Dual and Two Tier Pricing in Thailand
There are few subjects more divisive than that of dual pricing in Thailand and it is one of the practices most hated by foreign visitors and expatriates. It's a subject that's been done to death on forums and blogs. Some see it as outright racism, while others just accept it as being part of the landscape.
Inflating prices based on the nationality of the customer, a practice that would likely see the vendor heavily fined or even imprisoned in some western nations, is commonplace throughout Thailand. Many establishments even openly announce their dual pricing policy on signs in both Thai and English language, clearly stating foreigners must pay more for admission... while others disguise the fact they are inflating the cost to foreigners by stating the price Thai people pay in Thai script, which most foreigners are of course unable to read.
The difference in price is invariably at least double what a local would pay. There seems to be no regulation and it is apparently universally accepted practice. Even government run national parks charge up to ten times more if you are a foreigner. Most cite the perception (however wrong it may be) that all foreigners have a much higher disposable income than the average Thai as reason enough to charge more. There is also the argument that if you are not paying taxes in Thailand, it's only fair you should make a contribution to attractions by paying a higher fee.
However, this argument doesn't hold much water in the private sector. Hotels often have a 'two tier' pricing system, unknown to foreigners, with room rates up to fifty percent less if you're Thai. If you have a Thai spouse and you let them do the talking when booking a room, you may get the lower rate. On the other hand, if your Thai spouse books the room in reception and then you show up to pay the bill, the rate might suddenly rise, the reception staff claiming they made a mistake.
A lesser known fact is that foreigners that can demonstrate they have made a home in Thailand e.g. if they have some form of Thai identification, such as a Thai issued driver's license, they will very likely be charged the same as Thais. At the Hall of Opium in Chiang Rai Province, the lady at the ticket booth asked me if I was resident here, before I even had the chance to show my Thai ID, as she was keen to charge me the lower rate, almost as if she was ashamed of the two tier system.
Personally, I am charged the Thai price almost every time. If there is any attempt to charge the foreigner price, a few words in Thai, or a polite intervention form my wife (who is Thai) will result in the normal 'local' fee being charged.
Another little known fact is that Thais will often be charged the higher rate. If they are obviously an affluent family, they will likely be charged more based on their perceived purchasing power, in the same way so called 'rich' foreign tourists are overcharged. In the case of foreigners, they will usually absorb the cost because they don't want to make a fuss... whereas wealthy Thais might absorb the cost as a face saving measure. They are also on holiday and probably don't like to make a fuss.
It's my experience that away from tourist areas, especially in local markets, I am never charged more than the prevailing local rate.
Some of my Thai family have spent time working overseas, notably Japan. The enthusiasm and genuine surprise they show when talking about everything being a 'fixed price' in other countries leads me to believe that they just accept two tier pricing as normality and only recognise the unfairness of it when viewed from the outside, in the same way they suddenly realise their footpaths are rubbish when they visit somewhere like Malaysia or Singapore.
Those that work in the tourism industry have learned how easy it is to cheat tourists and so it becomes a way of life for them, so much so, that when the tourist realises he's paying too much and disputes, it could even provoke an angry response from the vendor.
Thailand doesn't have the monopoly on dual pricing and it's prevalent through much of the region. There are a handful of good arguments for two tier pricing and the ones that say foreigners should pay more at national heritage sites are strong... but most of them fall apart when you realise that in the end, most tourists just feel plain cheated. Charging more, just because you have more money, is a pretty sorry argument... and in these tough economic times, Thailand can't afford to alienate whatever visitors it still has.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Comment in our forum thread: Dual Pricing in Thailand