Sunday, July 17, 2016

I didn’t go for the Wimbledon- Who is to be blamed?

#UPDATE: On Tuesday, 19th, after two days of posting this entry, I got a call from Media Moments, the PR company, requesting me to take the blog post down and asking what I was expecting from them or Allen Solly. I said my only concern was that any time in the future if I apply for a VISA, this rejection would be accounted for. And since it was the mistake of the brand (by giving me a wrong sponsorship letter), they should get it rectified. They said the brand would get my VISA work done but I would have to take care of all the other expenses including flights, stay etc. 

I said I would get back to them. I consulted some top travel blogger friends for what should be done in this situation and after understanding the entire situation and being certain that the brand is definitely at fault in this situation, they all suggested I should demand for compensation.

For the next two days I kept superbly busy with work and couldn't get back to Media Moments people even though they were constantly calling me to check if I was okay with their proposal. On 21st morning I spoke to them and clearly told them that I would like them to gratify everything apart from the 'watching Wimbledon' part, as mentioned in the T&Cs and contract. They said "It's a long process of approvals and paper work for a big company like Madura Fashions and the brand won't do it." 

The lady went on to tell me how keeping this blog post online would harm my future as a travel blogger and how it is in the best of my personal interest to take it down. 

I suggested they compensate me the entire amount equivalent to what I was promised as a contest winner. She denied that as well "The brand won't give any monetary compensation."

I clearly told them that they mustn't expect me to take the blog down if they were unwilling to do anything.

"Fine," she said. And that was the end of the discussion.

What was the point of contacting me then? Should a brand like Allen Solly (or Aditya Birla or Madura Fashions) be allowed to let go of a situation like this so easily? Or does the brand know nothing about all this and the PR company is trying to save its face in front of the brand? (This is what everyone is suggesting now)

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At the end of May, I won a blogging contest to go and watch the Wimbledon at the Centre Court in London this year. It was an epic moment. Three weeks later, with just 4 days to go for my flight from Mumbai to take off, my UK VISA was denied for no mistake of mine. I was devastated.

What went wrong and who is to be blamed?

For all those who have asked me to narrate the story over the last few weeks, either out of curiosity or concern over my ‘heart-breaking post’ on facebook, here’s the complete story. Help me out if you can:

Participation in the contest:

In mid-April, I received an email from a PR company Media Moments (Bengaluru) about a blogging contest being conducted by Allen Solly with the ultimate prize of winning a trip to watch the Wimbledon in the Centre Court in London this year. I had initially ignored the mail, wondering how genuine it was.

Two days before the contest deadline, I got a call from Media Moments asking if I was participating. I gave it an impulsive thought and said I was. I had to make a timelapse video of packing my bag for Wimbledon and post it on the blog along with the reason of carrying the things I had shown in the video. All went well. (The first post: My Travel Bag for Wimbledon 2016)

A few days later I got a call from Media Moments saying I had qualified for the final round of the contest and the details for the same were shared. They also sent me an amazing Wimbledon SollySport gift hamper and a gift voucher worth Rs.2000/- appreciating the efforts of the first round.

The final round required a lot of thinking and over the next week I did everything that was required and posted the blog before the deadline. (The second & final post: Preparing for the Wimbledon)


The next day I got a call from Media Moments again, saying that the client (Allen Solly) wants me to make use of the Rs.2000/- gift voucher by making a purchase from the nearby Allen Solly store and including a picture of the same in my blog post. I did it the same day.

The next day, 31st of May, I received the congratulatory email from Media Moments. The weeks of hard work had paid off and I had actually won the contest. I WAS HEADED TO LONDON. My joy knew no bounds! I had just won my maiden foreign trip to a city that figured in my bucket list at least 11 years ago.



The VISA Application Process:

The next morning (1st June) I got an email from the lady at Media Moments with the UK VISA Application Form. They wanted me to fill it and send it to them along with scanned copy of my passport the very same day. It took me a few hours, and I sent everything. All details authentically filled in the form, including my current employment details at Red FM.

