Ease the pain of parting

It's bad enough when couples part ways and wedding plans fall through, but having to pay the full cost of a $50,000 hotel banquet, despite cancelling the booking eight months ahead, is akin to paying alimony when one was not even married in the first place. Consumers complain that even when a full year's notice is given, some hotels insist on retaining half the cost of the banquet, although it is quite likely they would have little difficulty in filling vacant slots during the peak periods popular with nuptial couples.

The argument of hotels that cancellations result in costs already incurred or the loss of related business wears thin when the unfortunate customers have already found others to take over their bookings. Their plaintive appeals often appear in wedding forums and sometimes result in the transfer of banquet packages to others. Yet they have had their deposits of up to $8,000 forfeited by the hotels.

Making arrangements for food, service staff, flowers, decorations and such are part and parcel of hotels' food and beverage operations. Hence, they can no more burden customers with such costs than a restaurant can for a large booking cancelled well in advance. When the unexpected happens - like accidents, a death in the family or strained relationships - service providers should not be so calculating, given the woeful circumstances.

The Consumers Association of Singapore is right to see consumers as "disadvantaged from the start" and to take up the cudgels on their behalf. In fairness, the Singapore Hotel Association should work with Case to come up with standardised contracts that apportion any actual costs incurred in an equitable manner.

Excessive and punitive charges will turn off consumers and encourage them to consider alternative venues that might offer more creative settings, greater flexibility and much less angst. Young couples tying the knot should not be squeezed by those trying to cash in on a joyous event, whether everything stays that way or does not.