If you’ve traveled anywhere outside the developed world, you know that for you there is always a “special” tourist price, and by special I don’t mean discounted. If locals pay $5 for a taxi ride, you pay $10, though you’re probably quoted at least $15. Walk into a hotel and the rate you’re quoted is probably not the same rate quoted to the person in front of you or person behind you. You’re constantly being sized up. How much money do you look like you have? How much money do you look like you’ll pay? How big of a sucker do you appear to be?
Most things don’t come with a price tag in the developing world. You have to figure out what something is worth to you and then bargain with the person offering said item until you reach a point where you are happy with the price or you just have to walk away. It’s all a part of the game. Some people take it too far, fussing over the equivalent of pennies, while others hand over whatever is asked the first time around. Neither is good…for you, for other travelers, or for the local economy.
Most of the time I don’t mind it. But sometimes, like when a guy selling fake sunglasses asks $30 for them when even in the U.S. you wouldn’t pay more than $5, it bothers me. Do I really look like I found the tree from which money freely falls? I’ve accepted the fact I’ll pay more; I’m not willing to be extorted.
In Asia more than anywhere else we have been, “special” prices for tourists are the norm. And here tourist rates aren’t just for taxi rides, market purchases, hotel rooms, and the like; they’re also for admission to attractions. On one hand, I understand this. The citizens of developing nations usually don’t have loads of extra cash to spend on visits to museums, historical sites, and the like. You can also argue that through taxes and the like, locals are already paying for these places.
On the other hand, why can’t there just be a set value for things? In the U.S., if I want to visit the Grand Canyon, I have to pay the same as someone from Europe as someone from India as someone from Mexico. We have determined that the seeing the Grand Canyon is worth a certain amount, and if you want to visit it, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, you have to pay the price. Some of my taxes are already going to support the national parks, but I’m not given reduced admission because of that. Perhaps using the U.S. as an example is not fair considering they’re not going to let you in to the country in the first place unless you can prove you have a good bit of money, but the idea remains…there is a firm and fixed value for things irregardless of circumstances.
Most of the time, I just roll with it, pay what I have to pay and move on. And sometimes it seems like it’s not a bad deal. For instance, to visit the forts and palaces in Rajasthan, India, we had to pay about 250-300 rupees ($5-6) each while locals paid around 10. It’s a big difference, but for their 10 rupees locals were given nothing but admission; those paying the foreign price received nice brochures as well as very well-done and interesting audio guides. Additionally, the notices that said the admission fees were going toward restoration work didn’t seem like BS, as the buildings were all in rather remarkable shape and were well tended to.
In Uttar Pradesh, it was a completely different story. At Fatehpur Sikri and Orchha, we again paid about 25 times the local price, but this time got nothing in return, not even a sketch map of the site. Additionally, the sites were not very well-maintained, so it felt as all the extra money we paid was just going right into the lining of someone’s pocket (which I have no doubt it was).
At the Taj Mahal, foreigners pay 750 rupees, 75 times the local price. But don’t worry you do get something extra here: a 500 ml bottle of water valued at 6 rupees and a pair of shoe covers so you can walk around the Taj without removing your shoes worth about 10 rupees. Definitely worth it, don’t you think? And while paying approximately $15 to visit a world famous site like the Taj Mahal isn’t in itself unreasonable, what makes the price so hard to swallow is knowing that just five years ago, admission was 15 rupees, or $0.30. And no, the price didn’t rise with inflation or go up each year; it was actually increased from 15 to 750 in one fell swoop. I don’t know, but to me that feels like they’re not charging what they consider a fair price but are instead trying to see just how much us crazy foreigners will hand over before we call the bluff.
What do you think? Should foreigners have to pay more to visit sites than locals? Should the U.S. and Europe implement a similar policy? If it is fair to charge more to foreigners, how much more? I’m curious as to what you all think.