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Dealing with Legal Issues in Tourism

tourism, Dealing with Legal Issues in Tourism, eTurboNews | eTN
Dr. Peter Tarlow

The tourism/visitor industry is one of the world’s great industries. Large industries also mean that great deals of money can be involved. 


The tourism industry spends a great deal of money on promotions and marketing campaigns.  Because many people assume that large tourism businesses also have deep pockets, in litigious societies such as the United States, there are also multiple lawsuits and/or other legal problems.  Often local convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) or tourism offices are unaware of their own nation’s laws and obligations.  This ignorance of the law can be very costly.  It is for this reason that Tourism Tidbits raises the following issues.

Please note that Tourism Tidbits does not give legal advice.  For specific legal advice please consult a lawyer who is licensed in your state, province, or nation.  The information found below is merely meant to help tourism/travel professionals to remember to seek legal advice, to ask questions, and with a lawyer’s guidance to know how to avoid legal problems.

– Make sure that you have a legal team and meet with them on a regular basis. It is essential that you have a legal team that knows you well and understands your business. Having a legal team or a lawyer on a retainer permits you to ask questions and get advice that may save you a great deal of money and help you avoid problems. Meeting with your lawyer or legal team on a regular basis also helps to immunize you in an ever more litigious world.

– Take the time to ask your legal team to develop a series of questions about tourism law. What questions are you not asking? In what areas of the law are you ignorant or ought you to have more information? Have you done a review of those tourism laws that apply to your business, product, and employees? With what laws are you failing to comply? What are the consequences of a compliance failure?

– Review with your legal staff your obligations and duties. How do these responsibilities differ according to different types of law such as: maritime law, international law, airline codes, local property law, contract law or statutory law? Then make sure that you understand legal subtleties. For example, you should know if there are differences between a local person as a guest in your hotel or an out-of-towner as a guest? Do you know your rights and obligations with a trespasser? Are there legal requirements to treat a VIP differently from other guests and is there a clear definition of who is and who is not a VIP?

– Update the legal requirements and laws concerning your part of the tourism industry on a regular basis with qualified legal experts. Often tourism bureaus hire lawyers and legal experts who have never studied how tourism law impacts their part of the industry. As tourism and terrorism become more intertwined it is essential to know your city’s, state’s, or nation’s legal requirements. For example, there is a section of the US PATRIOT act that was published in the Federal Registry on Friday May 9,2003, (Vol.68, Number 90m p.25092), which specifies casinos’ legal duties in anti-terrorism. Casinos that chose to ignore this act may be faced with a very difficult situation.

– Make sure that your legal staff stays up to date. Tourism law is both international and national in scope. As such it is complicated and changes quickly. It is essential that your legal staff stay up to date on how the tourism law changes around the world.

There is no “one stop legal shopping.”

Instead develop with other local professionals a listing of who is an expert in various aspects of tourism law.

– Develop tourism law exchanges. Remember that a legal mistake in any one part of the tourism industry can impact the entire industry. Do not forget to include the local police departments in these seminars and work with allied industries so that those industries do not act (or fail to act) due to legal confusion.

– Know what help you can expect from your government regarding damages. In some nations, but not all nations, tourism is considered a critical asset and governments have special agencies to help with recovery. For example, in the U.S. Homeland Security and FEMA may be able to provide funding which will aid you in avoiding a costly lawsuit. The smart tourism or travel professional takes the time to meet, along with a member of the legal staff, with government agencies to learn of all of their services and what legal help these agencies can provide.

– Know what types of damages you can be accountable for and for which types of damages you can hold another accountable. Tourism is different from other types of laws in that the victimizer and the victim may not be in the same community or even country. What are your rights and obligations if you are sued from a different locale? How can you protect your community from someone who comes into it, victimizes it and then leaves? Are there different laws dealing with how locale interacts with physical damages or financial damages, or emotional damages caused by a ruined vacation?

– Know what your assets are. Many tourism assets are non-tangible assets. For example, is your locale’s reputation an asset? How much reputational damage can come from someone seeking to do harm? What is the asset damage multiplier effect? If your business goes under how much are other tourism related businesses impacted by your error or having suffered an attack?

– Be aware of what is happening in the world and how that can impact your part of the tourism industry. A lesson from the international Covid-19 pandemic is that tourism threats and risks come in many forms. All too often tourism/travel professionals are stuck in the old paradigm which stated that tourists were afraid of security, and the less security is mentioned, the better.  The post-Covid world is different. It is essential that your visitors understand that your locale worries about all aspects of their security, from food safety to heath regulations, from acts of terrorism to crime on the streets.  The best way to avoid or win a lawsuit is to take the time to do good risk management and know what your obligations are.

– Make sure that you understand the differences between a criminal act and a terrorist act. These two negative events have very specific definitions in different nation’s laws and the legal consequences are determined by how the courts may define the event. It is essential that you review with your legal team these differences and understand what your rights and responsibilities are should either of these two events occur.

The author, Dr. Peter E. Tarlow, is President and Co-Founder of the World Tourism Network (WTN) and leads the Safer Tourism program.

About the author


Dr. Peter E. Tarlow

Dr. Peter E. Tarlow is a world-renowned speaker and expert specializing in the impact of crime and terrorism on the tourism industry, event and tourism risk management, and tourism and economic development. Since 1990, Tarlow has been aiding the tourism community with issues such as travel safety and security, economic development, creative marketing, and creative thought.

As a well-known author in the field of tourism security, Tarlow is a contributing author to multiple books on tourism security, and publishes numerous academic and applied research articles regarding issues of security including articles published in The Futurist, the Journal of Travel Research and Security Management. Tarlow’s wide range of professional and scholarly articles includes articles on subjects such as: “dark tourism”, theories of terrorism, and economic development through tourism, religion and terrorism and cruise tourism. Tarlow also writes and publishes the popular on-line tourism newsletter Tourism Tidbits read by thousands of tourism and travel professionals around the world in its English, Spanish, and Portuguese language editions.

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