For many Thai people the practice of state organizations and private companies overcharging tourists for entry to places such as national parks and tourist venues has never really been their problem.
The only lobby for change has usually been foreign residents of the kingdom who are fleeced along with the tourists. And this lobby is one with little power to change anything.
But this week a story emerged that the policy of fleecing foreigners has finally hit home where it really hurts – in the pocketbook of Thai people trying to make an honest living.
The story that hit the news was that of boat operators in Krabi who said that their businesses have plummeted by as much as 60% due to tourists saying no to the institutionalized rip-offs.
Foreigners entering national parks in the area are all being charged 400 baht when the locals are charged 40 baht. Fees for children are 200 baht for foreign kids and 20 baht for locals.
“Double” pricing like this has been going on for decades, of course. What is different in this case is that Thais themselves are feeling the pinch of the policy and are demanding action. The boat operators are petitioning the national parks authority to lower prices by a suggested 50%.
The term “double pricing” has always been a bit of a misnomer. If it was just double it would be more likely that people would accept it. In the case of national parks it is 1000 per cent more for foreigners or ten times as much.
Many foreigners accept that it is reasonable for them to pay more. Few feel it should be that much more. Others dislike the practice altogether shunning places where they are ripped off in this manner. In the past tourists were less likely to complain than resident foreigners as many would not even know they were being fleeced.
But in this day of easy access to information many tourists are much better informed. And the situation in Krabi look like proof that they are saying enough is enough.
Now, it will be interesting if tourism and sports minister Kobkarn Watanavarangul is following events from Krabi. Both the elegant minister and her colleagues over at the Tourism Authority of Thailand have been trumpeting the visa waivers and lowering of visa on arrival fees with some officials claiming that this has promoted tourism.
They even mentioned the figure of 12% more arrivals though this figure looks to have been plucked from the air. This bears stark comparison with the real effects on the ground and the boat operators’ claims that their businesses are down by nearly two thirds putting them in danger of going bust, even in the high season.
It would be good to think that Khun Kobkarn may bring pressure to bear on the government- sanctioned double pricing but few will be holding their breath. The truth is that many officials, just like those further down the food chain, deem foreigners to be rich and possibly won’t even mind paying ten times more!
But word gets around and pathetic attempts to cover up what is happening – like putting Thai numerals instead of Roman numbers on price boards – have fooled no one over the years.
For me personally I think that tourists and non-residents of the country should pay more than the locals. But this should be reasonable and certainly not ten times what the Thais pay.
I also believe that expats and other foreigners living in the kingdom who pay Thai taxes should pay what the Thais pay. It is absurd to argue that foreigners earn more than Thais. Many Thais earn much more than foreigners. Besides even if some foreigners did earn more they pay a lot more tax.
The bottom line is if you live and work here, have a work permit and pay tax or have paid tax over many years then you should pay what a Thai pays. People on long term yearly visas and those married to locals and raising children should also qualify whether they have resident status or not.
Having been in charge of trips and expeditions at a major international school in Bangkok for 15 years, I always made it plain that all Thais and foreigners in our parties on school trips visiting parks and tourist venues must be charged at the local rate.
If this was denied I had a policy of saying that our school, which is a prestigious one, would take our custom elsewhere. Every organization we dealt with backed down when confronted with this though I had the backing of official letters in Thai. No tourists and few locals would have recourse to such measures.
I once contacted Dreamworld, the theme park in Bangkok, to say that I would advise our parents and staff and children never to visit their facility if they overcharged. They replied that they would charge all people at our school the local rate. This they did for us but they still kept their policy for everyone else.
When on private trips with my family there have been many interesting ‘conversations’ on this matter at payment booths around the country. My Thai wife wouldn’t argue the case – I could do that perfectly well myself in the Thai language.
But even backed up with a good command of the vernacular, a Thai driving license, a work permit and in later years with a residency permit it didn’t always work. One couldn’t blame the staff on duty for the policy so I felt that my only recourse, if their boss could not be raised over the telephone, was to just turn around and leave.
For me paying five to ten times more for something than a Thai was too much to bear – especially as I calculated that over the years I had paid seven million baht in income tax for which I got very little in return, certainly no health care or retirement benefit!
Now retired from school teaching and perhaps watching my funds with even more care in recent years, I feel as strongly as ever that “double” pricing should be outlawed on a state level and strongly discouraged on a private company level.
Perhaps if some incremental changes were made to lower the fees resulting in more tourists starting to come then the TAT and the tourism ministry might begin to wake up and see the light.
Certainly the Krabi boatmen understand this and said this week that if tourists were asked to pay just five times more they would vote with their feet and return to the parks and save their businesses by increasing passenger numbers. That incremental change for tourists at least might be all that is required to boost numbers.
It is a sad state of affairs that some humble boatmen in the south get the idea about supply and demand but those in the upper echelons of power seem oblivious to such notions.
The conclusion can only be that for those high up it is merely greed that drives them.