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…

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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…

See also  Living Like a Local in Saigon

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…

IMG 8845 e1396950757765

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!”

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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!

DSC02383

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
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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50 thoughts on “Tourist Pricing: Fair or Unfair?”

  1. Avatar of Tim UrbanDuniya

    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?

    1. Avatar of Agness Walewinder
      Agness Walewinder

      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.

  2. Avatar of Stef

    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?!

  3. Avatar of Alejandra

    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.

  4. Avatar of Laura @Travelocafe

    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…

  5. Avatar of Pedro @travelwithpedro

    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)

  6. Avatar of Wai

    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.

  7. Avatar of Kristina

    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! :)

  8. Avatar of julia

    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.

  9. Avatar of Dazza

    As a tourist i have no problem paying a tourist price in much poorer countries. All i ask is it’s clearly shown on a website or payment desk and not just asked for verbally. Also with public transport that if there is a higher rate it stays and that price and doesn’t fluctuate with each transaction. If the are upfront and honest people will find it less frustrating and a possible holiday ruined

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