Tourist Pricing: Fair or Unfair?

Some time ago, I’ve read a very interesting and yet controversial post titled “Tourist Pricing: Is It Right Or Wrong?” written by fellow budget travel bloggers of Goats On The Road. In this post, Dariece and Nick are discussing the issue of paying higher prices by foreigners which we all experienced at one point or another during our travels.

Local prices of street food in Bali

I remember the comment I left on the post saying:

“One of the reasons why me and Cez did not enjoy some of the days when in Vietnam was paying “tourist” prices which were at least 5 times higher than the local prices. We felt like everyone was trying to rip us off. We stopped trusting people with prices and didn’t have much fun there :-(“.

Our Experience

Our visit to the Philippines made me start thinking of this issue once again. As you have probably read in my previous notes, me and Cez didn’t enjoy the country as much as we thought we would. Actually, we felt disappointed in some way. I guess the expectations and the reality clashed. One of the reasons (not the main one though) was the lack of hospitality we experienced when visiting Pagudpud, Laoag, Cebu and Manila. This was our first time when locals asked us to pay them for taking photos, we we had to pay extra faxes and fees at airports, bus and ferry stations (because we’re foreigners) and we were, of course, triple charged for the food and drinks in some local places.

Terminal fees at Cebu ferry station

 

At some point we felt like “walking ATMs”. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t mind paying fees at the airports when we have to, but when you hear “Sorry, but you have to pay for the photo” when you are just about to capture a beautiful Filipino girl in the street, you don’t feel like taking more photos…

We felt like the line between “You can pay more to support our local community” and “I want to rip you off because you are a rich white person” has been in many situations faded.

Locals’ Excuses To Charge Foreign Travelers More:

1: “You earn more than us”

This is one of the most common excuses I’ve ever heard. Some locals blame us for earning more money than they do and they feel like it is so unfair for us to pay the same amount of money for products/services locals would normally get charged. Is it true? I don’t think so. Nick in his post points out that “If indeed all tourists did make more than all locals in the given country, then surely it would be fair for them to pay more… but this simply isn’t true. All tourists enter the Pyramids Of Egypt and pay $10 alongside Egyptian oil tycoons and resort owners who pay only 50¢. Given the absence of any financial checks, this argument is wrong as it’s no longer about wage, but about color of skin and nationality, which simply boils down to discrimination.” Would you agree?

Foreign price

Yara points out “I´ve experienced that on a daily basis in India, Thailand, Malaysia… Seems like Asian countries love to suck in our pockets like vampires. They assume that because were white we´re all rich, but the fact is that I´m for a very poor European country where there´s no work, no money, nothing but recession and crisis whereas I´ve seem too many rich Indians strolling around in their massive cars, wearing gold and diamonds, which is something I would never be able to afford.” Would you agree?

2: “You can afford your travels so you have money”

I’ve heard this excuse countless of time when in China. Some locals think that if we can afford to travel the world, we are rich people and we simply don’t care about money Why? Because in most of Asian countries only a bunch of well-educated and wealthy people can travel. It’s a privilege. Is it true? Not really. What they forget about is that some of us had to work our asses off for many years to save up the money to travel. Some of us have limited budget (like us) and if we don’t control it, the journey is over. Some of us make a lot of sacrifices to be able to afford long-term journeys and being ripped off every day does not help at all.

Getting on a plane to Cebu

3: “In your country you would pay much more”

Yes, but I am not in my country. I’m in a country where things are much cheaper. If things were not cheaper, I probably would be here…

This excuse frustrates me the most, seriously. When I’m in America, I pay $4 for a cup of coffee. When I am in Poland, I pay $2,5 for the same Starbucks coffee and when I’m in Cambodia, I expect to pay $1. Why? Because these are price standards and they differ a lot in every country.

Do we expect Chinese or Cambodian people to pay more for stuff when they visit our country? No! Do we charge Filipino tourists/travelers more because they are foreigners when visiting our homeland? No! Why? Because it’s unfair. We treat people equally in our country and we want them to feel like home.

