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”

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”

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!

Secondly, a feeling of being treated as an ATM 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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Agness Walewinder
Agness Walewinder
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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