The tourism sector is a promising field in Germany and bears a very high potential especially for businesses that already have access to a strong client base abroad. This article answers the main questions you should ask yourself if you are planning to open a German branch to your tourism company.
1. What is a travel agent and do I require permission?
The classic travel agency mediates third-party services. For the provision of services, the provider of these services pays commissions (exceptions: zero commission regulations, for example at Lufthansa). For a travel agency to maintain the status of a mediary, their service must be clearly highlighted to their customers via for instance, brokerage contracts. It must be clear that the travel agent merely passes on the tour operator’s offer to customers and helps to conclude the contract. The customer must be clearly conveyed that he does not conclude the travel contract with the travel agent, but with the tour operator behind it.
As a travel agent, you do not need a permit, but the activity is one of the industries requiring supervision under § 38 (1) No. 4 of the Gewerbeordnung (GewO). This means that the reliability of the trader is checked by the public order office immediately after the commercial registration has been returned to the public order office (Ordnungsamt). This requires a police certificate of good conduct for submission to authority, and an excerpt from the Central Business Register for submission to an authority.
2. What obligations do I have towards the customers?
The travel agent closes a so-called travel agency contract with the customer. The mediary position of the travel agency results in rights and duties. Although the intermediary travel agency is not responsible for the inadequate performance of the travel contract itself, liability for risks arising from the breach of due diligence obligations resulting from the agency agreement may arise, for example due to bad advice. The sole responsibility of the travel agent is the quality of advice to the travel customer: the choice among various tour operators, the selection of holiday countries and places, the information about the quality of accommodation, the fulfillment of special requests, the carriage and of the travel price. The culpable violation of these obligations can trigger a claim for damages directly against the travel agent by the customer. Furthermore, travel agents should provide the following services:
• The procurement of: tickets for train, flight and ship journeys as well as coach rides in long-distance traffic.
• Information about these travel services.
• The brokerage of: package, business or individual travel with the associated accommodation and catering services.
• Services, such as travel insurance, visa procurement (only for customers with German citizenship), foreign exchange, currency exchange, etc.
If these services are not provided to a significant extent, e.g. If no train tickets or tickets are sold, the travel agent must identify the consequent restriction or specialization of the operation by means of suitable additions.
According to the law (see § 5 BGB-InfoV, § 242 BGB and others) only travel operators (not travel agents) are obliged to pass on the following information to the traveler. However, travelers rely on the special expertise of the travel agent and expect that the travel agent also knows these terms and informs them accordingly:
- Passport and visa requirements (only for travelers with German citizenship)
- Information regarding health measure requirements.
- Insurance information·
- Information about general dangers at the resort.
If the travel agent offers the procurement of visas, then he must know the entry requirements and get the right documents. The travel agent must ensure that the customer receives a bankruptcy insurance certificate before he makes any payments, including preliminary payments (see § 651 k Abs. 4 BGB).
Customer money protection (insolvency insurance)
The tour operator is obligated according to § 651 k BGB to secure the collected customer money against their own bankruptcy as well as to ensure that the traveler has the necessary return journey costs in the case of the bankruptcy.
3. How can I sell the train and plane tickets?
Deutsche Bahn license (DB license) A license for the sale of train tickets can be requested via www.db-agenturservice.de. Founders can check there if a license is available for their location using their postal codes. If that is the case, they will send you an application form. To obtain a license, applicants must meet a number of requirements that can be found on the website. The application and issuing of the license is free.
International Air Transport Association license (IATA license)IATA is an association that owns the majority of scheduled airlines registered in over 100 countries. Over the past decades, IATA has developed an agency system that governs the working relationship between member airlines and their sales agencies. If a travel agent decides to sell scheduled airline tickets, it will need the IATA license.
Travel agents who are interested in becoming an IATA agent must contact the IATA representative for Germany in Frankfurt am Main directly. In addition to the IATA license, there are other licenses with which travel agencies can book services. With the TIDS number, e.g. Hotel bookings can be made.
Consolidator are wholesalers of airline tickets that allow travel agents to sell airline tickets even without an IATA license. Many travel agencies in Germany do not have a license to issue airline tickets and therefore use a consolidator as an interface to the airlines. There are many large companies in the market that travel agents can contract with.
4. Which legal bases do I have to know and respect?
- Civil Code (travel contract law §§ 651 ff BGB)
- BGB Information Regulation Ordinance (BGB-InfoV)
- Gewerbeordnung (GewO especially §§ 29, 38 and 147 b)
- German Commercial Code (accounting rules §§ 238 ff HGB, commercial agent §§ 84 ff HGB)
- Package Travel Directive 90/314 / EEC (now transposed into German law, it only serves as an interpretation aid in legal disputes)
- If necessary passenger transport law (PBefG, applies to tour operators with omnibus travel).