4: “You are on a holiday, you can spend a lot of money”

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Some locals can easily say who is a holiday maker and who is a traveler. When they see an older couple wearing flip flops and hats, they assume they are holiday makers. What does it mean? It means they have money and they can easily get ripped off. I remember one Vietnamese saying “Old people are easily to rip off. They don’t know how to haggle. They are way too lazy and old for this.” I was speechless…

It is commonly believed in poorer countries, that holiday makers don’t pay much attention to money because they go on a holiday once a year and want to enjoy themselves to the fullest. They don’t control their budget and spend way too much when they get drunk. That gives locals a great opportunity to charge them more and you know what? They often succeed.

5:”Nothing’s free”

SONY DSC

Me and Cez were at one of Bali beaches and we wanted to use the public toilet. When we were just about to enter, a young Indonesian girl approached us saying “Sorry, but you have to pay $0.5 to use the toilet.” We were like “Sorry, but it’s a public toilet and we saw Indonesian people leaving without paying” and we heard “Nothing’s free in Indonesia!”

That made us think that foreigners are treated as a great source of money by some locals. Is it fair? I don’t think so.

How Does Tourist Pricing Affect us?

Let me quote some of the most interesting comments I found under Dariece and Nick’s post.

Marcus says:

“As a Canadian living in Egypt right now, I experience this on a daily basis, Very rarely have I ever got the “Egyptian Price” for anything I’ve purchased here. It just feels incredibly unfair….. And your comparison with Niagara Falls is spot on. The practice of “tourist pricing” will by no means result in us traveling less, but its does leave you with a little bit of resentment, which ultimately means your experience isn’t as good as it otherwise would’ve been….”

Cyra adds:

“Vietnam was the WORST for it. Oh my gosh, in Vietnam I felt like every corner I turned there was someone or something waiting to rip me off again! It also made me not enjoy Vietnam as much as I could have.”

Guilin, Guangxi

Tourist pricing can affect our travels in many ways. Being charged more can make our journey last much shorter that we may expect. The more money we spend, the less we can travel – as simple as that. It is incredibly frustrating if you keep monitoring your budget and restrict yourself from Western food, excursions, you pick up local buses over trains and planes as it’s much cheaper and then someone tries to suck in your pocket like a vampire with no regrets or mercy!

SONY DSC

Secondly, a feeling of being treated as a cash point isn’t nice. That can make you enjoy the country less. It happens a lot. You want to feel the warmth and cozy atmosphere but you end up hating this place as locals keep overcharging you.

Think of the stress and pressure we feel when haggling. Some foreigners (most likely inexperienced solo female travelers) don’t find bargaining comfortable. Doing it twice or even five times a day is not much fun.

What’s your opinion on this matter? Is tourist pricing fair?

Yes or no?

How has/can/would affect your travels? Finally, what’s your experience? 

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About Agness

Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"


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49 Comments

  • The first time I experienced “tourist pricing” was in Poland.
    Just after the “velvet revoæution” I and my boyfriend travelled
    through Poland to Prague. Everything from hotelrooms to food in
    restaurants had a double pricing system – one for polish people
    and one for tourists.

    I find it both understandable and unfair. I agree that Vietnam was the
    worst place to travel in terms of ripping off tourists.

    • Hi Rita,

      Thank you for sharing your experience. It sounds really bad. Luckily the prices in Poland are much lower and there are no “tourist pricing” as far as I am concerned.

  • Nice post, Agness. The concept of paying more because you’re a foreigner was absolutely new to me when I came to India. Just like one of the girls you’ve mentioned, I’m from a poor Eastern European country with terrible economic situation, and it felt strange to pay Rs 750 to see the Taj when locals payed only Rs 20.

  • Great post! We’ve noticed this has become quite the controversial issue lately with some people for it, and some against. We have an understanding of both sides but coming from a country where the streets would be filled with protests at the slightest mention of unequal and unfair treatment, we also received a huge shock when we first encountered “foreigner prices.”

    The biggest problem for us is that feeling like walking dollar signs makes us feel unwelcome and unable to interact with the locals and the culture in any other way. We’re forced to look for bargains, avoid certain areas and sights and be on the lookout for scams.

