Two-tiered pricing turns tourists off

Two-tiered pricing turns tourists off

This week netizens were hotly debating the two-tiered entry pricing system (one price for Thai nationals, another for foreigners) at national parks.

The debate started after a Phuket man who has farang features complained about the practice on his Facebook page. His post went viral.

The man, who has a Thai name, wanted to buy a Thai-rate price ticket for a visit to the national park in Krabi. But his farang appearance caused the problem. He was charged 200 baht instead of the 20 baht his Thai friends paid.

We have heard this complaint many times before.

In this particular case I am rather surprised at the reaction of netizens, most of whom found the two-tier system satisfactory. The debate then moved to the need for the man to prove that he's a Thai, and his inability to prove it by not producing his ID card (it turns out he's American and, according to the chief of the National Parks Department, should be charged a farang-rate which is 10 times the regular price).

Arguably, such a practice, found mostly in state-run places like museums and national parks, is tantamount to a rip-off and just spoils the mood of the visitors. Those involved in the rip-offs try to avoid embarrassment by using Thai script to label the price, perhaps in the hope that tourists will not figure out that they are paying much more than locals. But such tactics obviously fail.

The rationale -- which I find to be unreasonable -- for this practice is: "Thais pay tax, foreigners don't".

But... really? 

Do people who use this argument realise that for every bottle of water or movie ticket foreign tourists buy, or every room they rent, 7% VAT is applied. Not to mention that tourists bring in currencies that contribute to boosting our economy.

However, a double standard that would be more tolerable to me is free visits to temples for Thais.

This is because Thais presumably make a temple trip to make merit while for tourists it's a leisure trip. Foreigners have no right to complain, be it the Temple of the Emerald Buddha or smaller religious places.

And if we talk about tax, what about the large number of foreigners who work here? Can we really say they don't pay tax? Can we really differentiate between foreign residents and foreign tourists? How? Should they carry tax documents every time they visit tourist attractions?

Dual pricing also leads to confusion, if not frustration, for those who are from mixed marriages: The half-Thai, half-foreign kids. Even those who bear a foreign look but are Thai by right. 

My key argument is that Thailand aims to be a world-class tourism destination and boasts about hospitality. 

But it is hypocritical to make such grand statements and maintain unfair practices.

Our government boasts about our hospitality and yet these rip-offs still occur. 

Of course, some many argue that many countries also adopt dual pricing. An extreme case of a two-tiered system is Cuba which is notorious for its dual economy with two currencies. One for tourists, the peso convertible, and the other for locals, the peso cubano which is used mostly in ration shops.

But those who make such arguments should also know that sticking to such pricing systems puts Thailand in the same league as undeveloped nations -- many are our close neighbours -- not a world-class destination.

In the UK, which is known as an expensive country, some marvellous attractions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum are free, not only to locals but also to foreigners. Of course, donations are welcome and fees are charged for special exhibitions. 

The dual pricing only adds to problems foreign tourists face on the streets, especially when taxi drivers refuse to turn on their meters. Or tuktuk drivers who overcharge them, or cheat them in various ways.

Dual-price systems do not make a fortune for the country. Instead, they only taint our image.

This should be given serious thought. If we're in need of cash, open souvenir shops and make legitimate extra earnings.

As state agencies, the Culture Ministry which oversees museums, and the National Resources and Environment Ministry which is in charge of national parks should set a good example -- abandon the practice. The Tourism Ministry should take the initiative and the government should outlaw it. How can you boast of hospitality when you constantly rip people off?

Tourists deserve fair treatment.

Ploenpote Atthakor is Deputy Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post.

Ploenpote Atthakor

Former editorial page Editor

Ploenpote Atthakor is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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