The law for the development and modernisation of tourism related services was published on July 22, 2009. The two application decrees and the five regulatory orders, published on December 27, 2009, detail the conditions for the implementation of this reform and in particular the condition for the operation and the registration of travel agencies as well as for the new Agency for the development of tourism in France (Atout France).

As such, since January 1st, 2010, when they entered into force, these texts finalize the regulatory framework of the French tourism industry, aiming at its accelerated development.

Some issues shall be more specifically outlined.

This reform will extend the liability of online travel agents to the sale of flight ticket, as it was already the case for off the street travel agents.

The law, imagined by the Minister Novelli, also offers to travel agents the opportunity to develop accessory activities if they have a link with the sale of travel products.

But mainly, where the sale of travel products is concerned, the decrees detail the unique registration procedure for travel agents and other travel products sale operators.

This centralized registration process marks the end of the four types of authorisations and licences which the Prefecture was in charge of granting. However, the registration still requires to have a financial warrant, a civil liability insurance contract and to demonstrate professional competence.

The registration is made on the travel operators’ registry and shall be renewed every three years. The management of said registry has been entrusted to the registration commission with Atout France.

The regime applicable to new travel operators from January 1st, 2010.

For new operators, applications may be sent by e-mail or regular mail. They shall be filed with all elements pertaining to the financial warranty (minimum 100.000 euros), the professional civil liability insurance contract and of course the professional competence of the applicant.

The conditions for the professional competence are simplified in order to facilitate access of new actors to this market. Moreover, an acknowledgement mechanism for the recognition of EU citizens’ professional competence was implemented.

Therefore, there are notable differences between the new regime and the old one for the professional competence. The applicant shall now demonstrate:

  • A one year, instead of three years, professional experience in relation to the sale of travel products, or services which may be rendered in relation with a travel product. Moreover, this experience is not requested to be in the position of an executive anymore; or,
  • Having an advanced vocational diploma in tourism, or a level III qualification or degree (when in relation to tourism) or level II qualification or degree (when in relation to any other industry) certified by the Technical Commission for the Certification of Qualifications and Degrees in Technological Education (accompanied by a copy of the certification announcement published in the Official Journal). Prior to the reform, the applicant had to cumulate a level III diploma and 2 years professional experience as an executive in the tourism industry or 5 years as an executive in any industry; or,
  • Having completed a professional training session for a minimum of 300 hours over 4 months. This condition is entirely new.  

In addition to these elements, when the applicant is an individual, the application shall include its name, profession, personal and professional address and address of any secondary establishment.

When the applicant is a company, the application shall include the company name, its legal form, its share capital, the address of the headquarters and any secondary establishment as well as the name and address of the statutory and legal representatives.

The registration is completed by the commission within one month from the date on the receipt the applicant will be remitted once a complete application is filed.

If the application does abide by all regulatory obligations, the commission shall notify to the operator a registration certificate which will include the registration number and the date of registration. In the absence of a decision by the commission within the above mentioned delay, the registration shall be deemed granted.

Operators are liable to inform the commission of all and any events which may have an impact on their registration, such as termination of activity.

When a registered operator does not abide by its regulatory obligations and the breach is duly evidenced, the « Prefet » may order the company or place of operation to be closed, temporarily of permanently. In the most serious cases, the commission may order the operator to be stroke out from the registry.

Transition regime applicable to the current licence and authorisation holders.

Article 3 of the Novelli law planned for a 3 years transition period, until July 22, 2012, during which the four types of licences and authorisations from the Prefecture would coexist with the new registered operators.

Consequently, all licences and authorisations granted prior to January 1st, 2010, are fully enforceable and their holders are still liable to fulfil all their obligations towards the Prefecture. Among them, they are still liable to provide, each year, evidence of their financial warranty and professional civil liability insurance contract, until they are registered pursuant to the new procedure.

Licence and authorization holders shall complete their registration process as travel operators before July 22, 2012.

Their registration can be made on the basis of a simple request; the licence holder shall merely provide a copy of its licence.

The professional competence of licence and authorisation holders will be presumed by Atout France and therefore will not need to be further evidenced. At last, there will be no fee required for the first registration of licence and authorisation holders, whereas new applicants will have 100 euros fee to pay.

In the event one of the information which is provided to be granted a licence or authorisation does change before July 22, 2012, licence and authorisation holders shall be obliged to register immediately with Atout France. Indeed, the Prefet will inform such licence or authorisation holder that the Prefecture will not have the power to record any modification to the existing licences and authorisations (Administrative memo dated December 29, 2009).

Travel agents who feared that this new law would allow too many new operators to enter the market may be reassured. Although it is just the beginning, among the 256 applications which were filed with Atout France in January, only 27 were for new operators.

Moreover, if the professional competence conditions have been softened, the law and decrees have strengthened the requirements for other professionals.

For example, companies which used to sell freely gift vouchers in relation to travel products (in particular hotel nights) shall now be registered as travel operators. As such, they will have to abide by all conditions for such registration (financial warranty, insurance, etc.) They will also be liable towards their customers like regular travel agents.

There is, therefore, no doubt that it is a profound change of the French tourism industry that we are witnessing.