    When we finally made our way to Taiwan, and now Japan, we were surprised at how much the REVERSE is true. Restaurants in Taiwan would offer us a free dish from the owner to try “Taiwanese cuisine” and people were genuinely interested in showing us the Taiwanese experience. In Japan, bus drivers actually refused to let us pay our fare because we missed our stop and had to backtrack!

    Sure, Japan and Taiwan are wealthier countries by Southeast Asian standards, but there’s still a large divide between the wealthy and the poor and yet, hospitality and mutual respect was found wherever we went throughout both countries.

    We love Southeast Asia and plan to head back, but after so long away, it will be quite the shock to once again be targeted for the “supposed wealth” we have.

  • I am an American currently winding up an 8 month around the world trip. I was taken back by how tourist are considered a cash cow in every aspect of life while traveling I could not trust one person in Asia / india. If someone pointed out to me the correct gate to enter in a park (even if I had not asked for help) immediately the hand would come outfor a tip. I experienced this even from security guards at ATMs! Offering assistance whether solicited or not would blatantly ask for a tip. Then of course you have the two tier pricing for locals and “farangs”. Even in a Europe they discriminate against older non Europeans where EU people over 65 are free or reduced fares at many museums but not for non EU people! Another example is in Italy at the train stations where even the porters with uniforms must be hangled with for help with luggage. Themost guilty must be Asia and India. I caused a constant stir out in the smaller cities of India. Many many wanted photos with me but none thought they should pay me but in Asia taking a casual snapshot of a market scene would generate an inquiry from someone for the photo op! I am a female over 60 years of age and was stunned at being propositioned by young men in their 20s! It is what it is but the flavor of my travels during many episodes was spoilt due to the constant barrage of begging, whining and aggressive behavior at times. I find it interesting you broached this topic. No one wants to point out any of the negative aspects of world travel on their blogs. I appreciate your doing so. I was totally unaware of this side of international travel and it did take the blush off try travels initially but I was committed to finding the good side. And truly there are many.

  • We totally understand why we are charged more when entering sites but don’t always agree with it.
    It is sometimes upsetting when you go somewhere and the price is tripled but we still have the choice to enter with the ridiculous fee or not. We decided to not go into the Royal Palace in Bangkok because of the jacked up fee for foreigners but of course we are going to pay to see the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids.

    Many of these countries rely on tourism where as coming from Canada we do not. Vietnam depends on tourism but if they continue to rip people off their number will decline. Then maybe they will decide to change things.

  • Hi Agness,

    The thing that gets me is that although I am used to this, it’s racist. At least Western country residents view it as racist. Now, I don’t get upset much because to locals, it’s not racist. It just makes sense. But of course many tourists wind up paying less money over the long haul because they leave the country early, with a poor taste in their mouth, and yep, it backfires every time.

    I totally understand the reasons and have few problems paying the extra dough but in the end, it just seems kinda silly and yep, the R word, too lol.

    Neat post guys. I love how you tackle these topics. Good on you!

    Ryan

  • Personally, I do not believe it is fair to have to pay higher prices based on the assumption that because I am visiting a country that I have money to burn.

  • Oooh I feel you! My worst travel and rip-off experience was Cuba…There is even different currency for foreigners. And the Cuban way to say ” you’re tourist so you pay more” was the most insolent thing happening to me every SINGLE day on the island and I became weary of having an argue every time I tried to get something to eat …This tourist pricing is unfair and disgusting!

  • I think it depends. I really don’t see a problem with paying more to enter major tourist sites like the pyramids or the taj mahal. I honestly see that more as a discount for locals who otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to afford to enter. It takes money to maintain and keep up a major world heritage site like that and it’s worth the price of admission.

    And this concept does exist in the US although it may not be as noticeable, but just for example, parks and beaches often have lower prices for local residents vs out of town/county/state visitors. Even universities have lower priced tuition for local residents.

    As far as paying more for food/souvenirs, yes it’s annoying to be charged more but you can always haggle or take your business elsewhere. I always ask how much things cost at a couple of places before buying common souvenir type things.

  • I don’t like to pay higher price but I can think of some better reasons that the locals can use than the ones listed. For example, for countries that depends of tourism for their economy, charging higher price will help their economy or for those locals that earn most of their money during the few months of tourism season, earning money during those month can be quite important. Tourism is an industry.

