CHIANG RAI – Thailand’s tourism industry has been adversely affected by years of street protests, political violence and, recently, martial law imposed by the coup-makers. But the widespread practice of overcharging and double-pricing is also playing a major role in scaring visitors away from Thai shores.
Long-term foreign residents and regular visitors to Thailand have been complaining about a “two-tier” pricing system for years. Though some visitors may regard paying a little extra just a minor nuisance, others feel they are being discriminated against and point out that the discrepancy can be large, with foreigners charged double or more.
Tourists and foreign expatriates who do not speak or read Thai often fall prey to greedy taxi drivers, street vendors and other business operators. They also experience dual-price entry fees for tourist attractions such as national parks or temples. At popular Bangkok sites like Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) locals are let in free while foreigners pay to enter.
And to get there, tourists may have to deal with taxi drivers who refuse to use the meter for foreign passengers, who can then find themselves paying double or triple for the trip. So common is this practice among cab drivers, that a foreign tourist made the news recently for expressing gratitude to a cabby who had agreed to turn on the meter.
Well-known local blogger Richard Barrow recently publicized plans to increase the entry fee for foreigners at Wat Pho, from Bt100 to Bt200, starting in January. “The price remains free for Thais. The argument is that Thais will make merit by donating money. But what about the Thai Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, etc, who also get in for free? Why is that fair when foreign Buddhists have to pay so much?” wrote Barrow on his website.
Overcharging and double-pricing are also a problem for foreign tourists in some other countries. But the problem is a perennial topic of discussion among visitors to the Kingdom and is damaging Thailand’s reputation. This means that it is likely scaring away prospective tourists and discouraging repeat visits.
“It begins with the people”, declares the Tourism Authority’s “Amazing Thailand” campaign, suggesting that the friendliness of ordinary Thais is the main lure for foreigner visitors. Indeed, Thailand’s deserved reputation as the “land of smiles” attracts millions of tourists. But when “the people” turn greedy and selfish, the smile fades and so does the attraction for would-be visitors.
Tourism is a major revenue-earner for Thailand, accounting for about 10 per cent of the economy. In the first seven months of this year, tourist arrivals totalled 13.62 million, down 10.7 per cent from 15.26 million a year earlier.
The authorities have taken several measures in a bid to woo back visitors. These include waiving visa fees for Chinese tourists, who constitute the largest group of visitors to Thailand, and extending the maximum permitted length of stay for tourists from 48 countries. Campaigns have been organised in Asean countries like Singapore and Indonesia in a bid to persuade their nationals to visit Thailand again.
However, if we are serious about attracting more tourists to the Kingdom, we need to put the smile back on the face of this land by curbing the practices of overcharging and dual-pricing.