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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.

  1. The site/attraction represents a World Heritage Site built by ancestors of the locals.
  2. The site/attraction is run by the government of the country in question, with locals from that country paying taxes to that government.
  3. The locals cannot afford to pay the price of admission.

    tourists standing in a line.
    Are These Locals or Tourists?

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.

old postcard of a bus offering white house tours.

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.

old photo of tourists wearing hats.
These are Tourists!

“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.

people in line at an airport check-in counter.
Who’s Ready to Pay More?!

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.

people in the back of a pick-up truck at a gas station.
Getting By and Making Do

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.

In Conclusion:

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?


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20 Comments

  1. I think there has been a lot of thought given to this matter and the practice has been higher prices for tourists and lower prices for licals. It makes sense that demand is low from locals so lowering the price would tend to stimulate demand. On the other hand, demand is high from tourists so increasing the price would depress demand. It is the age-old kaw of supply and demand. Perfect business sense.

    • Hi Carol,

      Supply and demand may indeed be a factor. We would love to know exactly what the ratio of domestic tourists to foreign tourists is at sights which charge foreigners more, which is what I believe you are speaking of. Of course, simply observing the crowd oneself and guessing would work as well.

      In this case, it is technically referred to as pricing discrimination, which is a real economic term and not at all a bad thing. I wonder if it is always used correctly though, for it was never meant to be based on race, religion, nationality or gender and it is illegal to use the practice based on those 4 factors in many countries throughout the world.

      As I mentioned in my post though, I am guilty of not brushing up on many things before I travel to a foreign country, such as fiscal allocation or legal economic practices. It is often a tough pill to swallow though, being considered based upon race or nationality, but it happens – and in much more sever cases than what I am speaking of, no doubt.

      Can supply and demand (and pricing discrimination) extend to other examples of tourist pricing? Can taxis, shops, hotels and eating establishments justify how they decide to charge tourists the same way? Does anyone really want to be charged more than the other person for anything, based on nationality?

      Thanks for commenting on this subject. Ourselves, we expect this at sites from time to time and we never refuse a site because of it. We enjoy discussing these things with other travelers and we certainly appreciate other views. We thank you again for yours.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  2. I had no idea that there was such a thing as a tourist price. Thank you for sharing this information and your thoughts on the matter. Very informative!

  3. I’m with Maggie in the first comment, I believe cheaper prices allow locals to visit more often which in turn usually equals more revenue if they are spending money once they are inside the park/attractions/museum. Not always but I would guess typically that happens. I appreciate your opinion, but have to honestly say that I don’t care either way because I think I’ve been accustomed to paying different prices in certain countries including my own in the United States.

    • Hello Angela,

      I am aware of this happening in the United States as well and I have pointed out several examples in the post where it does. I guess you can say I am used to it also. It does, however, remain a topic many travel bloggers have posted on – just search on-line for “tourist pricing”

      Many travelers seem to be just fine with paying more than locals into a site, as I can see from the comments here and from what I read on-line from other bloggers. Having said that, some of those same people leaving comments on this post have mentioned they would not be happy with being charged more at a restaurant for the same dish that would be served to a local, or to be charged more at a shop for the same goods (I do not mean souvenirs or the like) as a local.

      Digging deeper into this post mentions more than just locals who visit sites in their own country. If good intentions abound with our tourist money when it comes to making it possible for locals to visit sites, why not extend it to EVERYTHING a tourist would need in a poor country? Would you be fine with a taxi fare that is double what a local would pay? How about accommodation? There seems to be a disparity, as a tourist, between paying more into a site or an attraction and paying more for food and other goods and services a local would use also, based on these comments.

      The pervasiveness of tourist pricing and a locals discount certainly does not discourage ourselves from travel. We do, however encourage discussion with other travelers about things we all see whilst on the road, and we thank you for joining the discussion.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  4. I think one argument you didn’t mention is that by giving locals discounts, it encourages them to visit the parks/museums/sites that are so readily available to them. It’s the same thought process as having in-state vs. out-of-state tuition. Places want the locals to come visit because the locals are already there. Colleges want in-state students to attend their colleges.
    I don’t really think that this is a topic to get worked up about. It’s not something new. Locals get to take advantage of being a local; tourists/outsiders have the disadvantage of being outsiders. Is it fair? No, but since when has the world been fair haha?

    • Maggie,

      We can assure we are not getting worked up over this and I hope I did not come across as being so in this post. In our travels, we try to see places for the way they are – good and bad – and that means not turning a blind eye to what we find uncomfortable to discuss with other travelers, hence this travel blog. Travel is not always teddy bears, roses, fizzy drinks and pool-side romps – those things are perfect but that is not the way life or travel is, as you know.

      You are right this is nothing new and being charged more into a sight has never stopped us ourselves – it never will. I certainly did acknowledge in the post this happens not just in foreign countries, but in my own country. I mention plenty of examples of how we see this at home.

