MINSK, 16 April (BelTA) – The bill on tourism passed the first reading at a meeting of the fifth session of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus of the seventh convocation, BelTA has learned.
The bill was introduced to the House of Representatives on 18 May 2020. It is designed to fine-tune the mechanism of tourism business in Belarus, to improve the legal situation of citizens who are consumers of tourist services. The bill is based on the norms of the existing regulations, takes into account the current state of public relations in the tourism sector, the dynamics of their development.
Sport and Tourism Minister Sergei Kovalchuk noted the bill is important as there are a number of problems in the current legislation. “For example, more emphasis should have been made on consumer protection. For several years we had a number of cases when travel companies took money from tourists and vanished while tourists were left alone without tours and without money. As an example I can cite Aurora Tour, Calypso Tours and Natalie Tours, which were the biggest incidents in the Belarusian market causing damage over €1 million," he said.
According to the minister, the coronavirus pandemic has further exposed the problems which the bill is designed to address.
For example, it suggests updating and supplementing the conceptual framework, determining the powers in the field of tourism of the Council of Ministers, the Sport and Tourism Ministry, local executive and administrative bodies, local councils of deputies. One of the legal innovations of the bill is the introduction of such mechanism as financial guarantees of liability of tour operators providing international outbound tourism services.
Thus, the bill suggests three forms of such guarantees which are variable in nature - the contract of voluntary insurance of the responsibility of the tour operator for causing property damage to the customer (a participant of tourist activities) in connection with inability of a tour operator to fulfill obligations under a contract for tourist services in the field of international outbound tourism; effective agreement between a tour operator and a bank (or other financial institution) that provides for tour operator's liability to fulfill its obligations under the agreement for tourism services by issuing a bank guarantee; tour operator's participation in establishing a liability fund of tour operators.
Some novelties are aimed at increasing tour operators' liability to meet their obligations to manage sold tours. The bill sets forth that the executor of the contract for tourist services is the tour operator that developed the tour. The program of the tour should contain information about the tour operator, its financial security for civil liability, and the procedure for applying for refund losses in case the tour operator is unable to fulfill its obligations under the contract for tourist services.
“The bill makes a distinction between the terms ‘tour operator' and ‘travel agent'. In the past, travel agents, acting as intermediaries, sold tours and had full responsibility for failure to meet obligations. Now travel operators that develop tours will be responsible for failure to fulfill their obligations to the client,” Member of the Standing Commission on Health, Physical Culture, Family and Youth Policy of the House of Representatives Pavel Mikhalyuk added.
Another novelty introduced in the bill is the opportunity to sign a contract on rendering tourist services in the digital form. “This will make it easier for tour operators and clients to work with each other,” he pointed out.
Other amendments concern tour guide services. They allow for the opportunity to conclude a contract on rendering tour guide services in the digital form, ban activities of tour guides and escort interpreters who do not have professional certification proving their qualifications, and regulate the use of audio tour guides (mobile devices).