association - an association of more than 4,000 packaged-travel professionals - want to reassure the public that travel operations like this in no way represent the whole industry.

NTA members must meet strict membership requirements and their clients are covered by the association's Consumer Protection Plan, which covers qualified deposits for packaged travel up to $250,000 in the unlikely event of an NTA tour operator's bankruptcy.

"Consumer advocacy has always been a big part of NTA's mission," said Phillips. "People want to work with reputable, secure travel professionals."

The association's web site is another way NTA helps consumers hook up with travel professionals. NTA Online ( offers travel tips, a scrolling "ticker" with industry news updates, governmental travel warnings, packing tips and more.

The site also provides a Travel Package search feature. Users can enter travel criteria and find packages loaded into the system by NTA member companies. Consumers can find a packaged based on tour type, such as fall foliage, mystery, cruises or historic, or by the desired destination or the origin of the travel package.

NTA Online provides information about NTA, upcoming events based on your travel destination, and a public forum that allows the user to communicate with tour companies, tour suppliers and destination marketers, as well as other members of the public who have ideas, questions and concerns about packaged travel, group vacations, particular destinations and more.

No matter where you find the tour of your dreams, the National Tour Association urges travelers to use this checklist when making vacation plans:

To find out if a tour company is a member in good standing with the National Tour Association, call NTA's member services department at 800-682-8886.

Courtesy of Article Resource Association,, e-mail:

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