Article by Laura Liguori and Luca Gambini

1. Requirements in order to obtain the license as travel agency in Italy

Under Italian Law in order to open a travel agency a company shall substantially obtain a travel agency license and fulfill several bonding requirements.

In accordance with the relevant Regional laws, each Italian Province have enacted specific regulations regarding the licensing procedure. The Italian Authority competent for granting the license is the office of the Province where a company intends to open its agency and carry out its activity. For these reasons, the practice and customs for licensing change from office to office.

In general, Regional laws define travel agencies as those entities carrying out either of two types of the following activities: (i) the organization and production of accommodation and travel services for individuals or groups, whether or not such services are sold directly to the public, also by use of electronic means; (ii) the intermediation in the sale of packaged or separate accommodation and travel services, also by use of electronic means.

According to Regional Laws, applicants shall open an office or a shop to sell travel services to customers in order to obtain the travel agency license for one or both of the above activities. Such shop must meet certain requirements provided by Law. The competent Province office will verify the fulfilments of the shop requirements in order to give its approval.

In order to start the licensing procedure, therefore, a company shall file the application for the License with the relevant Province office. The company shall also communicate to the Province office several documents regarding the corporate details (name, address, state of incorporation, identity of the Directors, etc.) as well as the characteristics of the shop to be opened by the travel agency (the name chosen for the shop, the plan f the shop and documentation attesting the company’s right to use the above, its cadastral and health certificate, etc.).

Certain Regional laws, such as the Regional law of Tuscany, provide for a quicker and simplified procedure, allowing a company to open a travel agency without opening a shop and after only one application to the Province office. In particular, the licensing procedure starts with the filing of commencement of activity ("denuncia di inizio di attività") demonstrating that all requirements and obligations provided by the law have been met. In such case, the company shall not wait for the Province approval to start operating, being allowed to start its activities from the date of filing of the above notice.

2. Insurance Requirements

According to both Legislative Decree of October 6, 2005, no. 206 regarding – among others – travel packages and relevant regional legislations, travel agencies must meet certain financial and bonding requirements in order to carry out their activities.

First of all, travel agencies shall enter into an insurance policy to cover customers’ damages arising from failure to perform their duties and obligations pursuant to the contract.

In addition, if a travel agency sells or organize travel packages, it shall pay 2% of the annual insurance premium paid in connection with the above insurance policy to the National Guarantee Fund. The National Guarantee Fund reimburses (i) travel price and repatriation costs borne by the customer who is travelling abroad in case of bankruptcy or insolvency of the Travel Agency, and (ii) the cost connected to potential forced return of the customer to his/her country from any extra EU country, in case of emergencies whether or not attributable to the Travel Agency.

3. Opening of a travel agency by foreign companies

The opening of a travel agency by a EU based company is regulated at a regional level, too.

In particular, according to many regional laws, a EU Company, holding a License under another State law, is entitled to act as travel agency in Italy following a simplified procedure.

For example according to the Regional Law of Lazio a EU company shall simply notify to the Province office the intention to open the travel agency in Italy providing the details of its EU license and proper documents attesting that the Shop is compliant with the requirements set forth by relevant Regional Law.

Non EU based companies intending to establish a travel agency in Italy can be authorized to do so, based on the reciprocity principle. In both cases, however, the licensing procedure may vary depending on the Region in which the company intends to open the travel agency.

In any case, under most of Regional legislations, in order to open a travel agency a foreign company shall establish a branch in Italy, according to applicable corporate law.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.