Three Orange County travel agencies face thousands of dollars in penalties and lost revenue as part of a state crackdown on travel sellers who have failed to pay into a mandatory consumer-protection fund.
The state attorney general's office has obtained a court order forcing Santa Ana-based America Travel, Four Sisters Travel of Fullerton and Huntington Beach-based Discovery Unlimited Tours & Travel to register under the California Sellers of Travel Act and to contribute to the restitution pool.
The companies were also ordered to stop selling tickets and travel packages for at least 10 days while they complete the necessary paperwork to comply with the law. They can remain open but will have to line up a registered travel agency to issue tickets for clients during the ban.
The state won the orders Thursday and Friday in Orange County Superior Court as part of a stepped-up effort to get travel sellers to comply with the 1996 law, which was designed to protect consumers from fraud.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 22, 1997 Home Edition Business Part D Page 3 Financial Desk 3 inches; 83 words Type of Material: Correction
Discovery Unlimited--A story on July 1 implied that state authorities obtained a temporary restraining order against Huntington Beach-based Discovery Unlimited Tours & Travel Inc. as part of an effort to compel the company to comply with California's Seller of Travel law. No temporary restraining order was issued. Rather, the travel agency agreed to obey the law and pay civil penalties as part of a stipulated agreement reached with the California attorney general's office, which obtained a permanent injunction against Discovery Unlimited in Orange County Superior Court on July 8.
"We're trying to get the recalcitrant people to register and send a message to the industry that it's better to come to us than for us to come to you," Deputy Atty. Gen. Michael Hughes said.
Compliance has been a problem, with only about 5,300 of an estimated 8,000 travel sellers registering so far.
But Orange County travel agents hit in the latest crackdown say they were unaware of the new law, and they decried what they see as heavy-handed tactics by officials.
"This whole thing has made me hysterical," said Patricia McEwan, a partner in Four Sisters. "They are trying to put me out of business."
The California Sellers of Travel Act, which took effect Jan. 1, 1996, was an attempt to bring credibility to an industry rife with scams that cost consumers an estimated $12 billion a year.
Under the law, every travel agent, tour operator, ticket broker or any other California-based travel seller who collects money from the public is required to register with the attorney general's office, spell out terms of its travel packages and meet state requirements for handling funds.
More than $323,000 has been paid out of the fund in response to consumer claims.