The next day I got a call from a lady at Zenith Hospitality (Zenith Leisure Holidays Limited), the travel agency taking care of the VISA application. I got the VISA appointment for the morning of 7th June at the VFS Centre in Nariman Point, Mumbai.

On 4th June, they sent me the list of supporting documents I should be carrying for the VISA application. They also sent me a covering letter from Zenith with the details of flight and hotel bookings. They said they shall be sending me the sponsorship letter from Allen Solly which is ‘The most important document for the VISA’ on Monday.


The letter from Zenith. I have added the white boxes in the image to
avoid free-flow of sensitive information on the web.

On Monday, 6th June, they sent me the contact number of a lady in Madura Fashion & Lifestyle, the parent company of Allen Solly, with whom I had to contact to get the sponsorship letter. On my first call to her in the afternoon, she had no clue about the entire thing and said ‘I have just been notified about this’. She asked me for some time for her to get back. After a couple of hours of to-and-fro calls between me, the Zenith lady, and the Madura lady, I was finally told to go to the Madura Fashions office in Andheri East and collect the documents from the reception. Considering my VISA appointment was scheduled the very next morning, I immediately rushed to the address.

By 8 PM that evening, I had the sponsorship letter from Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail, the company under whose umbrella Allen Solly functions. I thanked the Madura lady and left.


The sponsorship letter from Aditya Birla. Mark the words I have marked in red boxes.
(I have added the white boxes in the image to avoid free-flow of sensitive information on the web.)

I had also got print outs of my bank statements of the last 6 months, last 6 salary slips, letter from my HR department as employment proof and all the other required documents.

The next morning, I reached the VFS centre as per schedule. My documents were collected, the biometrics were submitted. No one asked me any question regarding the VISA application. The process went smooth and I was out of the VFS centre in less than 10 minutes. And now the 15 day wait for the approved VISA began…

The travel to London excitement:

If there is one thing I absolutely love, it is travelling. And when the first out-of-country travel is going to be to London, that too on a fully sponsored trip that I have won, the excitement was even more. I spent hours every day going through travel sites and blogs about the UK, the Wimbledon, Harry Potter and everything London. I spoke to some of the top travel blogger friends for advice- from the simple ‘What to wear’ and ‘What are the Must-Dos’ to ‘Oyster cards’ and everything imaginable.

A friend in London even invited me for a night’s stay at his place if I wanted to. I spoke to the guys at Matrix for details about SIM card. I researched all about Forex on the ICICI and SBI sites and asked my relatives about it. I was disheartened that the tickets to the Harry Potter Studio Tour were sold out. I almost booked an airbnb stay for my last day, and Golden Tours one-day sightseeing package. But then I just waited for the VISA arrival before going ahead and making the bookings.

And yes, I had applied for a leave from work and it had been approved. Everyone at my workplace knew about my ‘achievement’ and every single day Wimbledon and ‘how I won it’ became the topic of discussion at some point.

Trip related queries with Media Moments and signing of contract:

On 11th June, I received a mail from Media Moments with a contract that I had to sign and send within 3 hours. ‘Share it by noon’, they said. I didn’t mind and sent it. This was the contract:

The contract between me and Media Moments

Over the next few days, I asked Media Moments a few times to share the itinerary of the trip. They kept saying that they ‘are waiting for the client to share it’.

I also asked them about this one line that had been mentioned in the sponsorship letter (marked as the red box on Page 2 above) from Aditya Birla/Madura about Forex. Here’s a screenshot from the email reply:

Does the 2nd point imply that we had been given the wrong letter? Is an error like that acceptable?

The VISA Denial:

On 17th June I got a call from the lady at Zenith asking if I had received any update regarding the VISA. I denied. She said we should expect it to come within the next couple of days.

On 18th I received an email from the VISA Office saying ‘A decision has now been made on your application’. I didn’t know what this meant and the lady at Zenith said we should wait for the VISA to come within the next 1 or 2 days now.

20th, Monday- No updates. My flight for London was scheduled for the coming Saturday. I grew worried.

