Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why are foreigners charged more?

A lot of people ask me why there are different entrance ticket prices for foreigners and Indians at many Indian monuments and sites, specially the Taj. Here are my thoughts:

If you are not an Indian passport holder, and you buy the combined ticket of EUR 12.5 for Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it works out to EUR 6 or so per attraction.


Here's a comparison with other sites, from a mix of developing as well as developed economies:

  • Tickets to Machu Pichu in Peru are EUR 18.
  • Tickets to Angkor Wat in Cambodia are EUR 10.
  • The entrance ticket to the Colosseum in Rome is EUR 16 for non-EU nationals, and there is a discounted price offered to EU Nationals of EUR 11.
  • Tickets to the Leaning Tower of Pisa are also EUR 16 at the moment
  • Tickets to the Giza Plateau and at least one pyramid - say Khufu - cost EUR 18.
  • Entrances to the Forbidden City in China are only EUR 4 (but that may be because the exchange rate is artificially held by the Chinese goverment).
So - after looking at these prices, my conclusion is - I don't think the Government is significantly overcharging tourists for the Taj / Agra Fort experience.

As far as the differential pricing for Indians is concerned - The Government of India subsidises tickets for Indians to promote our heritage and create more interest / awareness / national pride. Additionally, in a poor country, there is no way the man on the street can afford the kind of the prices that these monuments deserve. This is a dent in the Government coffers, but it is a decision in the national interest which the Tourism department has the right to make.

There is obviously a case to be made for levying flat fees for everyone - Indian or foreign - and I've heard that they're considering flat fees of INR 250 or so. But honestly, if you've been to Taj and seen the number of poor people that come there - none of them could afford this.

In any case, until we hear any decisions, all that I think you should ask yourself as a tourist is - am I paying a fair price i.e. did I get my money's worth at these two monuments for EUR 6 per monument?

I think the answer is likely to be a yes.

15 comments:

Prats said...

Came here from bikerdude's blog..after seeing your comment on one post. Must say, loved reading your posts....all of them are so thought provoking ...
and let the foriegners pay more while we street shoppers enjoy our bit...I don't think we're fleecing them at all....we see other places the way it has to be seen...and never commplain..

mbjesq said...

Deepa:

The problem with differential pricing is not so much the fact of the differential, it is the amount of the differential.

I support the idea that Indian monuments should be financially accessible to Indians -- and not just crorepatis. I also agree that many wealthy tourists do find value, even at the inflated differential. But this is only because as short-term tourists, they are so far removed from the realities of the Indian economy and do not think in terms of the relative value of a rupee in domestic, microeconomic terms. They can only think in terms of what the price-tag converts to in their currency and would buy in their economy. This is the vulnerability of the foreign tourist; and the differential prices, which are so grossly out-of-kilter with the local market, is pure exploitation.

This might be justifiable, if we did not constantly hear from so many state tourism development corporations, ministers, and travel industry businessmen that India wants to encourage foerein visitors. It sure doesn't feel that way when the admission fee is so wildly out-of-scale with every other aspect of the economy.

I had the good fortune of spending two days in Bittarkanika National Reserve, Orissa last week. Entry for Inidans is Rs. 50 per day; Rs. 1000 per day for foreigners. A camera brought into the park by an Indian results in a Rs. 25 surcharge; Rs. 500 for the same camera brought by an foreigner. (Guess who carried my camera!)

The differential felt like gouging, pure-and-simple.

A more outrageous example are the Gingee Forts in the-middle-of-goddamned-nowhere, Tamil Nadu, not terribly far from where I live. The entry for Indians is Rs. 10; Rs. 250 for foreigners. Unlike the Taj or even Bittarkanika, which are "destinations" for tourists, Gingee is something that is probably only visited by a handful of non-Indians each year. Anyone finding themselves there is probably living and working in India. Rs. 250 admission is insane.

For those of us who like to think we are giving something to this country, however modestly, the unashamed screwing we get should we want to visit its historic places is tough to swallow.

Cheers,

MBJ

Guru said...

I would have thought that the rates
that used to be quoted for a 'foreigner' like me has always been in dollars. Since when this changed to EUR? I do not visit India these days and hence am ignorant of the ways of the central government.

Since the posting was against the Taj's backdrop, I should comment on Taj's surroundings. Way back in 1950s when I was a student in an engineering college in Mysore, I visited TajMahal and was captivated by the sheer brillaince of the marble memorial. Ten years later when I took my students out to a North India tour, the marble memorial showed clear signs of decay (there were only tens of small industries around Taj Mahal which were belching out dark smoke then). Just a few months ago, a friend of mine who went to see Taj Mahal said that the lustre has gone from the marble, and Taj Mahal looked grey and in some places with darkish tinges have spread in. One could imagine what the Moghul Emperor would say now if he looks at the state of the memorial to his beloved wife.

Instead of arguing about pricing (which from the air lines and hotels in India to just about anything is designed to fleece the hapless foreigners), the focus should be about preserving memorials and places of historical interest. The following is an exerpt from Hindustan Times, July 2007:

" The Taj Mahal is ill and could be slowly dying. India's most famous monument, which is in the running to be voted as one of the seven new Wonders of the World, flanks a stinking, garbage-infested river and is almost always enveloped by dust and smog from belching smokestacks and vehicles"

I wonder whether it is too late for the dollars or Euros to make a diference to this once beautiful memorial.

Pradeep said...

Has it got anything to do with the wide difference in the exchange rate? Is it that the higher and lower rate is only comparative?

Dinakar KR said...

