Travelers often pay a higher admission price to a site or attraction in a developing country (or in their own country) than a local would. In fact, sometimes locals pay nothing at all, further driving up the cost to the foreign visitor. I consider this practice tourist pricing and I am convinced it is wrong. Some travel bloggers would call this a locals discount and would argue it is something completely different and totally justified. Support for this practice is quite thick on the ground, so to speak.
Tourist Pricing vs. Locals Discount
Important distinctions should be made regarding tourist pricing and a locals discount. The locals discount is, according to some, for those who come from the same country as the location of the site/attraction in question, with 3 factors justifying the locals discount.
- The site/attraction represents a World Heritage Site built by ancestors of the locals.
- The site/attraction is run by the government of the country in question, with locals from that country paying taxes to that government.
- The locals cannot afford to pay the price of admission.
Some travelers and travel bloggers define tourist pricing differently, citing the tendency of a local business (restaurant, hotel, gift shop, etc.) or agent (tour guide, cab driver, etc.) to inflate a price in order to maximize on the tourist trade. This is certainly a complicated issue, filled with rules and instances. In this post I will share my own opinion as to why this practice is wrong.
Cutting (Through) Prices
For the sake of argument I will consider tourist pricing and the locals discount to be the same thing, for I believe they both boil down to the same thing: Baseless assumptions that cannot often be proved. Is it fair to assume anything based upon where a person is from or who you think they are?
I believe tourist pricing and the locals discounts are wrong, fully. In this post I will present arguments I have found online in defense of tourist pricing (and the locals discount) and I will argue against each point. I will not mention any travel blogs by name.
Some arguments for justifying outrageous pricing aimed at foreigners are as follows…
“The locals cannot afford the real price.”
One dangerous assumption is made here: The real price. Proponents of tourist pricing/locals discount assume one price is more authentic than the other, deeming the higher price the “real” price. That “real” price is likely arbitrary, anyway. Furthermore, to assume the locals are all of the same means and cannot afford the “real” price is overly romantic and extremely ignorant.
This is perhaps the most rampant argument for tourist pricing; many travelers feel the tourist dollar makes it possible for the locals to visit! Expecting your intervention as a sight-seeing tourist to be somewhat of a panacea to the locals is not a good frame of mind to be in.
“Locals pay for the upkeep of the site/attraction through taxes.”
I love to travel, but arming myself with a particular countries tax distribution is not something I consider before grabbing my bag and passport. The National Museum of Ireland, for example, is free to ALL who enter the doors and the whole museum is fascinating! I simply am not concerned, as a tourist, about the funding of sites and attractions through taxation of locals.
Furthermore, I would say there are people in every country who do not pay any tax at all due to some economic status or simply by design. So, at the point of admission should non-taxpayers of a country be weeded out from those who have paid taxes? I doubt it.
“Your money goes into the economy, which benefits everyone in some way.”
Have the locals benefited if they cannot afford the “real” price? Besides, determining whether everyone benefits from tourist dollars is too vague and brushing up on the allocation of fiscal resources is a bit insipid to most tourists. Tourists spend money beyond touristy pursuits, so why not charge double or more for everything a tourist will need?
Shops everywhere should list prices for locals and prices for tourists, no? Menus in restaurants everywhere should list prices for locals and for tourists; as long as there is total transparency, paying more should be the travelers way of helping out the local economy and feeling good about it, right? Many hotels in Mexico list the prices of their rooms at the front desk in plain sight. It is always good to know you are getting a room (as a tourist!) for the same fair price as a local.
“If you can afford to travel, you can afford to pay more.”
I believe airlines feel the same way about the above statement. The airlines have figured out how to charge more for the unpleasant experience of flying and it infuriates travelers, as it should. They have figured out ways to squeeze more out of you for less in return. You paid a few hundred (or more) for the ticket, therefore an extra 25 bucks for a carry-on bag is no big deal, right? Wrong.
Paying more, by choice, for an enhanced experience aboard an airline is acceptable. Being charged more to put your bag in the overhead bin just because someone in the office figures you can spare an extra few dollars is ridiculous. I do realize the airlines do not discriminate with their extra charges, but that does not make the bitter pill go down any easier. Let me know what you think.
Is paying an extra fee to a corporation (the airlines) different from paying a few dollars more than a local to see an attraction? Maybe. On principle they sound quite similar, though.
“You are visiting developing/3rd world countries. A few extra dollars mean more to them than to you.”
I tend to agree with this statement to a point. In fact, we are ALL hard-wired to view more resources as a solution to everything, but is it?
Horrid poverty does exist in this world. Simply having less should not be confused with abject, crushing poverty. Having less can still mean all your basic needs are met. Having less can mean being more mindful in consumption. Many people in developed countries celebrate mindful consumption; living simple, repurposing (or up-cycling) and buying local are positive traits to strive for.
Mindful consumption looks different in developing countries – necessities take precedent over wants in a way that makes people in developed countries feel bad. Frankly, it is a bit lofty to lament a household that has no access to or cannot afford smart-appliances, performance vehicles, 400 thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets or customized in-home entertainment experiences.
Perhaps my idea of someone having less is a bit romantic and full of assumptions. However, I believe thrift and ingenuity are desirable traits and I have seen in my travels just how prolific these traits are in a large part of the world; relying on these traits is not something that needs to be fixed. I have seen extreme poverty as well and I have never had to travel far at all to see it.
Of course, an altruistic world-view is admirable and traveling to a developing/3rd world country for altruistic reasons is common. Feeling altruistic because you are paying more to get through the gate represents a waste of your good intentions. See the sights (and sites) with the goal of being a tourist rather than a savior – impact a community and make a difference in a more direct way.
Florida residents can purchase special passes from Disney World good for discounted rates on 3 day visits and; even yearly passes, priced rather handsomely, are to be had by Floridians. Tourist pricing (or the locals discount) affects us everywhere; certain state parks in the U.S. allow residents of that state to visit for free, while others are charged. Some state parks charge everyone who enters and some are free for all who enter. We have all seen this in one way or another, either at home or abroad.
I realize my views on this subject may seem a bit harsh. Most travelers would disagree with my view on the role a sight-seeing tourist plays in a particular country. I have observed people with much less who seem to benefit from more social capital, or a sense of community. I see that quality slipping away among those who have…more.
In no way do I wish to muddle the true psyche of a particular place and her people with my perception of friendly, smiling locals; true happiness is something a bit more difficult to put a finger on. True poverty is not something I am attempting to make light of at all.
Finally, in the grand scheme of things this is a minor point to be discussing at all; the practice of tourist pricing will not slow tourists down. Yet, much digital ink has been spilled bringing to light this very topic and it will remain something travelers discuss.
Perhaps the real question is whether or not anyone should tolerate such unfair policy; imagine charging anyone a price for anything based on where they are from or how much it is perceived they are worth. It ceases to hold water rather quickly. Let everyone in for free or charge one fair price for all. Who will complain with that?
Have you experienced tourist pricing? What are your thoughts on this subject? Is there anything you like being charged more for?