With no overseas visitors allowed, online debate is mounting over whether international travellers should pay more to enter attractions
Some argue that the practice is underhand, while others call for an end to alternate entry fees altogether
Tourist favourite Thailand might be tourist-free at the moment – and hurting economically as a result – but that hasn’t stopped debate mounting about dual pricing at the nation’s tourist attractions, where foreigners are sometimes charged significantly more than their Thai counterparts.
According to a recent Bangkok Post article, the timing of this discussion is “particularly appropriate” because, with borders closed to international arrivals, the nation’s tourism industry is relying on the support of domestic travellers to survive. And included among those internal adventurers are “tens of thousands of expatriates who live in the country year-round and pay taxes” and who, if online gripes are anything to go by, are on the whole expected to stump up the same fees as foreigners are asked to pay.
One such expat is Richard Barrow, who oversees the 2PriceThailand Facebook page and the Two Price Thailand Twitter account. On July 14, Barrow spelled out the purpose for the platforms on Facebook: “This group is NOT for debating whether there should be a #2priceThailand policy or not.” Rather, members are invited to post pictures of attractions with more than one entry fee and advise whether they “personally think it is worth the inflated price”. Barrow advocates what he calls the “right to choose” and believes that sites should clearly advertise their tariffs “so that foreign tourists can choose to boycott”.
Particular umbrage is taken with venues that advertise their alternative costs “in a way that is both sneaky and insulting”. According to the Bangkok Post, such “insult” is delivered when attractions post the locals’ price in Thai numerals, which most foreigners cannot read, leaving sightseers from overseas unaware that they are paying more.
But surely there is room for debate on dual pricing? The practice is neither new nor limited to Thailand
– attractions across Asia have been charging locals less, and inspiring grumblings among those for whom the fees are higher, for years.
The arguments in favour of dual pricing can appear compelling: the extra money goes toward maintenance; visitors from overseas can often afford to pay more; locals, whose taxes contribute to the upkeep, should not be priced out of visiting their own attractions.
Of course, there are those who counter these arguments. On blogs and social media platforms, images of poorly preserved venues are posted in dismissal of claims that sites are properly managed. Sure, travellers from Britain or the United States might be able to afford the 500 baht (US$16) entrance fee at Bangkok’s Grand Palace (it’s free for Thais), but “imagine tourists from Vietnam or Cambodia”, as one member of 2PriceThailand posted. And if we’re talking taxes, then what about the expats who pay theirs locally?
At its crux, Barrow’s call for transparency is not unreasonable. It is also not 2PriceThailand’s end goal. “We respectfully request a transparent pricing system in Thailand as the first step. But, ultimately we would like to see the #2PriceThailand policy abolished,” states the Facebook page.
And the movement appears to be gaining traction. The Bangkok Post reported that the issue of dual pricing was recently raised during a panel discussion on the future of Thailand’s tourism industry at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, in the capital, during which Tanes Petsuwan, deputy governor for marketing communications at the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said he had spoken to officials about the matter.
“This would be a very good time to reform tourism and make it right,” he told attendees at the event.
Hear, hear! Although surely there are more pressing matters to attend to, such as concentrating on community-based tourism and protecting the environment at overwhelmed destinations?