One moment, 8-year-old Brent Midlock was swimming in a shallow saltwater pool at an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The next, he was gone.
“It’s something I think about every day,” says his mother, Nancy Midlock. Her son had been sucked into an open drainage pipe, his shoulder and elbows violently dislocated by the force of the water. His body was recovered a day later.
Midlock, a business teacher from Shorewood, Ill., says that if she had known about the lack of lifeguards and medical facilities at the resort, she never would have booked that tragic vacation in 2003.
Midlock’s loss has led to the introduction of the International Travelers Bill of Rights, new bipartisan legislation in Congress that would require online travel agencies to disclose information about the potential health and safety risks associated with overseas vacation destinations marketed on their sites, including State Department warnings and information about on-site health and safety services, such as the availability of a doctor, nurse or lifeguard.
“It’s important that when consumers are booking online travel they have all the necessary information to make informed decisions,” says Greg Lemon, a spokesman for Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the bill’s lead sponsor. He adds that if a hotel can disclose amenities such as wireless Internet and fitness facilities, there’s no reason it can’t also let guests know what medical assistance is available. “A family has the right to know if a hotel has access to critical emergency care before they book a trip,” Lemon adds.
It’s hard to imagine anyone challenging a law like this, if for no other reason than that it would seem insensitive to Midlock’s loss.
But think again.
“We believe that this bill as drafted, while well intentioned, would confuse consumers, potentially making them believe that there are dangers that may not exist, and could impose significant burdens on our companies that may not be imposed on similarly situated competitors,” says Joe Rubin, president of the Interactive Travel Services Association, which represents the major online travel agencies.
And it isn’t just online agencies that would have trouble with the legislation. Rubin says that the bill could also impose a “significant” burden on hotels and that it would be difficult to comply with the law, given the number of international hotels. “A local hotel’s policies may change from season to season, further complicating and burdening compliance for all parties,” he says.
Lisa Costello, a spokeswoman for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, which represents the hotel industry, echoes Rubin’s sentiments. “Our issue really just revolves around the feasibility of providing the information required,” she says. “Our industry is simply not tracking any of the information they are seeking to capture outside the U.S. in a comprehensive way.”
The bill fails to take into account the complexities of the hotel industry, with layers of owners, franchisees and management companies, each with its own interests, she says. As a result, the proposed notification system would need to be built from the ground up. “It would be difficult to maintain in real time and would not achieve the intended goal,” she says.