Complaints about Overseas Wedding & Photo Services: Lack of Quality Assurance with Consumers Bearing All the Risks

14 March 2019
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Complaints about Overseas Wedding & Photo Services: Lack of Quality Assurance with Consumers Bearing All the Risks

Getting married is a major life event and to make the wedding day memorable, some may choose to hold their wedding ceremonies or to take pre-wedding photographs abroad.  However, complaints were occasionally lodged to the Consumer Council about failure to register marriage on the date planned; closure of the overseas photography company; frequent itinerary alternations; and quality of the photographs not meeting expectation, etc.

For those planning a destination wedding, it is essential to find out exactly the official procedures in the country where they hold their wedding ceremonies, including details such as office hours of the concerned departments, charges and the required documents.  They should also seek legal or professional advice to ensure their marriage registered abroad will be legally recognised in Hong Kong.  For overseas pre-wedding photography services, it is advisable for consumers to verify the shooting venues and their opening hours in advance.  They should pay attention to the weather and traffic conditions when deciding an itinerary to allow sufficient time for transportation and other necessary preparatory work.  Consumers should also compare different services by making reference to the comments and experience of their friends and relatives; and they may also consider seeking assistance from those friends and relatives residing there to organise the wedding ceremonies. 

Traders are urged to adhere to the agreement and planned itinerary in realising the service contract, including the date of delivery and the responsibilities arising from alterations or cancellations of the services.  For any changes to the agreed itinerary or service scope, traders should notify and consult the consumers as soon as possible.

Case 1: Frequent itinerary changes and location shots replaced by synthetic photos

The complainant was offered a pre-wedding photography package in Iceland at a wedding fair by a staff member of Company A that included the production of a short aerial video for free.  The complainant purchased the package and signed a contract worth about $30,000, which covered 7 shooting locations from the eastern to the western sides of Iceland.  2 months prior to departure, photographer notified the complainant that, since photo-shooting would take place in the early morning, they would start from central Iceland instead. The complainant then made a hotel reservation in central Iceland.

However, just a few days before the photo shooting, the photographer changed the shooting itinerary again.  This time the photographer claimed it was to fit his another assignment in western Iceland the day before, and suggested the complainant to either change her hotel booking or drive on her own to meet him in western Iceland.  As the hotel reservation could not be altered, and the complainant did not want to drive such a long way, she reluctantly opted to stay in the hotel to wait for the photographer.

The actual shooting was thus delayed and did not start until 11 am. The 8-hour itinerary eventually covered only 4 locations and there was also no aerial video shooting as promised.  Upon complainant’s repeated queries, the photographer explained that it was too windy for aerial filming and offered to edit some existing aerial footage to include their images.  As for the remaining locations, the photographer said synthetic photos would be used in lieu of actual location shots.  The complainant later found the photos produced fell far short of the quality of the sample photos shown before the contract was signed, and the synthetic photos were hardly of a quality that justified flying all the way to Iceland for an actual location shooting.  The complainant sought help from the Council to seek a reasonable refund from Company A. 

Upon conciliation, Company A contended that it had completely fulfilled its obligations as stipulated in the contract and refused to refund but the company agreed to further touch up the photos for the photo album and production of oil painting.  The complainant would consider pursuing her case in the Small Claims Tribunal.

Case 2: No marriage registration service due to local public holiday

The complainant had planned to get married on 22 December 2018 and bought a $50,000 marriage registration package in Okinawa from Company B at a wedding fair in 2017.  The staff of Company B assured him that the date was fine for marriage registration and that the package would cover air ticket and expenses of a company staff member to accompany the couple on the trip to help carry the wedding gown and coordinate the ceremony.  The complainant accepted the offer and paid a deposit of $3,000 on the spot, followed shortly with a down payment of $22,995. 

Six months later, Company B notified the complainant that the wedding date of his choice happened to fall on a local public holiday when the government agency responsible for marriage registration would not be open for service.  Company B told him that they could still have their wedding ceremony on that date but the marriage registration should be arranged beforehand on their own without a company escort to help them with the wedding gown and other materials.

The complainant was utterly dissatisfied that the company had infringed the terms of the contract that clearly stated the agreed wedding date.   He complained to the Council against the company as it should have known that the marriage registration could not be arranged on that day and that it should not have left the complainant to handle the marriage registration and wedding-related materials themselves.

Upon reconciliation, Company B apologised and agreed to cancel the contract with full refund. 

Case 3: Closure of an overseas photo studio with no avenue to seek redress

The complainant purchased directly from Company C in Korea a $17,000 pre-wedding photo package, which included studio-shooting in Korean-style, rental of 3 sets of wedding gowns and suits as well as styling and make-up for the couple.  The company undertook to provide the photos for her choice within 1 month for subsequent touching up and to provide her a photo album, oil painting production and a DVD on the shooting titbits.

Though the photo shooting was completed on schedule, the company had delayed for 2 months to show the photos to the complainant for selection.  Despite the complainant had immediately selected the photos and suggested the required touching up, the company’s follow up was extremely slow.  The complainant eventually lost contact with the company after 3 months until she later received an email from Company C informing him that it had closed down.  As with the wedding ceremony was approaching with no wedding photo album nor oil painting available, the helpless complainant turned to the Council for help.

As the transaction was made directly with a Korean trader, the Council referred the case to its counterpart, the Korea Consumer Agency (KCA), for follow-up.  Unfortunately, the KCA found the process very difficult as Company C was under liquidation and refused to communicate further with the KCA. The KCA had approached a photo studio with business ties with Company C but the studio declined to deal with any complaints about Company C as Company C still had outstanding debts with the studio.  KCA had no alternative but to suggest the complainant to pursue the case through legal actions.

Acquiring professional services for organising destination wedding and overseas pre-wedding photo shootings can undoubtedly help save the time in planning and organising the event but these services are expensive and could disrupt the wedding arrangements and create unpleasant experience if the services are not up to the expected standard.  In choosing such services, consumers should take heed of the following:

- Consumers should be mindful that the transactions may not be protected by Hong Kong legislation if they deal directly with an overseas service provider.  If the overseas company closes down, consumers may have to abide by the local laws and legal procedures for redress, which may involve a complex process.  Consumers should give due consideration to this risk before purchasing services from overseas companies;

- Language barriers with overseas companies may give rise to misunderstandings, so if necessary, consumers should check with the overseas company about the provision of translation service.  If the purchase includes a photo album, oil painting production, etc., and postal delivery, consumers should fully understand the delivery time and have it stated clearly in the contract so that it can be used as documentary proof for redress in case of dispute;

- Outdoor photo shooting is easily affected by weather and traffic conditions, and all contingencies should be taken into consideration when planning the trip.  Consumers should gather sufficient information to evaluate if the itinerary arrangements are reasonable. 

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