Antonia Paniza: “The new tourist services user profile does not fit with the one the law had expected”

Dr. Antonia Paniza, lecturer of Civil Law at the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB), coordinates the workshop On-line Tourism: the challenge of selling through the Internet, organized jointly by the UIB and Tourism & Law Lawyers. The activity will take place on Tuesday, April 24, 2012, from 9.30am in the auditorium of the building Son Lledó, at the university campus in Palma. New technologies are changing the area of tourism contracting and the number of tourism products and services sales and booking through the Internet are growing significantly. This new reality brings new legal issues that should be analyzed in order to provide solutions. This is the aim of the workshop: to deal, from an eminently practical point of view, with the main problems that arise in the use of new technologies applied to the tourism sector and discuss the practical problems between  involved companies, mainly hotel chains and online travel agencies.

Why selling ‘tourism’ through the Internet is a challenge?

Technology moves very quickly and new problems not foreseen by the law arise, both for tourism businesses and for consumers. We need to find answers to these new problems.

Which are the main legal problems that can be found when tourist companies sell travel products over the Internet?

Technology, from a temporal point of view, is usually ahead of the law, so  some adaptation to the new reality – which we could call “.com” -  is required. Different problems are considered: the fulfillment of duties by tourism operators related to consumers, problems derived by new advertising forms –from advertising brochure to web advertising, use of location data, targeted advertising, search engine advertising… - and the offer. The international element is always present on Internet: where can we fill the claim? which court and country will judge it? And other examples, such as who is involved in electronic contracting and which are the duties and responsibilities of the service providers, contracts between hotel companies and online travel agencies and the general conditions governing these contracts.

This workshop is part of the R&D&I project «New approach to online tourism services marketing». What are these new formulas? Do we have seen them all?

We used to go to travel agency and buy, for example, a package holiday the agency, usually in an organization role, had previously prepared. Now, the new ”tourists” make their own journey, a “customized” journey, usually through the Internet. They find the hotel by browsing pages where other users write their opinions (for example, when the tourists return from the trip, they become active actors and share experiences with other users). They also purchasethe plane ticket and sometimes other services such as car hire. This new tourist services user profile does not fit with what the law had expected.

Perhaps now that  in Europe the Directive on Package Tours is being revised, we should rethink concepts that until now were very clear, such as “organizer”, “retailer” or the definition of ”package” with the inclusion in the directive of what are now called “dynamic packages”.

I think we have not seen all these new ways of online tourism services marketing. We speak of a rapidly growing sector which renews daily. It is not only computer use, but also smartphones or tablets, which offer new business opportunities.

Have we become accustomed to buy ‘tourism’ through the Internet? Do customers know their rights and obligations?

I think so. The data we get from companies are a proof. Regarding the second question, I think consumers do not yet clearly know their rights and obligations, but there is some progress in this regard. One example is some court judgments about certain practices of low cost airlines.

The workshop is addressed to businessmen and tourism sector professionals, especially those who sell or want to sell their products through the Internet, to all tourism “.com” companies. “, as well as to teachers and students of this area of knowledge. However, it is open to anyone interested in. Attendance is free, but you have to complete this form to register.

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