      I really do appreciate you finding this post compelling enough to tell us exactly how you feel, even if you do not agree with our stance. Life is not perfect or fair and it is fine to discuss that. It is unfair to pretend it is.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  5. Definitely a tricky subject. Understand both sides to the perspective. Don’t mind if being charges slightly more in a much cheaper country. Feel very petty if arguing over what ends up equaling $1 USD. Large amounts are a whole different story if locals are trying to swindle, though.

    • Greg,

      Yes, this a tricky subject and we thank you for your comment. You seem to see there is a line that can be crossed. True, there are times when we may not know if the merchant or agent has tacked on a few extra cents or dollars. If we know the price or the going rate we will make sure that is what we are charged.

      On, say, a chicken bus in Guatemala, we will ask a local sitting near us what the fare is to the final stop or wherever it is we are going on the bus. When the attendant comes around to collect the fares, we know what the rate is already and they almost ALWAYS quote the same price we were told by the locals, which is nice. But when we are asked to pay more for something – and we know what the price is already – we simply pay no more.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  6. To be honest, this isn’t something I’ve given a lot of thought to throughout the years. Generally, I think that paying a higher price than locals makes sense to me when what I’m paying a higher price for is something that “belongs” to them anyway. For example, when we went to La Soufriere in St Lucia, our guide was telling us about how all the families used to gather there on Sundays to bath in the volcano’s mud. As the ground became unstable (so it needed to be maintained and studied) while also becoming more popular with tourists, people, foreigners, began to be charged and only permitted with guides while locals still continued to go into the area through a different route. I wasn’t particularly bothered by this. It seems wrong to me to take something, some piece of land etc from people who have always used it and bar them from entering it again by creating fees. I’m quite glad that the locals still have the ability to use the land and the volcano in the ways they always have, as though they’re grandfathered into it’s use. I don’t like the idea of appropriating some land or structure for tourism, which creating fees locals can’t pay would certainly do.

    Additionally, when i think of the Walt Disney World example, I think the reason Florida residents get a discount is not to punish nonresidents, but to “lure” FL residents into spending more money than they otherwise would. The passes can only be used at certain times of the year when the park wouldn’t be as crowded as usual–non desirable times to go. So, they sell a cheap ticket hoping that they can make more money off of the Florida residents. I don’t see it as a benefit for the locals; it’s a benefit for Disney.

    I’m not particularly sure how I’d feel running into differences in menus etc. That might be a bit harder pill for me to swallow. But, again, that’s why I live in NYC and wouldn’t consider heading to Times Square for an overpriced dinner (but even there at least I’d be paying the same as any tourist).

    • Jen,

      Indeed, the ramifications of tourism can cut both ways. What was once a place for locals has been “taken” by tourists – who bring money with them. We wonder if charging a fair price for all is possible. The locals benefit from the upkeep of their natural resources without a doubt, and them paying a small amount would help them see the worth in those natural resources. Actually handing over money to use this resource can give the locals an incentive to appreciate it a bit more, like keeping it clean and wishing it to remain so. We feel this is the case at home, as well.

      My mention of Disney World was really used as an example of how tourist pricing is not limited to developing/3rd world countries. When I go home to visit my family in Pennsylvania I always go fishing with my father and I have to pay a special rate for my license, as a non-resident. And of course in the post I mentioned state parks which were also used as an example to let readers know how common this practice is here at home. We feel, however, charging a foreign visitor in the U.S. an inflated rate to visit Disneyland or Disney World or a National Park would would be wrong, so we laud anywhere that does not discriminate based on where the tourist is from.

      This is just our opinion but it certainly does not stop us from traveling and paying in to sites that are free to nationals, or local residents. Rather, we feel as if it is just a great topic for discussion and we really do appreciate your honest take on it.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  7. It is an interesting debate. In some cases I have experienced sights at third world that were free to those with resident ID and for anyone outside of the region a fee was charged and had no problem with it. Why? The people in the region were VERY poor and the heritage site that was important to them culturally would be priced out of access at any charge. On the other hand, there are those destinations that simply take advantage of tourists by charging more because, well, they assume you don’t read the language (so you get the “special” menu), etc. That aggravates me no end. Typically, if someone hands me an English menu in a foreign country, I ask immediately for the local menu (even if I can’t read it, that is part of the adventure, right?). Now, you mention Disney — not a valid argument here. Disney in all parts of the world offer special packages to locals to encourage them to visit more and I used to take advantage of that long ago … because frankly, as a local, I would visit a lot more with the pass and spend money then inside than I would have otherwise. That, my friends, is simply good marketing.

    • Michael,

      Thanks for seeing both sides of the argument. Tourists spend their money beyond the sites and sights, like restaurants and corner shops. Ourselves, we tend to always eat in comedors and the like when we travel, so we have never really run into a tourist menu. We do not think most people would be fine with a menu listing 2 prices for the same dish based upon where you come from. Nor would most people be fine with paying more for a hotel based on the same thing.