21st, Tuesday- At 1 PM I got an SMS saying that the processed VISA was received at the VFS Centre and I need to go and collect it. The lady from Zenith suggested I should immediately go and collect the same. Since it was lunch time at work, even my seniors were happy to let me go and collect the visa since they knew this was super important and exciting for me. I immediately left for Nariman Point to collect the VISA.

The package was handed over to me and I was told that I could open the seal only after exiting the VFS Centre. I got out from there and excitedly tore the package open. There were a lot of documents in there and I scrambled for the passport. Holding the package in one hand, I scanned through the pages of the passport quickly. I didn’t spot any stamps in there. I carefully went page-by-page through it again- nothing. I didn’t understand. Is the visa a separate document or something? I wondered and looked into the package again. There was one paper folded in half vertically on one side. I took it out and opened it.

The VISA Denial Letter
(I have added the white boxes in the image to avoid free-flow of sensitive information on the web.)

Standing there in front of the elevators, I have no clue how many times I read those lines. I didn’t understand it and had absolutely no clue what to think or do. I got out of the building and called the lady from Zenith and told her what had happened. From the sound of it, she was taken by surprise. She asked me to send her a picture of the document so as to check with her seniors what had happened. I immediately sent it along with pictures of the Aditya Birla sponsorship document.

Next I called up the lady from Media Moments and the same thing happened. I sent her the pictures too. She said she would speak to her team and get back ASAP with the next course of action.

I had been absolutely certain while filling the application form and double-checked every single document I had submitted. All, except this sponsorship letter because I had assumed it couldn’t be wrong. And on reading that one line ‘The following travellers associated with Allen Solly brand’, I had not thought that it could be interpreted as ‘employed with Allen Solly’. The one thing that was not in my control had got my visa denied.

I felt angry and helpless at the same time. I WAS NOT WRONG IN ANY WAY, THEN WHY THIS? And I immediately understood why we are allowed to open the package only after exiting the visa office. You cannot get in touch with them for any query. It has to be a fresh VISA application altogether.

I got a call from Media Moments in a couple of hours. The lady along with her team leader spoke to me. They said ‘we have spoken to the client (Allen Solly/Madura/Aditya Birla) and they have taken the matter seriously internally. We need to wait for a revert from them.’

Shouldn’t we apply for a priority visa immediately? There’s no point because it is unlikely that the priority visa can come by Friday (in time for the Saturday flight) in less than 3 working days after application.

The Wimbledon is on till 10th of July. May be the trip for me can be pushed by a week or so? That’s possible. But in that case you will be travelling alone. Let us speak to the brand and get back.

They said that since I was a winner of their contest, they have told the client that I must be rightly gratified.

For now, I was supposed to wait.

The Wait:

22nd, Wednesday- ‘We are waiting for a revert from the client.’

24th, Friday- The team leader at Media Moments spoke to me. She said that the client is still to get back on the issue and with many of the employees travelling for the Wimbledon themselves, I just might have to wait a bit. She also said that the same sponsorship letter had been given to the other bloggers as well and they had all received the VISA without any issue regarding the statement.

She assured that since she was accompanying the other bloggers to London, someone from her team would get in touch with me on Monday regarding the issue with word from the client.

27th, Monday- I got a call from the lady at Media Moments in the evening after asking if there has been any update from the client.

She was very frank and said that the brand isn’t ready to provide for separate travel. She had also asked them if they could gratify me in any other way and the answer received was on the lines of ‘We have already given them vouchers. We won’t give anything else.’

My request to speak to someone at Allen Solly directly was denied.

I asked her to send me the same things written on an email. This was what I received the next day:

Email from Media Moments with final word from Allen Solly


And this was my reply:

My reply, to which I haven't received any written reply till date.

The emotional turmoil had been building up for long and my reply clearly showed that. I got a call from the lady at Media Moments the next morning (June 29th). The call that went on for 10-minutes or so basically was about ‘How Allen Solly cannot be blamed at all’, ‘How the brand is not at fault’ and how it was my bad luck that the VISA had been rejected. She said that she had asked the travel agency, Zenith, to provide them with the visa application documents. She would be going through all of them to figure out what went wrong. She requested I should wait for her team leader to be back from London, after which they would try speaking to the client one more time about the gratification and get back to me.

