Case names three hotels with 'unfair and excessive' penalties for wedding cancellations

THE consumer watchdog has named three hotels for their "unfair and excessive" cancellation fees for weddings - Furama RiverFront Hotel, Riverview Hotel and Hotel Jen Tanglin Singapore.

This is the first time the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) is naming such hotels, to prompt hotels to reconsider their wedding cancellation penalties.

The contracts at the three hotels, out of 19 surveyed in a study released by Case last month, charge full price for cancellations made three to five months before the wedding, without mentioning what happens if a replacement is found.

But two of the three hotels named told The Straits Times in response that they do take into account the reason for cancellation.

Case, which has been urging hotels to lower cancellation fees for weddings since 2013, is meeting the Singapore Hotel Association (SHA) next week and pushing for industry guidelines on such fees.

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said consumers are typically not allowed to negotiate a contract and that most hotels here have cancellation penalties.

For instance, some had deposits - from $1,000 to $8,000 - forfeited despite having found someone to take over their bookings.

"If the hotel is able to find a replacement, they will not suffer a loss, so customers should not be penalised," said Mr Seah. "And if the hotel is not putting in an effort to find a replacement to mitigate its losses, it should not penalise the consumer for that."

Case received two complaints about such penalties in 2011. This rose to eight in 2012, six in 2013 and seven last year.

A Chinese-banquet wedding at a hotel typically costs $35,000 to $55,000.

When contacted, Hotel Jen and Riverview Hotel said they would consider adopting an industry standard. Furama RiverFront did not respond to queries.

"Nowadays, couples book their weddings at least a year in advance or even earlier for auspicious dates. Trying to find a replacement couple at the last minute is tough," said Riverview Hotel spokesman Michelle Tham. Deposits are paid to vendors months ahead to secure them.

The Havelock Road hotel, which charges full price if couples cancel within three months of the event, said it will re-look its cancellation policies. "We don't want to make it tough for our customers. But on our end, we cannot be making a loss," said Ms Tham. The four-star hotel holds about 100 events each year and receives one or two cancellations.

At Hotel Jen, contract terms state that the full price will apply for cancellations made within five months of the event. But its general manager Clifford Weiner said: "We would never at point blank apply a cancellation fee without looking at the reason for the cancellation."

Such fees, he said, have been waived in the past on compassionate grounds. "We will evaluate each case as it is presented to us... We will try our very best to be flexible and understanding, and show compassion whenever we can."

When contacted, the SHA said it will work with Case to come up with guidelines, but it may be hard to get hotels to adopt them.

Each hotel has different fees, said SHA executive director Margaret Heng. "We can only give them a standard they can refer to and adopt if necessary."

She said hotels need such terms and conditions to prevent couples from booking several venues and choosing one only at the last minute. "At the end of the day, when people sign contracts they should not do so blindly."