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Hickory vs. Mega-Firm
By Jerry Chandler
The California Attorney General’s office has asked at least one prominent San Francisco law firm for information on TQ3 Travel Solutions. The aim, according to travel attorney Alexander Anolik, is to help determine if one of the world’s largest providers of travel management services is in violation of the state’s Seller of Travel Law, which requires companies selling travel in the state to register and to show their CST numbers in all advertising and online on their Web sites.
“We...purchased a couple of tickets over the Internet to establish that they’ve ignored the Seller of Travel Law,” said Anolik. “Every communication with a prospective client or customer, not even an actual client, is a separate misdemeanor, or a crime.”
Anolik wants the courts to enjoin the company from doing business in California under a variety of names — TQ3 Maritz Americas, TQ3 Travel Solutions, and TUI.
At issue is the structure under which TQ3 Travel Solutions does business.
The company is 50 percent owned by TQ3 Maritz Americas, and 50 percent owned by TUI Business Travel. The latter is a subsidiary of giant TUI AG, a multinational German-based holding company encompassing transportation, travel, and other businesses. According to TQ3’s Web site, the $9 billion travel management company TQ3 Travel Solutions has 1,600 locations in 60 countries.
In a motion to dismiss a civil suit filed by Hickory Travel Systems against it, lawyers for TUI AG argue that there is a clear division between TQ3 Travel Solutions and TUI AG. Because of that, they contend TUI is not doing business in the State of California.
In the civil suit, Hickory Travel Services, represented by Anolik, alleges, among other things, that TUI AG, TQ3, and TQ3 Americas are in breach of contract, breach of duty for good faith and fair dealing, and in violation of the California Business and Professions Code.
Specifically, Hickory alleges that TUI agreed to use Hickory’s hotel program until the end of 2005. On Sept. 17, 2002, TUI notified Hickory it was terminating the agreement. “All of a sudden, they stopped the contract and decided to go with Maritz’s [program],” said Anolik.
In response to the suit, he said TUI is “contesting jurisdiction, saying they don’t really do anything in the United States.”
In a motion to dismiss the suit filed in the United States District Court Northern District of California, TUI’s attorneys argue that “this Court has neither specific nor general jurisdiction over TQ3 Maritz Americas, Inc.” Why? Again according to the motion, “TQ3 Maritz has no direct contacts with California. It does not manufacture or sell any products — including travel-related services — in California; it has no offices or employees in California.” TQ3, per se, may not have offices in California, but TQ3 Travel Solutions does. “They tell us they’re not doing business here?” asks Anolik. “We went down to [Woodland Hills] and took a picture of their door.” In addition to the name on the door, there’s a sign inscribed in stone out front: “TQ3 Maritz.” Under that are the words, “Travel Solutions.”
The issue as to whether TQ3 Maritz Americas does or does not do business in California — and if so under what guise — is for the courts to decide. But there’s another issue, this one far more emotionally volatile.
Preussag, now one of TUI’s holdings, is implicated in the “building of poison gas factories in Iran and Iraq,” said Anolik. “Considering their past history of armament production, and their world dominance in travel, I get concerned.”
In a recent Internet posting to travel agents, Anolik contended German-based TUI has the ambition of “world domination” when it comes to travel. And that, he said, “is frightening.”
“That sort of grandstanding nonsense speaks for itself,” countered Neil Goteiner, a partner with the San Francisco law firm of Farella, Braun + Martel. Goteiner maintains that Anolik is trying to exploit war worries — especially Germany’s opposition to a U.S. invasion of Iraq.
“I guess that’s as predictable as it is regrettable,” said the attorney representing TUI AG. “I won’t even dignify [it] with a response, beyond what I already said.”
One thing seems sure, this isn’t the last response in an increasingly incendiary war of words — a war of words between two of the world’s most powerful travel companies.
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