Puzzling Pricings

We investigate double pricing policies

I was on Silom Road recently when I came upon a farang man, probably in his 20s. He asked a motorcycle taxi driver how much he would charge for a lift to a nearby hotel. The driver mimed out a price of B30 with his hands. The guy mistook the gesture for B300 and became upset. The driver was offended too that the farang thought he tried to rip him off. Only after another driver explained that there was no extra zero, he gestured a wai to the driver to apologise. Both men swallowed their bruised pride before they agreed to complete the B30 transaction.

Should we blame the foreigner for thinking that Thai people see non-Thais as walking money bags given our notorious dual pricing tendencies? While drivers of tuk-tuks and cabs overcharging tourists would be considered an outright scam, some respectable venues have invented their system of differentiated pricings for Thai and foreign patrons (if the big guys can do it, why can't the small ones, right?). Are these places simply being greedy or is there more to their eyebrow-raising policies? Guru investigates the puzzling pricings of some Thai establishments.

HOUSE RULES

The quest to find justification for differentiated pricings proves to be puzzling. While most Thai sources were willing to talk with us off the record, few agreed to be named if they at least were willing to talk. Some questioned what good could come out of such an inquiry and were defensive. Some politely told us they would ask the person in charge to answer, only to say "No" in the end. It is not our intention to cast judgement but to give you a two-way look at this elephant in the room.

HOTEL HASSLES

Have you ever wondered if a foreigner pays higher rates than a Thai guest when they stay at the same hotel? Two hotel insiders respond.

"We charge expats and Thais less on accommodation than tourists provided that they are entitled to a corporate rate, which is an agreement between our hotel and different firms to give lower rates to their employees. Some hotels also charge expats and Thais at lower prices for dining and other services than they do tourists, but we don't."

- Kay, a hotel publicist * 

"I think the situation differs from one hotel to another. Our target customers are foreigners who work in the corporate world. We have agreements with firms who promise us certain amounts of nights over a period of one year in exchange for better rates for their employees, Thai or foreign. Walk-in guests, Thai or foreign, would be subjected to the rate of that particular day. In my experience, foreign guests don't bargain and buy packages as they come. Thais can get lower rates only because they bargain by foregoing certain services such as breakfast, laundry or tea and coffee. We oblige to their requests to an extent. Once a foreigner complained about why he didn't get what was said in the package and it turned out that his Thai wife had made the booking and asked us to omit a few services to get a cheaper rate. We also offer discounted rates when we feel the occupancy rate is on decline. They are offered for a limited time and open to both Thais and foreigners. Foreign guests who are outside Thailand may feel that they pay more because we publish the discount rates only locally. They weren't aware of it at the time they booked. It is not discrimination. It's about business and making the most profit."

- Phon, who has worked
in sales departments
at different hotels *

(* Sources who wish to remain anonymous)

MUSEUM MYSTERIES

Some museums blatantly advertise the fact that they charge foreigners more. Two museums explain.

"We charge B150 per Thai adult and B100 per child. The rate for foreign tourists and expats is B500 per adult and B300 per child. The reason for the different pricings is that we want to encourage Thais to travel more, in line with a policy by TAT, so we are willing to offer special rates. Initially, we planned to charge everyone the same."

- Vipop Phromsamlee, sales manager
at Art in Paradise in Pattaya

"B300 is the standard price to visit our museum for both Thais and foreigners. However, as The National Discovery Museum Institute and Museum Siam are under the care of the PM's Office and receive funding which comes from taxpayers' money, we decreased the entry fee for Thais because they pay tax locally already. Expatriates are also entitled to the same privilege. We also exempt any entry fee for children and elders regardless of their nationality. Free entry is available every day from 4-6pm and also on holidays."

- Rames Promyen, vice-president and
acting director of The National
Discovery Museum Institute

CLUB COVERS

At some clubs, foreigners are asked to pay for coupons to be exchanged for drinks at the door while Thai patrons can just walk in. Slim and Route66 Club in RCA employ this policy. The owner of Funky Villa and Demo in Thong Lor Soi 10 tells us why he also adopts this policy.

"Our B400 coupon gives a foreign customer either two bottles of beer, three mixed drinks or two soft drinks. We ask them to pay first because we want to screen out foreign troublemakers. When we first started, we treated everyone the same but foreigners of certain nationalities caused trouble - groping ladies or pickpocketing. We saw a sharp drop in the number of foreigners after we used this policy but I'm OK with it because we now get real clients. Some foreigners have raised the question over the coupon but they seemed pleased after we explain the reason. At the end of the day, it improves safety for everyone and our clients get to mingle with better people. This coupon policy is active from Thursdays to Saturdays only. It can be relaxed too. Say, if your friends are already inside, we will let you in without a coupon. If you're a regular, no coupon is needed."

