Witnessing illegal behavior on tour

This item appears on page 52 of the June 2011 issue.

A subscriber wrote (Dec. ’10, pg. 33) that, while visiting Amsterdam on a European tour, several members of the group purchased marijuana legally but carried it with them as the tour coach continued to more countries. One tour member obtained what the subscriber assumed were prescription pain killers and openly shared them with tour members. The subscriber also witnessed one tour member shoplift a dish towel from a sidewalk stand.

The subscriber wrote, “I can understand using marijuana in Amsterdam, but carrying it across borders and its possession in the rest of Europe are both illegal. As for the narcotics, … even if the pills were legally acquired, giving or selling them to someone else is still illegal. Shoplifting may seem petty, but it, too, is a crime.

“The tour leader at some point became aware of the drugs and, late in the tour, made a comment about tour members’ being stoned and drunk and possibly getting lost. The tour leader also commented that it could have been very bad if the tour coach had been stopped at a border crossing and the drugs found by the authorities.

“I realize that the tour company cannot control the behavior of its passengers. I would like to travel with this tour company again but not if my professional license and reputation are at risk due to the stupid and illegal acts of other tour members. Do I tell the tour company about the drugs and the shoplifter? Should I travel with the tour company again? I’m interested in what ITN readers think about this situation. — Name Withheld”

Readers’ responses appear below. If you have something to add, write to See No Evil, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravelnews.com. (Include the address at which you receive ITN.)

The questions raised by “Name Withheld” caused quite a discussion at our dinner table. In the end, the consensus was this: the person who observed illegal activity should have quietly brought it to the attention of the tour guide or leader as soon as possible, and additional mention should have been made if the behavior was observed a second time.

The tour guide or leader represents the tour company. It is the tour company’s responsibility to assure a safe, legal and arrest-free environment for all tour participants to the extent possible. The tour company has the authority to act, at least to the point of stopping the illegal activity or removing the offender from the tour.

The person who observed the illegal behavior should NOT have mentioned it directly to the people who were committing the behavior, as the observer has no legal authority over the other people on the tour.

Crossing borders within the EU is easy and mostly stop-free, but each country still has the right to stop and search at its own borders. In fact, on a tour in 2009 our bus was stopped at a border crossing between Germany and France and all our papers checked. There were drug-sniffing dogs present.

Martha Wiley

I have never heard of such improper behavior on any trip I have taken! What kind of a company is this that allows a tour director to proceed with the tour without imposing any restrictions?

I would definitely inform the tour company about the incident and I would not travel with them again. After all, there are many responsible tour companies around to choose from.

Sonia Ibanez
Forest Hills, NY

I am appalled at the behavior of tour members fooling around with any illegal substances. Their actions endanger the entire group. Having a taste while in Amsterdam is one thing, but the continuing behavior is another.

Yes, “Name Withheld” should have snitched them off to the tour leader and demanded action be taken. If that didn’t occur, the tour leader should have been reported to the parent company. Same with the shoplifter.

I hate to sound like such a spoilsport, but, as we travel, we are the representatives of our country going into another country as guests.

I sure wouldn’t travel with that company again, and I would write the home office telling them why.

For what it’s worth, I have traveled with half a dozen tour groups, all over the world, and have never run into this kind of problem.

Jo Rawlins Gilbert
Menlo Park, CA

Why would anyone put up with bad behavior anywhere — at home or abroad? If a group I were in was stopped at the border and came under arrest, I could see the headline at home: ‘Baltimore pharmacist among group arrested transporting narcotics.’ I assume the other group members would be guilty by association.

When all this started, I would have made contact with the tour company (either through the tour guide or directly). I would make the point, ‘Please get me off this tour ASAP.’

This is a great illustration of the poor behavior and judgment of people on drugs or alcohol and the possible legal ramifications.

Gil Cohen
Baltimore, MD

I think it is terrible for a tour director to have allowed the behavior that occurred on that person’s tour of Western Europe. The tour company should give that person a hefty allowance for a future trip!

I know, from one tour, that a tour director has the right to kick people off the trip for poor/bad behavior.

Ed Gorlin
Lexington, VA

Editor’s note: Having a number of questions on this matter, ITN wrote to the US Tour Operators Association and received the reply, “Tour passengers — all travelers, for that matter — must abide by the rules of the country in which they are traveling. As an association, USTOA cannot comment on legal matters affecting tour passengers. Companies each set forth their responsibilities and liability in their specific contracts of carriage, usually provided in the backs of their brochures.”

Our letter then was passed along to the US Travel Insurance Association. The following opinions and observations, “not official UStiA advice,” was provided by “a legal expert member”:

“Most of the legal answers center around individual responsibility.

“Assuming this situation took place in Western Europe and not a place with more severe punishments for drug possession, if border authorities or local police discovered someone carrying the controlled substance on a tour bus, most likely just the person carrying the substance would be detained or punished, unless the amount carried was so large that police would conclude that others would have had some involvement.

“Tour directors are not responsible for the illegal behavior of their passengers. Each passenger, himself or herself, is responsible for his or her behavior.

“Anyone should be careful about making an allegation that might be false, such as seeing someone carrying prescriptions that may look like illegal drugs and making an incorrect assumption.

“If a tour member discovers that another tour member is carrying an illegal substance, he should move to a different seat and stay away from the person.

“The tour member could also tell the tour guide or bus driver what he or she learned and let the guide or driver deal with the situation according to the company’s policy. The tour director may warn those involved about the legal dangers of such actions, including arrest and imprisonment.

“Note: standard travel insurance policies may contain exceptions against an individual’s coverage for reckless/dangerous personal behavior, unlawful behavior, inebriation, etc.

“Travelers should know the laws of the countries they’re traveling in and use common sense.”