18 days it has been. I am still waiting for their revert.

Now:

I haven’t contacted them since that day because I saw no point. If they had to revert, they would have done so already. I kept delaying this blog post in the hope that something positive would happen, and also because I kept wondering who to blame for what had happened. Was it just my bad luck?

I don’t know if me targeting Allen Solly or Media Moments or Zenith, blaming any of them for this thing, is right or not. A popular travel blogger friend told me ‘May be they had no intention of sending you at all and it was all just a gimmick.’

Or may be it was just plain bad luck at the visa office? It is unlikely that the visa officers could make an error, but then they are human too right? (What else explains my visa rejection with the same letter that got the visa approved for the other bloggers?) May be a re-application would have done the job which the brand denied to do?

But the one thing that I am absolutely keen on getting an apt answer to is: “Why should I let an error that didn't arise from my end to be a black spot in my passport for future UK visa applications?” The next time I am applying for a UK visa or a visa to any other country, I will have to tick mark the statement that asks “Has your VISA been rejected earlier?” SHOULDN’T I DEMAND THE BRAND TO GET ME A UK VISA AT THE LEAST; CONSIDERING THEY ARE INCAPABLE OR UNWILLING OF DOING ANYTHING ELSE?

Considering the excitement I had shown on social media about winning the trip, everyone in my circles knew about it. I don’t know how many times I have repeated the ‘denial story’. People have been careful not to bring up the topic while talking to me.

It's easy to say 'Jo hota hai ache ke liye hota hai; don't be disheartened, you will get better opportunities in the future; just keep doing your work'.

But what about the shattered dream, emotional trauma and heartbreak I have been through in these few weeks?


The reason I am writing this blog post is because at a later date I don’t want to regret that I didn’t do everything in my control to get what was deservedly mine. I have no clue if any of the brands involved will get back to me on seeing this post. I just want to lay the facts bare. If any of my readers have any suggestion on what I should do next, or if I should keep the matter to rest, please do get in touch. The fact is it could have been any blogger in my place going through the situation. Should we, as bloggers, be letting brands take us so lightly?

22 comments :

  1. This I think is purely a visa thing.
    Wish you many more opportunities... you have it in you to win!!! Congrats on that! :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Engagement is a two way street! You should write what you want to write. I refused to take part in that contest because 1000 bloggers promote something for free and then two-three bloggers get something in return. I am no longer willing to be a part of such a contest. But then I am old in the world of blogging and I learned from my initial mistakes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess I still have a lot to learn. Thanks for your help Mridulaji :)

      Delete
  3. I don't know what to say. You gave your work and efforts to Allen Solly which sure gonna help them in long run in terms of market. If they couldn't take you to London they should gratify. They just trying to boss by talking about vouchers, they didn't do any favor.

    I hope you get many good opportunities and a satisfactory reply from them soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let's see..trying my best. Hope to get a reaction from them.

      Delete
  4. To be honest this is a completely Visa thing .. Cheers and good things are definitely in store

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I assume that the visa officer didn't see half of the documents then. He/She got stuck with this one assumption and just denied the visa.

      Hoping for the best. Let's see what can be done. Thank you for the comment. :)

      Delete
  5. This isnt a Visa thing; as I see it - the UK, given the internal realities, what within its rights. We may not like it - but there it is.

    This is purely a Brand and Company issue; I think you should try and meet the company seniors and fight for your rights. You won the contest fair and square, dont give on your dreams. Dont pan the brand online - try for a rapproachment and renew your efforts; let them know clearly you are not going to give up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True.. That's the next step I plan to take. Hope something works out. I'm sure the senior management has absolutely no clue about this 'jhol' that's being done at the customer interaction level.

      Delete
  6. I think you should tag the CEO of Allen solly and the external affairs ministry to read this post. Neither the brand nor the concerned visa official has the right to tarnish your image and put that black spot on your pass port. How can the word "associated" be interpreted as only "employed"? Fight for your right tooth and nail. Denounce the brand which is using your efforts for its marketing without gratifying you suitably. The bullet should strike them right on the head.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trying my best. The social media handles of Allen Solly are a waste. No one responds there. Have tweeted to the MEA, hoping to get a reaction.