- Thanut Klungnak,
owner of Funky Villa and Demo

TAX FOR FOREIGNERS (AND THAIS WHO DON'T LOOK THAI)

Foreigners probably won't go broke paying a little extra while living in Thailand. But how can we put a price on their hurt feelings?

"I have to pay B300 to enter Route66. It is discrimination. How could they assume foreigners would not spend money on drinking and only dance?"

- Aaron Shen, SAP consultant

"Most of my experiences took place while looking for a place to rent. I had a Thai friend call agents to ask for prices. The prices were almost always at least a couple of thousand more per month when I called. Other times were petty and happened with street vendors or taxi drivers. I felt a bit upset but not because I had to pay more. I minded more that they wouldn't think that I was wise enough to double check their pricing. I think it sort of stems from an idea that every foreigner is just 'another dumb tourist' that either has no clue on how things work here or is too rich to care."

- John Lafond Wright,
freelance marketer

"It was about three months ago. I was running late to get to the office. From my place to the office is usually B70-B80 in a taxi. This particular morning the driver said en route in English that he wanted B500 for the ride. I screamed at him in Thai, calling him a thief, and got out at the next set of lights. I haven't experienced this a lot myself but I see it done in my district to foreigners every day. If people who rip off others see that they are detracting rather than adding to their business in the long run, they might stop and be honest. The same goes for anywhere I have seen this type of underhanded dealing on this Earth."

- Singtoh-Roddajun Dogon,
TV host
 

"I was in Ayutthaya to cover a temple. I'm half Thai. I went with an official from a government agency and, as a Thai, I had to pay B20 to enter. I have a Thai ID card but the official himself - despite the fact that I was speaking with him in Thai throughout - suggested I should buy a foreign ticket which was about B200. I paid the Thai price anyway, though. That made me very upset. Despite me not looking as Thai, I have a Thai ID card and I feel very much Thai. It wasn't right of him to even suggest that to me."

- Bonnie, reporter*

RETHINKING

We spoke to Thais about what they think of price discrimination against foreigners in Thailand. Here are two responses.

"I feel the gap in entry fees between Thai and foreign visitors at historical sites is sometimes too stark. In some cases, Thai people walk in for free while foreigners must pay. If we were to put ourselves in their shoes, how would we feel when we travel abroad and be asked to pay more for things? Maybe we should come up with fairer deals by comparing how similar venues in other countries charge local and foreign visitors and adjust the gap or give them souvenirs. Everyone needs to chip in because the maintenance costs of historical sites are high."

- Nut, tour lecturer*

"I'm against two-tier pricing at tourist attractions. We all should be treated the same. Do foreigners put in effort and time into travelling to our country only to be treated this way? I'm not asking for lower prices for them. I prefer a single price that everyone is OK with. Some attractions are under the government and they receive funding. I doubt extra money from inflated entry prices for foreigners would make a dent in their maintenance costs. I think it's a job for the government to better allocate money to these places. Thailand's main appeal is how affordable things are and having dual pricing defeats that. How could we expect people to come back again after they feel mistreated?"

- Reuthai, writer*

TO DUAL-PRICE OR NOT

Based on our interviews, we deduce some advantages and disadvantages of price discrimination.

Pros

More revenue for proprietors

Thais may travel and support local attractions more

Historical and cultural sites receive more money for renovations and maintenance

Cons

It sends a racist message

Visitors may never come back again

Disgruntled foreigners might blast Thailand online and we lose face

DUAL PRICING IN OTHER COUNTRIES

To be fair, Thailand doesn't have a monopoly over dual pricing. Here are some countries that charge foreigners higher fees for entry into their national sites.

Preah Vihear Temple in Cambodia - Foreigners pay B200 or US$5. Thai citizens pay B50. B5 extra is charged for photocopying your passport.

Taj Mahal in India - Foreigners pay 750 rupees (around B430) while Indian nationals pay 20 rupees (B12).

Petra in Jordan - 90JDs (a little more than B4,000) for foreigners, or 1JDs (B45) for Jordanians and Arab nationals.

THE PRICE IS THAI

Wanna get the local price? Try these methods and you may pay Thai rates.

Perfect the phase

(kor raka khon thai na krub/ka), which translates to "May I have the Thai price please?"

Make a shirt that has the above phrase printed on it in Thai and wear it.

Dye your hair black and emulate a K-pop star to ironically make yourself seem more "Thai".

Find a trustworthy Thai partner. Have him/her do you daily transactions for you.

Ask your Thai friends to buy tickets for you. If you are Asian, you have a better chance of getting away with it.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Pornchai Sereemongkonpol
Position: Guru section Editor