Planning to visit Seismique to get some cool graduation portraits, family pictures, or selfies?  Be aware of their undisclosed fees, especially if you bring a large group.  HoustonPhotowalks never wants to burn a bridge or make it so we can’t visit a location again in the future, but I felt our experience at Seismique needed to be shared with the Houston community.

The Seismique Museum on Hwy6 in West Houston charges an extra 14.25% per ticket and labels it as “taxes”.  Our local tax rate is 8.25%.  That extra 6% may not sound like much, but with as many as 200 visitors per day, could Seismique be racking in as much as $188k per year in undisclosed fees?

NOTE: It is extremely important to mention, HoustonPhotowalks has visited 250+ locations in our 15 years of Photowalking, and every single location has invited us back.  We are strongly committed to being respectful and friendly to the owners and employees of the locations we visit.  HoustonPhotowalks has 3 primary goals.  One of them is to show that Houston-area photographers are great artists to work with.  We never want to burn bridges, and if there ever is an issue, we hope to resolve it privately.

However, Houston-area photographers, schools, selfie-enthusiasts, and the general public are affected by undisclosed “fees” at the Seismique location on Hwy6.  We attempted to resolve the issue privately, but they assured us that the misunderstanding was on my end.  So I felt it was important to share our experience with Houston.  

HoustonPhotowalks visited Seismique last weekend and had a great time.  Although several sections are now closed off, and a few things weren’t working correctly, there were still plenty of exhibits where we could practice our portraits, ICM, composition techniques, and take some fun selfies.  Seismique has become a very popular location for photographers, with beautiful artful walls for backdrops.  It’s also popular with some field-trippers like day schools and afternoon programs.  It’s very unique, interactive, and much larger than most other photography and “selfie-backdrop” locations.

Last week was HoustonPhotowalk’s 2nd visit, and I’ve been there personally 4 times for both photowalks and to do Senior portrait photos for my son and a friend’s daughter.

But when I started doing my bookkeeping after the event, I realized they had charged us $48.45 in taxes on $340 in group tickets (that’s 14.24% tax rate rather than 8.25%).  They gave us a nice group discount, so it’s hard to complain.  But I still have to keep my books and receipts straight.  Thinking maybe they taxed us on the “regular” rate rather than the agreed-on “group” rate, I reached out to them via email:

The following day, they replied that $22.85 was the correct amount of taxes and fees to collect for a $20 purchase.  Note, when we arranged our visit to Seismique, no “fees” were discussed, just $20 per person (and all parties assumed tax).  So when I collected money from our club members for the trip, I didn’t account for an extra 6%.  Here’s their full response:

And for reference, here’s the invoice I was provided:

So we are still at 14.25% in “Taxes”.  Thinking maybe my first email was unclear, I replied, explaining it a little differently:

I was sure this would answer their questions, and all would be resolved.

The following day, they doubled down and further explained why I was wrong.  For each ticket to the museum, they add a “booking fee”:

According to their website, they are “A technology-fueled experiential art museum …”.  I’ve been to a lot of museums over the years.  Some charge tax and some are tax-free; some are “donation-only” visits.  But an undisclosed “booking fee”?  My optimistic side said maybe the “booking fee” was because we had arranged a group event rather than paying the regular rate.  So I checked their website and put one ticket in my cart for $35:

And there it is again, the “tax” rate of 14.25%.  Nowhere on their website do they disclose that a $35 entry into the museum is actually $37.89 + tax.  So the question becomes, is adding an extra 6% to “taxes” even legal?

Don’t get me wrong, $2.89 might not sound like much.  But I was paying for nearly 20 people.  And for the museum, this 6% extra “tax” per person really adds up.  If they have 200 visitors daily, 6 days a week, Houston Photographers, school groups, the general public, and Selfie Enthusiasts are paying $187,488 in undisclosed “booking fees” annually.

From the standpoint of HoustonPhotowalks, we are covered.  I chipped in the shortage rather than trying to collect an extra $3 from everyone that attended the event.  So from our standpoint, there’s nothing else here to be done.

But I felt it was important to share our experience with the photography community in Houston so everyone knows about these unexpected and undeclared fees.  Especially if you bring an entire family, club, school class, etc., these fees will really add up, and you need to be aware of what Seismique is doing.

Joe Lippeatt
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