      My mention of Disney was really meant as an example of how this practice goes beyond developing/3rd world countries. We certainly understand Disney in Florida or California will not charge a tourist from a foreign country a different price, though. I pay more, as a non-resident, to get a fishing license when I go home to Pennsylvania to visit family. Whether it is right or wrong is still topic for debate here, but I always wind up going fishing with my father and having great time. Again, just another example of how pervasive the practice is. Of course, none of these practices will keep us from traveling!

      We do thank you for your honest approach to the subject.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  8. Ufff I have to say I feel 100% differently on this one!
    My first encounter with tourist pricing was in Turkey some years back. I went to join some Turkish friends at a cafe and the waiter actually had the “audacity” to bring me a tourist menu and my 3 Turkish friends local menus with local pricing ? Was I thrilled to pay more? Of course not. But it began a dialogue with my friends and I learn that at that time the average income in the regions was about 7 dollars a day. The business has essentially 3 options: 1. charge everyone the lower prices, make very little money, allow the city to become overrun by cheapskate foreigners looking to nickel and dime. 2. Charge everyone the higher price, essentially barring locals from entering the business since they simply wouldn’t have the money do so, thus setting up a system where locals are treated like second class citizens in their own cities or 3. locals discounts.
    Another prime example would be the Angkor Temple Complex in Cambodia. Tourists pay about 35 dollars a day to access the temples, while Cambodians enter free. The temples are the heart and soul of Khmer culture, stretching thousands of years back to a time when the Khmer empire was the most powerful of the region. The vast majority of Cambodians would never be able to pay $35 to visit the temples (the average monthly salary is about $300), and would be losing an important aspect of their culture and history, while thousands of visitors a year stop by to snap insta pics. A great deal of money is needed to maintain the temples (there are well over 200), so they couldn’t possibly allow everyone to enter for free, hence, tourist prices.
    I totally get not wanting to pay more, but I think it’s so important that as travellers we always strive to respect the places we’re visiting and ensure that our impact is as neutral and non-negative as possible. Just my two cents 🙂

    • Erica,

      We certainly do appreciate your honest comment on this matter. It is not a feel-good topic, yet we all have experienced it and we have our individual take on it. For that, it is worthy of discussion

      Would every restaurant in Turkey have such a menu, where tourists get charged more? Certainly shops selling basic goods are often run by locals; do they have the audacity to charge you more than your Turkish friends, just because? My argument here is that there has to be a point where a line becomes crossed, where assuming someone belongs in one group based on what they look like or how much they may be worth is dicey.

      What would be the ratio of nationals to foreign tourists, in your guess, visiting Angkor Wat? Is it possible to charge a fair price to EVERYONE (not letting everyone in for free) while still pulling in enough to upkeep the site? Can EVERYONE benefit from contributing to the price of admission? Totally. Besides, how much do you charge a foreigner into Angkor Wat from an equally poor country? I am certain these foreigners visit the temple complex as well. Furthermore, does being Cambodian mean you have a direct link to the builders of the temple after thousands of years? As I mentioned in the post, we can make a positive impact on the places we visit in a way much more direct than simply paying into a site. If you want to be a tourist, be one. If you want to make a palpable difference, impact people directly rather than in passing.

      Again, although we have differing opinions we do thank you for sharing yours on this potentially thorny subject. As travellers we must be prepared to point out the good with the bad or offer our take on the right or the wrong. Can we debate about the proliferation of litter in developing countries? Yes. Is it something many tourists fear to mention? It is. Need we be afraid to have healthy conversations about the differences between our own cultures and the cultures we have decided to learn more about as we travel. No. So we thank you again for not being timid in seeing it for what it is, according to your personal belief, and having the desire to discuss it honestly on our travel blog and through this particular forum where we have found each other. Again, we appreciate your honest input.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  9. A lot of great arguments here. I am indifferent with this topic. I can see both arguments and sides. I don’t live in a huge tourist area so I can’t argue with being a local where tourists come.

    • Tif,

      We do thank you for reading this post and seeing merit in both sides. This affects some travellers more than others and, as you have mentioned, some locals more than others.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  10. I’ve never thought much about tourist pricing until I went to a cat cafe in Japan. I’m half Japanese so I am able to read Japanese and when I saw their menu in Japanese, I noticed that the prices and packages were cheaper than the tourist price I had paid. I paid the tourist price because I don’t look Japanese, so they automatically assumed I wasn’t Japanese and a tourist. Not a good feeling when I found out what was going on:(

    • Candy,
      We certainly thank you for reading into this post and we tank you for turning us onto cat cafes, which seem to be a new thing. Our knowledge of these is scant. And we are bit saddened to learn there can be such a blatant difference in prices a tourist would pay over a local at a cafe.
      Charging someone based on where it is perceived they are from, or how they look should not sit well with people. Thanks for your honest response on this touchy subject!
      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

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