Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tourist price, local price and privilege

Sometimes you'll find yourself in a developing country, and being charged a fee to enter a tourist attraction that is substantially higher than what locals would pay. 10 times the price is not unusual.

Is this unfair? Discriminatory? Cause for outrage?

Plenty of people on Tripadvisor clearly think it is. Here are a few excerpts from reviews of the Peradeniya botanical gardens in Sri Lanka (the country I'm in right now):

AmyB1978 from Melbourne says:
Paying for entry to Botanic Gardens is new to me. We have one of the oldest and most beautiful at home and its free. It's free in every other country I visited too. Bad enough to pay but to spend USD$15 for an adult and a student to enter is ridiculous. We were incredulous at the racist pricing which is extra for foreigners! Do you not want tourists to come to your country?!

While p31893189 says:
Unless you are a real plant enthusiast, these gardens can be skipped. It is expensive to get there and the whopping 1100 rupee fee (locals pay 50) was more than what was charged to see the Tooth Relic. We really felt we were being gouged just because we were tourists.

Or at Kandy's "Temple of the Tooth", where TravelHappilyToday from the Netherlands said:

 As buddhists we came to worship at this place, however foreigners (like anywhere else in Sri Lanka) are extremely discriminated and have to pay 1000LKR for entry, while locals pay nothing.

Oh, the pain and suffering! There are few who have faced such racism and discrimination as the white tourist abroad.

Lest I be accused of snobbery and insensitivity towards budget tourists, let me state that I fall firmly into the budget category as well, and have travelled throughout Asia a great deal on minimal outlay. But there's a difference between being thrifty and being cheap. If you are wondering, 1000 LKR (Sri Lankan Rupees) is about USD$7, give or take. Is that a "whopping" charge? That really depends on the context. If I were in my own first-world country and someone charged me that much to enter a botanic garden, I'd think twice. But if I were a tourist in a foreign country? Well, given that I had the thousand-odd dollars spare that it cost to get to Sri Lanka, and am now there with time on my hands looking for something to do, then why not? It is, after all, the cost of a couple of coffees to me, whereas it'd be 10 coffees to a Sri Lankan, if they had to pay the same price.

The line "Do you not want tourists to come to your country?" Is my favorite because of what seems like a total obliviousness. Yes, of course Sri Lanka wants tourists to come, but why? Is it because they have a selfless desire to see foreigners enjoy themselves? Tourism is an industry, and the main reason any country wants to attract tourists is because of the money that they bring, which stimulates the economy and creates jobs. That's not the same as being greedy, and its not incompatible with friendliness and hospitality. A Sri Lankan tourist attraction no doubt wants to be affordable enough for locals to enjoy, locals who are by no means wealthy. But if it charges the same prices to foreigners, it will not generate enough income to pay for upkeep and maintenance, unless it has either a substantial taxpayer-funded injection of funds or a donation from private benefactors. Government-funded public works are easy to take for granted when your country has one of the highest standards of living in the world, less so if your country hovers around 112th in GDP per capita.

Tourism is an exchange, in which both sides should benefit. Unfortunately some tourists seem to think its an equation which should only benefit them.