No one likes to think they have paid more than someone else for the same thing. At many of the world’s iconic monuments, however, you will find yourself handing over a hefty entrance fee while the locals pay next to nothing. Grumble about the unfairness of “them and us” pricing and somebody in the queue is sure to offer a saintly smile and inform you that two-tier payment systems are a wonderful way of redistributing wealth.
Advocates of a single admission price point out that foreigners have already been fleeced in souvenir markets, restaurants and hotels, and resent having to subsidise alpha sightseeing attractions as well. “But you’re rich and we’re poor,” claim the host communities. On that basis, visitors from Singapore should be charged double to ride the Peak Tram. The windfall could be used to help the 1.4 million Hongkongers living below the poverty line. And while that is being implemented, the government can work out which other nationalities should be overcharged, and by how much.
A stronger argument in favour of foreign tourists shouldering a higher share of admission costs is that locals are already contributing to the upkeep of their national heritage through taxes. International visitors aren’t being fleeced; they are simply paying the market rate while residents receive a discount. After all, if you sign up for a course at an overseas university, you would expect to be charged substantially more than your locally born classmates, as they (or their parents) pay taxes in that country.
For some holidaymakers, ignorance is bliss when it comes to the two-tier structure as individual attraction fees are often incorporated into the total tour cost. At the Temple of the Tooth, in Kandy, Sri Lanka, I asked a group of Chinese sightseers how they felt about paying 1,500 rupees (HK$70) while locals get in free. None had any idea what the admission charge was. “We leave all that to our guide,” they said.
Most of us can afford to absorb the higher prices; especially as we have already forked out a small fortune on the airfare. Besides, doesn’t a percentage of the proceeds go towards conservation and maintenance of the site? I wouldn’t bet on it. The US$30 you stumped up for that visa on arrival is supposed to be earmarked for tourist infrastructure improvements, yet the airport-to-city highway is a pot-holed shambles.
To get some idea of how widespread dual pricing is, let’s look at entrance fees at the Seven Modern Wonders of the World – and one of the original wonders. The newest list of must-sees was chosen in an online poll of more than 100 million voters in 2000.
As the only survivor of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Pyramids of Egypt were given honorary status in the 2007 list. Non-nationals pay 420 Egyptian pounds (US$23) for a ticket that allows entry to the Giza Plateau and the chambers of the Great Pyramid. Egyptians get away with 20 pounds, which, coincidentally, is the amount foreigners have to pay to take a tripod inside. And good luck getting the local rate for a camel ride. The animal handlers have bargaining in their blood.
Visit the ancient city of Petra, in Jordan, on a day trip and it will set you back 90 Jordanian dinars (US$127). This eye-watering figure is reduced to 50 dinars for tourists who stay at least one night in the nearby village of Wadi Musa. Jordanians are able to enter for 1 dinar, which is roughly what budget-minded travellers used to pay enterprising Bedouin horsemen to sneak them into the archaeological zone via secret back routes. Eventually the authorities got wise and installed CCTV cameras.
New rules at Machu Picchu, in Peru, mean tourists must choose either a morning or afternoon visit. Foreigners have to shell out US$70 for a four-hour slot at the ancient Inca citadel.
There’s also the cost of a two-hour taxi ride from the city of Cusco to Ollantaytambo railway station, and a ticket on one of the world’s most expensive trains, which takes 90 minutes to reach Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu. Nationals of the Andean Community (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru) pay US$37 while residents of Cusco get in for free on Sunday afternoons, assuming the 2,500 capacity hasn’t been reached.
International travellers need to cough up 1,000 Indian rupees (US$14) to see India’s Taj Mahal; citizens from neighbouring South Asian countries have to hand over 530 rupees while Indians need only part with 40 rupees. Mehtab Bagh, or Moonlight Garden, lies directly across the Yamuna River from the magnificent mausoleum in the city of Agra and offers a serene vantage point for the knockdown price of 200 rupees for foreigners and 15 for Indians.
Rome’s Colosseum, Italy’s most visited monument, costs adults €12 (US$14) to enter. Discriminatory practices such as offering discount rates to local residents are supposedly prohibited under European Union law but preferential pricing still exists – EU citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 pay €7.5. To balance things out, everyone gets in for free on the first Sunday of the month, regardless of where they are from.
At the ruined Mayan city of Chichén Itzá, on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, overseas visitors will be asked for 242 pesos (US$12) to enter the pre-Columbian archaeological site. Mexican nationals are charged 162 pesos. The playing field levels off for sightseers planning to bring in a video camera, however. Everyone pays a flat fee of 45 pesos.
Tickets for Christ the Redeemer, the art deco attraction located atop Corcovado Mountain, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, usually include transport. Travel up by train in the high season and it costs 75 reals (US$20); Brazilians and foreigners living in Brazil pay 25 reals. Alternatively, take a tourist van from Paineiras, halfway up the mountain, for 41 reals; or about five times the local rate.
Entrance fees to the Great Wall of China vary depending not on your nationality, but on which section you choose to walk along. The best-preserved and most-visited part, at Badaling, costs 45 yuan (US$6) in the high season while Gubeikou, known as the battlefield section, is only 25 yuan. If you plan to hike the steep, largely unexplored stretch from Jiankou to Mutianyu, be prepared to offer villagers 10 or 20 yuan. Don’t believe them if they tell you the money is earmarked for tourist infrastructure improvements, though.