Local Prices




David Whitley wonders whether some ‘overcharging’ and discriminatory pricing is justifiable


If you’re going travelling in certain parts of the world – most notably South East Asia, India and Africa, but significant chunks of Latin America too – you have to get used to the idea that you’re relatively rich. A frequent traveller’s complaint is that visitors can be routinely ripped off. If you’re obviously not a local, the price goes straight up. It’s a simple principle from the local point of view – this person doesn’t know the usual price, they’ve clearly got money or they wouldn’t be here, so let’s see what I can get away with asking for.

Though annoying, this is often about cultural differences. A fixed, written down price is very much a Western concept. In many parts of the world, the price is whatever the two parties can agree upon. If both buyer and seller are happy, then it’s all good. Of course, a local is probably going to have a better idea of what the seller is going to accept.

The feeling of being charged extra because you’re a foreigner can frustrate when it happens with every transaction, but it’s easy to get too wrapped up in who’s cheating you and who isn’t. For example, do you really begrudge paying £2 for a £1.50 tuk tuk ride in Cambodia over a distance that would normally cost you £10 in the UK?

Sometimes, however, the prices ARE fixed and written down. And if there is a different price for foreigners then, it is clearly discriminatory. I’ve seen numerous museums, temples and popular tourist sites where the entry price for locals and is different. It happens in restaurants too – prices on the English language menu can be suspiciously higher – and I’m aware that it sometimes happens for transport too. There’s even a first world example for this – Australians will pay far more for a return flight to Los Angeles than someone from LA will pay for a return flight to Australia, even on the same airline.

So is it ever fair to make the foreigner pay more in such a blatantly discriminatory manner? For me, it depends on what the product or service is. If there’s a higher rate for foreigners in a taxi, then it’s shifty practice. If a visitor is being charged more for a beer in a bar, a meal in a restaurant of a flight across the Pacific, then it’s outright racist discrimination.

Where it becomes a grey area is public transport, museums and the like. A lot of popular tourist sites (I’m talking heritage buildings and museums rather than theme parks here) have a dual purpose. Sure, they’re there to keep tourists entertained. They’re also there to keep the locals educated – that’s the ethos behind making Britain’s museums free, remember. As such, the upkeep is often heavily funded by the government – or, more to the point, the taxpayer. The same applies to a lot of public transport. Should we really get uppity when locals in India or Vietnam get things that they have already subsidised at a lower price while we pay the market rate? I think not.