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Rescheduling of Wedding Services Amid Epidemics Might Lead to Compensation Claims Better Communication between Soon-to-weds and Wedding Service Providers to Reduce Losses
Getting married is an important event in one’s life. Many soon-to-weds spend at least a year on their wedding plans. From photography and catering to wedding gown hiring, emcees and make-up artists, soon-to-weds have a lot of things to be taken care of. However, the plans of many of them were disrupted by the persistent epidemic situation last year and resulted in repeated rescheduling of their wedding dates. The rescheduling, in turn, affected bookings for various wedding services, and disputes might occur when soon-to-weds asked wedding service providers for rescheduling and full/deposit refund. In 2020, the Consumer Council received a total of 233 complaint cases related to wedding services, in which catering services accounted for over half of them (122 cases). Photography services, on the other hand, accounted for about 30 percent of the total (69 cases).
The Council understands the frustrations experienced by the soon-to-weds who were forced to postpone or cancel their weddings due to the pandemic. Amongst the complaint cases received by the Council, a couple were asked to pay $140,000 in compensation to a catering service provider for cancelling their wedding banquet. Another complainant was denied a refund of deposit after the suspension of overseas pre-wedding photography services. A deposit was not returned to another couple because their make-up service provider only agreed to rescheduling once but the banquet was repeatedly postponed.
The Council understands that wedding service providers would like to abide by the terms as stipulated in the contracts and find it difficult to arrange for unconditional refunds to all affected customers solely due to factors such as force majeure. However, by actively negotiating with customers and offering more flexible contingency plans to address their needs, wedding service providers might build their reputation through showing their care to customers, thus achieving a win-win situation. The Council would like to call on wedding service providers and consumers to engage in communication with a view to minimising the loss and impact on both parties through compromise and mutual understanding during the bumpy period.
Case 1: $140,000 in Compensation Due to Cancellation of Wedding Banquet during Pandemic
The Complainant and her fiancé originally planned to get married in October 2020 and made a booking for a wedding banquet about a year and a half in advance with Company A, a Chinese restaurant group. The couple paid a deposit in three instalments amounting to $72,000 in total. The epidemic outbreak last year resulted in the cessation of dine-in services at night. The complainant tried to contact Company A to enquire about the arrangements for a couple of times since July but did not receive any reply. A staff member later informed the complainant that Company A would arrange rescheduling of the wedding banquets by phases and indicated that banquets planned for October would be followed up in late August. The complainant was told she could choose to reschedule the banquet for free if it was confirmed by then that the wedding was to be postponed. The complainant was also offered the choice of postponing the banquet there and then with an extra cost of 5% administration fee. The menu price would also be adjusted according to the prices of the following year. In addition, the extra discounts as laid out in the original contract would be forfeited.
Amid the uncertainties posed by the epidemic, the complainant was worried about arranging for the wedding and other related services on time. She decided to cancel the banquet in October after discussing with her fiancé. Based on the terms in the contract, Company A requested them to pay 70% of the total amount (about $140,000) in compensation for cancelling the banquet. The complainant was dissatisfied with this as the cancellation was made out of safety concerns. She understood that both parties had their own difficulties but believed that soon-to-weds were already bothered by the arrangements and, hence, should not burden most of the financial loss. She sought help from the Council to negotiate with Company A with regard to the cancellation and refund.
After the Council’s conciliation, Company A agreed to help the complainant cancel the banquet without further compensation. Although the complainant did not receive a refund of her deposit, she accepted Company A’s proposed solution to cut her losses.
Case 2: Refund Denied for Hampered Overseas Pre-wedding Photography Services
The complainant paid Company B $16,380 for its overseas pre-wedding photography services. The complainant planned to travel to Karuizawa, Japan, for the photo shooting in October last year and had already paid Company B half of the price as deposit. Unfortunately, Japan imposed restrictions on inbound travellers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, Company B suggested either conducting the photo shooting in Hong Kong or postponing the shooting in Japan to a later date. The complainant found both proposals not suiting his needs and requested a refund but was rejected.
Company B also insisted that they would not return to the complainant the price difference for photo shooting in Hong Kong and full payment should be made for Company B’s services as stipulated in the contract. The complainant found Company B’s proposals unreasonable as he opined that the spending of about $16,000 on photo shooting in Hong Kong was substantially different from overseas photo shooting. Besides, the complainant had already taken pre-wedding photos with his fiancée in Hong Kong which would mean a duplication of such service that was unnecessary. He opined that Company B had failed to provide photography services in Japan as stipulated in the contract and requested termination of contract but he was willing to settle the matter with Company B for a reasonable amount of handling fee.
Company B insisted that they had already provided many viable solutions but the complainant decided not to accept any of them. Company B refused to consider new alternatives for the sake of fairness to all customers. The Council reported the results to the complainant and advised him to consider filing a claim at the Small Claims Tribunal.
Case 3: No Refund of Deposits for Bridal Make-up Services Due to Rescheduling for Once Only
The Complainant and her fiancé who lives in Taiwan originally planned to get married in Hong Kong in May last year and had booked Company C’s bridal make-up services (for a total amount of $12,600). The complainant had already paid Company C a deposit of $6,300. Due to the rampant epidemic situation and the related lockdown policies imposed early last year, the complainant’s fiancé could not travel to Hong Kong. The complainant had no choice but to postpone their wedding until early October. Company C initially agreed with the rescheduling of services. As the epidemic persisted in late August and catering service providers were required to impose limits on the number of diners, the complainant believed that the wedding would not be able to take place by early October. While she tried to negotiate with Company C for another rescheduling of services, Company C refused to entertain her request claiming that rescheduling was only allowed once, and declined a refund of the deposit. The complainant sought help from the Council after unsuccessful negotiations. She insisted that the postponement due to the pandemic was beyond the control of consumers and requested Company C to reconsider free rescheduling or refund.
Company C, on the other hand, insisted that the terms in the contract had already stipulated that alteration of dates and services as well as cancellation of bookings were not allowed. They further claimed that they had already exercised their discretion to offer a free rescheduling once. The complainant eventually decided to postpone her wedding originally scheduled in October to a future date and therefore did not require Company C to provide any services on her original wedding day. Company C then decided not to file further claims on the outstanding payment.
As there is no crystal ball on how the pandemic may develop, the Council advises consumers with wedding plans to liaise closely with their wedding service providers before drawing up any contracts and pay heed to the following:
- Before signing contracts, enquire on the contingency plans offered by the service providers in case of postponement or cancellation due to the pandemic, including the time of receiving notifications; the deadline for making important decisions; and the provision of alternatives;
- While drawing up contracts, consider settling the payment in stages to reduce potential loss due to possible yet inevitable service alteration or cancellation;
- Pay heed to the cancellation policies in the contract, including the possibility of refunding deposits and the terms related to compensation or surcharge claims if customer chooses to cancel the services;
- When making wedding plans, take careful consideration of the venue and the number of guests; and devise contingency plans to prepare for different scenarios.
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