This reminds me when I was a mute witness to an incident in 2001. I was in the long queue at the ticket counter at Taj Mahal in Agra, behind many Indian as well as some groups of foreign tourists. There was a little board showing the per head tarrif: "Indians - Rs.10/-, Foreigners - $20". A certain elderly foreign tourist who was about to buy his ticket, got irked by that tarrif and began to shout: "Just because I'm white-skinned, you want me to pay eight hundred rupees (the then equivalent of $20) and just because you are all dark-skinned (referring the many Indians who were there) you pay just ten rupees? That is blatant cheating. You people come to my country and I will show you what we will do....." After a brief and emotional speech to the people in the queue, the foreigner left the place fuming in anger, vowing that he will never be visiting this country again, leave alone the Taj. I bought my ten rupee ticket and the other foreigners in the queue had to part $20 per head to see the same Taj Mahal. If that is how our Government mercilessly "rips off the foreign tourists" to "earn" revenue at such important tourist destinations, how can the country's image improve? Fleecing at its best! There should be better ways to decently earn 'foreign money'!

Dinakar KR said...

In 2001, I was in the long queue at the ticket counter at Taj Mahal in Agra, behind many Indian as well as some groups of foreign tourists. There was a little board showing the per head tarrif: "Indians - Rs.10/-, Foreigners - $20". A certain elderly foreign tourist who was about to buy his ticket, got irked by that tarrif and began to shout: "Just because I'm white-skinned, you want me to pay eight hundred rupees (the then equivalent of $20) and just because you are all dark-skinned (referring the many Indians who were there) you pay just ten rupees? That is blatant cheating. You people come to my country and I will show you what we will do....." After a brief and emotional speech to the people in the queue, the foreigner left the place fuming in anger, vowing that he will never be visiting this country again, leave alone the Taj. I bought my ten rupee ticket and the other foreigners in the queue had to part $20 per head to see the same Taj Mahal. If that is how our Government mercilessly "rips off the foreign tourists" to "earn" revenue at such important tourist destinations, how can the country's image improve? Fleecing at its best! Aren't there any better and decent ways of EARNING 'foreign money'?

James K said...

When I went to the Taj Mahal earlier this year it cost $15 for foreigners and $0.4 for Indians.

SAARC nationals are all supposed to pay the same $0.4 rate, but my Nepalese wife was charged considerably more (I think 500 rupees).

You say the government is subsidising the Indian visitors - are you sure foreign visitors aren't too? Or does the Indian government really pay $14.6 for each Indian visitor?

Let's not forget that when differential pricing was introduced for the Taj Mahal the government proclaimed it was to limit visitor numbers in order to prevent degradation of the buildings. Yet the vast majority of visitors are Indians paying the lower price...!

Though the ticket sellers give foreigners a tiny bottle of water and some socks(!) for forking out the 15 bucks, you still have to stand in the same slow, disagreeable queue as the Indians and otherwise get nothing more for your money.

Now extend this to every other thing you do in India as a foreigner.

You can understand how it feels like discrimination - or can you? If Indians came to my country (the UK), they would pay the same prices for everything that I do.

Vinoth said...

As an Indian, I used to feel about this discriminatory pricing. But again, after being in US for sometime now, I no longer feel the same. The tuition for internationals' is twice that of an american...well...

Manno said...

Like Mr. Dinakar, I too was a mute witness to this discrimination, but unlike him, I was actually more than a witness. I was party to a crime.

I am a foreign passport holder of Indian origin, and I stood in the Indians line and bought a ticket with no questions asked. I am ashamed to admit, every one of my family members and friends in our travel group did the same. No ticket seller ever asked us about our citizenship. And we never volunteered it.

We aren't poor and we can easily afford those higher fees. But the temptation to cheat and save all that money is just too great, and yes, ashamed as I am, I would do it again.

Bineet said...

I paid more despite being an Indian since NRIs get charged more . I hate paying more money for the dodgy UP govt.

Anonymous said...

Let me share an interesting point as we talk about the rate differentiation. If you are an Indian and need to get freshed after a round in the complex, you have to pay Rs.2 whereas foreigners can avail this amenity for free..! I wonder if Indians urinate so profusely to attract this fees.

Deepa Krishnan said...

Anonymous, it's fun thinking through the logic behind the two-rupee fee for Indians to pee. Clearly someone thought about this and decided on this strategy :) What is your theory? My theory is that if the toilet is free then it will get dirty really really soon. Whereas a small fee lets it pay for itself. So they decided to stick a small fee on it. And they should have charged everyone, except that they figured what with the the expensive foreigner's ticket the least they could do is give them a free pee :) :) :) Logical, no?

Anonymous said...

India is perfect breeding ground for Thieves, Fraudster, Cheaters. Not UP or Central Government, and the government consists of such Politicians, Bureaucrats who are nothing but a band of legalized dictator cum thieves. If you want to visit Taj Mahal, you have to pay whatever amount you are asked for. We want our Tourist spots to be flooded with Foreigners but we are dissuading them by cheating them either way(legally or illegally)! Shameless species we are!

Deepa Krishnan said...

Whoa. Take it easy, dude.

Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine why foreigners crib so much. Indians are made to pay £10 to enter the Tower of London to see the 'kohinoor' diamond which Britain took from us!

The fact of the matter is that the fee charged to foreigners to enter the Taj Mahal is the correct fee and compares favourably with the fee payable to see any monument of a similar (or even lower) stature in othe countries.

If, on the other hand, the Govt. of India decides to let Indians in even for free, how can any foreigner object? It is our monument and we are certainly entitled to view it without paying anything for it.