  • I hate feeling ripped off, but in a way I can understand why it happens. Although we travel on a budget and spend a lot of time and energy saving up before-hand, the local people of certain countries are just struggling to make ends meet and provide for their families. Travel really isn’t an option for most of them, so they see us as rich. It’s more annoying when it is a big company who charge different prices- like the pyramids as you mention, though I feel like less wealthy local people should really be able to see things in their area for free.

    I’ve found that this kind of tourist pricing is usually much worse in places that have been exposed to mass tourism or have a bad history with “the West”. There was nothing like that in the less touristy parts of South America, but I had the same experience in Vietnam. I can’t really blame the people of Vietnam for being discriminatory towards westerners after the war, but you’re right it doesn’t make for an enjoyable backpacker experience.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article. :)

  • Wow, I had no idea this was an issue. It doesn’t seem fair at all. Is this true if you speak the local language fluently or do you have to look like everyone else too?

    In America we kind of have the same issues, not really though. Tourist trap areas have things way more expensive than non tourist areas. One tip is don’t buy tourist tshirts in the tourist trap. Go to the local wal-mart or sometimes grocery store and there will be cheap tshirts that cost $5, not $30, that say the same thing on them.

  • We think you overvalue the whole issue.
    It’s always about little money in all these countries.
    So why pay attention to this? It’s better to focus on what you see and experience than on things you that you can’t control ;).

  • Such a thought-provoking article, I agree that charging tourists much more is probably going to put them off travelling to the countries in question. For photos, I do ask before taking shots of any people and sometimes they don’t want a photo taken for religious or personal reasons, and sometimes they want a printed copy (which can be a little tricky but I’m fine with that)

    Suze | LuxuryColumnist

  • Such a thought-provoking article, I agree that charging tourists much more is probably going to put them off travelling to the countries in question. For photos, I do ask before taking shots of any people and sometimes they don’t want a photo taken for religious or personal reasons, and sometimes they want a printed copy (which can be a little tricky but I’m fine with that)

  • Thanks for writing this Agness. I think it depends.
    Tourist pricing isn’t fair but I get where they are coming from. I think in cultural sights and buildings, it’s OK to do so, so that the buildings will continue to be maintained and a pleasure for everyone to visit. Locals should pay less. This is also done in America and in Europe, as you want the local population to partake in these wonderful places too, and not just for “tourist.”

    Many establishments try to take advantage of the “stupid tourist” but that’s not exclusive to Asia, that’s pretty much everywhere. What I don’t like is the blantant price difference in European countries. I used to live in Prague and there used to be two prices put up. One in Czech (the real price), and one in English or German (the tourist price). It was always a battle to get the real price and not only that, but the real menu too!

    I remember going to the Vietnamese “China Town” in Berlin. I had just returned from Vietnam where I had a wonderful time, and was very keen to continue the vibe. I went to a local restaurant at the Vietnam Market and I saw a man eating the real stuff. I ordered it but the waiter refused to sell it to me. Oh, and there were two menus too! I was so disappointed and never went back.

  • I honestly don’t think it’s fair. We actually had this conversation a few days ago when we were charged an insane amount for potatoes and broccoli at a local Thai market (it was more than we would pay in a fancy super market for double the amount of vegetables…) The person overcharging me doesn’t know me or my financial status. And it’s simply not true that ALL travellers make more money than the locals. And I don’t even think that it’s about the money, it’s about the feeling of being cheated, and I’m sure that’s a terrible feeling no matter where you’re from!

    Also, there are so many places where I think it is fair to be charged a little more, like a nice restaurant that’s obviously catered towards foreigners, has an English menu and you know, chairs and tables that are human-sized. Then I think it’s fair for that place to charge more than the little noodle shop across the road. But everyone, not just foreigners.

  • I’m with you on this matter, but at the same time I understand why they inflate prices for tourists. I’m good at haggling but there is one service I simply can’t stand being ripped-off… Taxis.

    I hate taxis… even ours in Canada :P

  • I’m in an odd situation with this, because I am an Australian living in Pakistan, and trying to settle here. I sometimes get charged higher prices because of my skin colour, and the “you can afford it” line doesn’t work because I’m earning in Pakistani rupees, like a Pakistani.