      Delete
  7. First of all Congratulations for winning the contest. All the best for future contests. You should communicate with Seniors of Allen Solly and they should gratify you on par with Wimbledon Trip, not just GV. I am sure this blog-post will soon reward you as much as it deserves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hoping for the best Sujata ji. And thank you so much :)

      Delete
  8. As discussed, Visa approval/denial is sovereign right of every country- UK is one of the most expensive and toughest places to get a visa. You are better off being in India with denied visa than getting deported upon arrival in UK on some flimsy grounds. They are not bound to explain why visa was rejected, good that they did. Of course countries only want rich tourists who can spend a lot

    Brand is not really at fault and there isn't much they can do but I think they could have possibly compensated a little more and closed this positively (They saved on ticket and stay expense etc)

    Best wishes next time and thanks for sharing. It has a lesson for everyone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly. It was the 'we cant do anything' reply which was insensitive and unacceptable. Let's see where the talks head.

      Delete
  9. This is really unfortunate and I absolutely understand your worry about getting a black mark on your passport for future applications to UK, US or even Australia. I think you should at least talk to the senior management at Allen Solly to help you re-apply for a UK visa. Or talk to an immigration agent who can help you out with an appeal?

    ReplyDelete
  10. It is very very unfortunate that you couldn't go for Wimbledon despite of the much-deserved win. Trust me, I was quite disheartened when I wasn't one of the winners in this contest because I had really been serious for it just like you. But at the same time, I was glad that you had won because I had loved your time lapse video and your pictures. Also, I quite enjoyed when we discussed about the contest during the phase of it. It was a healthy competition.

    From my experience,as far as the brand or their PR is concerned, I would definitely call them callous...

    1. First there were four rounds to the final winner, they cut down to 2.Did not act after the first round as if they had no stream line plan at all.
    2. Second, they had to choose 8 winners, but they came down to 2. (Thanks to terms and conditions, they came out safe.)
    3. One lady called and said, please make use of the Allen Solly vouchers and use in the post.. Why was it not informed with the rules itself?
    4. I said, I will not be able to do it as I am traveling. Can I do it two days later? Will it affect the results? She said 'yes you can do and it has nothing to do with results'. Newys the results will be announced after 3 days so you have time.
    5. I did go to buy some stuff at the Allen Solly CP store. The manager of the store had no clue at all. After explaining him and sharing all mails from Media Moments, he finally agreed to help. I found it pissing though.
    6. Once I returned home to do the take a snap and add to my blog, the results were already declared before the promised date.

    Trust me, I did find it fishy at first, I did sulk but then I gave up in the excitement of other trips that came in my hand.

    As far as your visa rejection is concerned, somewhere I feel its your bad luck that conspired but I also feel that the brand should have been pro active in solving it out as the earliest. And now, why are they asking to put the blog down. Don't give in. Just tell them to do something that could compensate the black mark of visa denial to London. And give you a Wimbledon trip next year for sure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can completely understand your point. I had actually been so happy right from the beginning of the contest that all the talks with the team were happening so smoothly, without hassles that we usually hear abt brand-blogger associations.

      Also, I faced the same issue at the Allen Solly store. One store completely denied the vouchers saying they don't have the right equipment/software installed and I was redirected to another store nearby. At the second place, even I had to show them all the mails and only then they agreed to let me use the voucher. Anyways I never thought that was very important and so didn't bring up the point.

      Now I feel I should have written this blog post immediately after the visa rejection, may be they would have taken an action immediately. No question of taking the blog post down, at least not without the right compensation.

      Delete
  11. First, kudos to you for writing this detailed post. You, as a contest winner, don't deserve this treatment from them.

    Reading Manjulika's comment one can see how callous was their approach.
    As compensation, besides monetary thing, you should also ask them to contest the visa rejection and get your name cleared.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As you know they didn't do anything. They were okay with the blog post remaining up too.

      Delete

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