Double prices deter tourists

Double prices deter tourists

The government claims to respect tourists as special guests. But in recent times it seems to be treating them as nothing more than walking ATMs. Officials say they are doing everything possible to lure highly valued foreign visitors to these shores, but then they turn around and treat them with disdain. Virtually without notice, the government last week raised the entry fees for national parks. In fact it was more than just a "raise" — it pushed prices so high that a foreign child is made to pay an entrance fee five times that of a Thai adult, while adult tourists pay 10 times the Thai fee.

No topic sets a tourist's teeth on edge like double-pricing. It is the worst sort of disrespect displayed at the economic level. The government knows this. When it sets different prices for Thai and foreign visitors, it prints the local price in Thai script. This merely compounds the sneaky intent, since tourists in Thailand and abroad know full well about this trick.

Dual pricing at sites owned or supported by the government has been going on for decades. Barred by law in most civilised countries, the practice is ingrained in a tiny but highly visible part of the tourist industry run by the government. Entire websites cover the practice extensively, with reports, photos, video and forums. But here is the telling part: not a single government official has ever appeared to defend the practice.

The following report appeared on the super-popular website last Friday: "We went to Khao Yai [National Park] for the day, and when we got there we realised that the entry fee for Thais is 40 baht, and for foreigners it is 400 baht". Dozens of comments followed, ranging from outrage to mildly critical. It might not deter a tourist or a family from visiting Thailand, but it has already deterred visits to attractive sites, and it has brought the government into disrepute as racist and greedy. The amount of money shaken out of tourists' pockets is negligible, especially when put against the ill-will it causes.

On Feb 1, national parks were instructed by the government's National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department to begin extracting higher fees from foreign visitors. Thai fees, to be shown only in Thai script, went from 40 to 50 baht. Tourist prices were doubled, from 200 baht to 400 baht per adult. Tourist companies complained, but of course without result or even sympathy.

There is no record of a prime minister or cabinet minister addressing this problem. Once in a while, a low-ranking bureaucrat will state that foreigners should pay more to enter government sites, because Thais pay taxes to maintain them. This claim is highly questionable and easily disputed. More to the point, it is silly. If it were true, then Thais would pay less for airline tickets because airports are maintained by the government.

Much more importantly, the government has created a biased case of blatant discrimination aimed solely at the appearance of tourists. In an infamous case several years ago, a ticket attendant tried to extract the "tourist price" from a Mom Ratchawong. The "victim" appeared to be European to the prejudiced person and was forced to produce her Thai ID card before being "allowed" into the attraction.

Such racist treatment of supposedly welcome visitors could be stopped with a snap of the prime minister's fingers. It is shameful that no such decision is being contemplated.

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