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Edition XXVII |September 7, 2017
The Travel Technology Association
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Monthly analysis & insight on policy issues affecting the travel technology industry

Washington, D.C.
Federal Affairs

FAA bills takeoff on-time, landing delayed
During the last week of June, key committees in both the House and Senate considered legislation to reauthorize programs of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  As expected the House version was largely centered around T&I Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-Pa.) proposal to remove the nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system from the jurisdiction of the FAA and roll it into the hands of an independent organization.  The Senate, steering well clear of any similar ATC reforms, instead produced a bill that featured many of the items that did not make the cut in the 15-month extension passed in 2016.  This includes new protections for airline passengers, airline safety improvements, drone use policy changes, and one controversial provision regarding pilot training hours.  Both bills were approved by committee but neither made it to the floor before the August recess.
 
As with any major piece of legislation that touts “consumer protections” as a driving force in its purpose, it’s the details that tend to make the difference.  A seemingly innocuous amendment was offered during the House T&I Committee markup that would mandate new minimum customer service standards for large ticket agents.  The only problems with this amendment is that these new standards are not necessary and, as written, completely unworkable. 
 
First, no consumer is asking for new protections from ticket agents – large or small, online or bricks-and-mortar.  This is not only proven by the constant growth and popularity of online travel agencies, which are trusted by millions of repeat customers who appreciate the value and convenience of comparison shopping, but by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) own
data on air travel consumer complaints.  In fact, the language of the amendment would revive a long-pending rulemaking on this very topic, which DOT has spent several years carefully reviewing and has yet to act. 
 
Secondly, without airline cooperation in the implementation of travel agency customer service standards – which is not mandated by the amendment – agents cannot fulfill new requirements such as providing prompt refunds or 24-hour holds or opportunities to cancel without penalty or lavatory availability.  Indeed, if this amendment were to become law consumers would experience more harm, not less. 
 
Travel Tech has been working with members of Congress to address our concerns with this amendment and others to ensure that consumers as well as ticket agents are protected in the air travel marketplace.  Current FAA law expires September 30, and Congress has less than three weeks to pass a new reauthorization bill.  A short-term extension is likely to allow both chambers adequate time to pass their bills, agree to and pass a conference report, and send a final product to the president.  

 


OTA groups hit back at B&B complaints Ian Taylor, Travel Weekly
GDS execs: AA's direct-connect incentive won't move the needle Jamie BiesiadaTravel Weekly

Defending crucial protections for Internet platforms Evan Engstrom and Jesse Blumenthal, The Hill

Priceline CEO: Hotels Secretly Love Us Despite Accusations of Monopoly Sean O'Neill, Skift

New Research Suggests It Doesn’t Always Pay to Book Direct for a Hotel Deanna Ting, Skift

U.S.A.
Short-term Rental Policy

Outcome of Pennsylvania case could have broad implications on freedom to engage in sharing economy

While short-term rental owners and the platforms they utilize have frequently been the targets of state and local regulations aimed at curbing them, a new challenge is beginning to arise for those helping to coordinate vacation rentals and home-sharing.
 
New Jersey resident Sally Ladd had started by short-term renting two cottages she owned in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. And with a background in digital marketing, it was not surprising that she excelled at creating appealing listings, complete with photographs and attractive descriptions. Soon a few neighboring property owners contacted her for help, and for a small fee she created their listings, as well as responded to online questions, arranged to collect payments and security deposits, and coordinated cleaning services after guests had left. Including her own two properties, Ladd was managing five properties in all. And she was doing it all from the comfort of her own New Jersey home via phone and computer. Enter the Pennsylvania Department of State, who recently informed her that she was under investigation for practicing real estate without a license.
 
While she was initially surprised, her goal was to become compliant so that she could continue her small business, so she started researching the requirements for a Pennsylvania broker’s license. Eventually, she would need to set up a physical office in Pennsylvania, but that was only after spending at least three years “apprenticing” with an established broker and passing multiple exams. With Pennsylvania’s regulatory framework for real estate brokers almost entirely focused on buying and selling, or the management of long-term leases, that onerous occupational licensing structure was too much for Ladd and she shuttered her operation.
 
Working with the Institute for Justice, Sally and one of her clients have filed suit against the Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of State, alleging that it violates her right under the Pennsylvania Constitution to earn a living. It is estimated that some 40 states presently have similar licensing  provisions that apply to those helping facilitate short-term rentals, but this is the first lawsuit in the nation aimed at challenging the application of real estate licensing laws to short-term rentals. If successful, it could help liberate not just short-term rental facilitators and managers from occupational licensing regulations, but also have broader implications on the freedom for individuals to engage in the peer-to-peer economy.

Washington, D.C.

Steve's Corner
Welcome Back, Congress. Don't Kill the Internet with Unintended Consequences.

As Congress returns to Washington this month they’ll have many major issues to tackle. One new issue on that agenda arose over the summer and could have a significant impact on the travel technology industry. The new bill, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), now has over 25 co-sponsors in the Senate and is aimed at stopping human sex trafficking, an abhorrent practice that warrants swift eradication. However, the mechanism to address human trafficking online as proposed in this legislation is to dismantle the protections afforded Internet platforms by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230, as it is commonly known, has been enormously important to the growth of the Internet by providing legal certainty to an ever-expanding world of Internet services, including but not limited to social media, blogs, consumer review sites, search engines, and in the case of our members, travel and accommodations intermediaries and platforms. This legal standing has provided an environment that promotes innovation and has allowed the Internet to grow and thrive over the past two decades. Absent the protections of Section 230, Internet platforms would be obligated to police and censor content under the threat of existential legal liability, destabilizing the Internet as we know it, and opening companies up to a litany of endless frivolous lawsuits.

While we recognize that SESTA seeks to aid in the pursuit and apprehension of sex traffickers, it goes far beyond that scope. In addition to liability concerns, this bill raises broader questions about free speech and threatens the very existence of the online economy.

Travel Tech stands in support of Congress in its effort to end sex trafficking and take actions to stop those engaged in this despicable activity. In doing so we, along with other major technology trade associations and companies, urge policymakers to take a more direct approach toward those engaged in this activity, while avoiding broad, undefined policy directives that will only serve to undermine the fundamental protections and core principles upon which the Internet has been built. 



Steve Shur
Travel Tech President

Washington, DC

Member Spotlight

Airbnb working to aid victims of Hurricane Harvey

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Americans across the country are coming together to assist victims of the mass devastation left in the path of the storm. Travel Tech members like Airbnb are no different. Airbnb is using its innovative technology to help those in need of shelter find a place to stay.

In response to the flooding following Hurricane Harvey, Airbnb is expanding its Disaster Response Program to provide free temporary housing accommodations to affected residents and also helping emergency responders and relief workers. All available housing will be free to evacuees through September 25.

Thanks to Airbnb’s disaster relief program, those individuals and families who have been displaced by the storm can find a safe place to stay at no cost. We are all praying for everyone impacted by this dangerous storm, and Airbnb should be commended for doing its part to keep our communities safe. 


More information about Airbnb's disaster relief program can be found here: https://www.airbnb.com/disaster/hurricaneharveyevacuees
 
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