    I tend to think that “foreigner pricing” isn’t fair, but that when a tourist earns so much money compared to the vendor, it might be frustration, but that’s all – we can’t really get TOO angry over a few extra dollars. But when I’m trying to fit in, settle and be treated as a local (including local salary and nationality application in process), what does “foreigner pricing” represent to me?

    • I get ya, mate! It can be really frustrating if you want to settle down somewhere but still don’t feel like being entirely accepted by the locals.

  • I agree with everything you say. Tourists not always earn more money than local people. And you’re right, if the country would be more expensive, I probably wouldn’t go there. I am experiencing the same here in Mexico, entrance fees in archeological sites or museums are almost always cheaper for Mexicans than local people.
    And for example, what do they do if you are an expat. If you are working in the country and earn the same amount of money a local does?!

  • That sounds terrible, especially if you go that far to see a new culture and country!! And there isn’t much you can do other than accept it for what it is. This is a bit unrelated but it reminded me of my hometown in Argentina where if you park your car anywhere, on a neighborhood for example, you have to pay some dude who is standing in that area to “watch over your car” and if you don’t pay him then you will find your car scratched when you get back -.- Why can’t people just be nice to each other? This is a rip off to locals though.

  • I always have to take in consideration the country I am visiting, the place where I am, the service that I am getting in order to come up with a good answer to the price issue. Thanks for showing some aspects of it, making me understand better…

  • Call me a total cynical, but what if we charged tourists more in our home countries? Let’s say, you’re white European. If in Europe we charged South Americans, Asians, Africans higher prices, what would we be called? Hmmmmm… Yep, that word no one wants to be called would be shouted at us loudly and clearly. Yet, the reverse seems totally acceptable – although not a pleasant thing to experience.

    On the other hand, when you mention that, in the Philippines, someone asked you to pay for taking their picture, I think they’re in their right. At least I wouldn’t be pleased if some tourist (or anyone, for that matter) pointed a camera at me and took a picture. I understand and agree that in many other countries people will smile and pose for pictures, and that’s their choice. I’m guilty of taking people of passers by when I’m travelling, but in this case, maybe we should just put ourselves in other people’s shoes. :-)

    (I forgot to say, I like to play the role of devil’s advocate! :-D)

  • This is a mentality that only exists in some countries, with Vietnam being one of the worst. Vietnamese behave as if extracting as much money from tourists as possible is a sport. Vote with your feet, travel to different countries that treat tourists as honoured guests. The vietnamese do not deserve our tourist dollars.

    We have experienced the opposite in Myanmar, Iran, Turkey, China and many other countries where we are treated with respect and frequently get given things for free.

    Inexperienced travellers that throw around money with excessive tips or happily getting ripped off make this problem worse.

  • Absolutely true! We had the same experience while traveling in Asia. Sometimes it was really annoying and we did not like it at all. In Indonesia they want you to pay for almost everything, but most of the time we could bargain and get better price. My advice is do not pay if you think that it is not fair & try to bargain everything! Good luck! :)

  • The problem is that I’m not a tourist but an expat where I’m currently at in Croatia. I look for places to have lunch at on a weekly basis, and for me, it’s a treat. I have a budget just like everyone else, and I”m certain that many of the locals here have more money and property than I have or have had in the past when I was building my business. I’m not rich enough to be paying tourist prices now till the end of time.. I’ll pay taxes and spend my money, but it has to be honest, and I have to stick to my budget too or I’d be broke every month.

    When I’m charged more, given “extras” that I didn’t ask for and am expected to pay for, or any sneaky shennanigans take place, I go elsewhere. It absolutely infuriates me.. just the sheer sneakiness disguised as “hospitality.” I have learned to go to places that I trust, and find waitstaff that I know and trust, or sadly, have to have that awkward moment when I have to say ONLY THIS.. and point to the menu and not get a nasty surprise at the end for getting charged for premium wine when I asked for the 10kn house wine I had last week, for premium mineral water when I ask for ordinary water, or bread when I don’t specifically ask for it.

    I get soo tired of the sheer anxiety of it all.

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