Should foreigners pay more?

That was the question back at the beginning of summer when a heated discussion ensued among travel bloggers on Facebook. At the center of the debate was the tendency of some world governments to charge foreign visitors more than locals to enter a national monument, archaeological site or wildlife park.

The whole thing took off when a travel blogger railed on her FB page against the Sri Lankan government for charging $15-$30USD for foreign travelers to visit a lesser known monument while locals enter the monument either free or at a very minimal fee. I was stunned to see how many travel bloggers jumped on the bandwagon and agreed how horrible to was to run into that kind of market segmentation.

My reaction was….

Wait a minute.  You’re privileged enough to be travelling in an incredible place like Sri Lanka…a place I dream to visit one day…and you’re complaining about fees to enter a park?

should foreigners pay more?

Approaching Golkarna from the Arabian Sea. India.

Why Should Foreigners Pay More than Locals, Dammit!?!

This particular traveler (who I intend no ill will towards by writing this article) was indignant in the Facebook discussion because she had to pay so much more for her experience than the locals. She felt discriminated against and felt that her “job” as a traveler was not to make other people richer.

A lot of the arguments supporting this person bounced from the thought that the prices were exploitative to the thought that all this money was going to corrupt bureaucrats. Others stated that these countries were driving away tourists.  Still others felt that this practice would inevitably lead to prices so high that the budget traveler would eventually be unable to visit these parks and monuments.

I for one don’t buy any of it and have very little sympathy for those on the complaining side of the discussion.  Here’s why.

Foreigners SHOULD pay More Than Locals, Really?

As Bret Love of Green Global Travel said “Travel is not a right, it’s a privilege”.

I know very well that many of us travelers are not loaded with money and that we work very hard to save and make thoughtful travel plans. So I get it. I’m not a wealthy traveler. I too have worked very hard to be where I am and I’ve worked very hard to have had the experiences I have had.  Having slept under bushes in city parks for a week on my very first trip to Paris, I know about budget travel.

That said, the fact that you or I are able to travel to one of these amazing places means we are privileged.  A lot of the places we visit have large portions of the population who struggle just to put food on the table each day. Most of us clearly don’t have that problem. By visiting, we are contributing to the local economy and helping to create or sustain jobs for other human beings. The money we spend also often goes to preserving that resource.

should foreigners pay more?

The Paella Guy. Bagneres de Bigorre. France.

I also realize that a significant amount of the money I spend traveling does not ALWAYS go to the “right” people. That is one of the reasons I am such a proponent of Geotourism. We all line the pockets of oil and gas barons and airlines executives just by flying – not to mention the pollution our travel causes. Do ANY travelers go and chase down every penny they spend travelling just to make sure it goes to the “right” people?  No.  So why the focus on the possibility that the national park people might be skimming money off the top?

Look. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about corruption and where our money goes but let’s approach this in some sort of logical way.  Instead of just assuming that the extra amounts tourists pay goes to some corrupt fat cat, why not do some research and find out if that is actually true?  And if it is, think about how you, the visitor, can possibly change that result.

Yes.  You do have a responsibility.  In fact, your job as a traveler IS, in part, to make the host citizens richer. You may not agree but I’ll go so far as to say…you’re wrong.

So there.

should foreigners pay more?

Buying a Mola for Your Mama. Panama City. Panama.

In my opinion, paying a bit more than the locals is the LEAST we can do as visitors.  I think we should be thankful that we’ve even had this opportunity to contribute considering how damaging travel and tourism can be.

I guess the argument could be made that every ancient monument or national park is somehow a World Heritage site belonging collectively to all humanity and so should be equally shared and accessible to everyone. Come one, come all!!  On the surface this may sound nice and tidy but it smacks of a form of  “partage” to me.  It isn’t hard to see that the historical, cultural or environmental assets of a nation belong to the people of that nation and that, therefore, the people of that nation should have the right to access their particular resources.  In fact, they are entitled to a higher right to access those assets.

Then there is the fact that maintaining those resources costs money. Consider. The citizens of that nation are surely paying the taxes necessary to manaage that resource. They’ve already paid more than you have. Governments have a responsibility to their citizens.  Or should.  It is the host government that needs to decide how much to charge for a particular attraction in order to maintain that attraction.  Infrastructure, salaries, conservation measures and research don’t come cheap – or free for that matter.  The job of the host country is not to tax its citizens more for the visitor to be able to access places for free.

That the citizens of the host country possess an inherent right to access those resources at a reduced fee or in fact for fee seems to me at least, beyond discussion. If you can afford to travel to a certain destination but you can’t afford to visit any of the sites you want to see then maybe you didn’t plan well enough. Or maybe you didn’t even think the whole thing through.

I rarely hear complaints when students or senior citizens pay less for things like movie or train tickets. I don’t hear many complaints when Applebees or Burger King offers meal discounts to seniors and I never hear a complaint when serving military personnel get privileged prices or seating on flights.  Most places don’t offer these discounts out of the goodness of their hearts.  They offer those prices because they know what that particular market segment can afford.  The tendency to charge tourists (yes, YOU a tourist no matter how much you want to think you are some specialized “traveler”) more than locals often is just the reverse of that market segmentation way of thinking.  Simply put, because you have the privilege to travel to these places you must be able to pay more and therefore should pay more.

should foreigners pay more?

Opening a Coconut. Deslandes. Haiti.

Here is where the hypocrisy kicks in.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting in a bar somewhere and some poor tourist cum traveler is whining over the $10USD they paid that day to visit some amazing cultural resource or to photograph some fascinating cultural event or see some incredible wildlife…whining while sucking at their third or fourth $5, $10 or even $15 alcoholic drink and Tweeting or Facebooking it out to the world on their $200 Iphone.

The urge to cry out, you poor freaking baby.  Get a grip!  Is huge. It’s hard to control.

This practice isn’t an anomaly.  In Cambodia foreigners pay higher prices for bus fares.  In Argentina foreigners often have to pay more for airline tickets.  South Africa charges foreigners more to visit their national parks. While in India I had to pay more to visit monuments than the Indians did. I’ve visited the Hermitage in St. Petersburg a number of times and each time I had to pay more than the Russians…never mind that many of those gold-drapped Russians had far more money than I could ever muster.  But really people, we’re talking pennies in most cases.  Go ahead and pay it.

In many places I’ve run into people who will only allow you to take a picture of them – but only if you pay them.  As a photographer I have an ethical debate going on inside constantly over this kind of transaction. I’ve heard a lot of photographers and people complain about it. Yet, I might make money by selling the photo of someone I meet on the road. My portfolio is certainly enhanced by the presence of great portraiture. So…why shouldn’t the subject of the photo make some money?  Why should I be able to exploit that person for my own gain and give nothing in return?

Tourism does indeed have the opportunity to right many of the economic imbalances of the world.  To be honest, I think the complaints I’ve heard about these differentiated fees demonstrates some extreme entitlement issues that should be rather embarrassing to those doing the complaining.

For me, shelling out the higher amounts I have for experiences from hours in Peter’s Kunstkamera or the old Portuguese lighthouse above the entrance to the Mandovi River or at the Panama Canal were well worth it.  Many of those were some of the best experiences of my life.

Spend the money or walk away.  Either way, get over it.






  1. Comment by Cate Brubaker

    Cate Brubaker Reply September 19, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    I remember the conversation you're referring to and I was taken aback. If I can scrape up the funds to travel to a place, and have to forego admission to a particular site because of the expense, so be it. I feel very grateful just to be there, and I certainly don't harbor any ill will toward the locals because they can visit the site for a reduced cost or for free. Why would I? It's their country, it's their heritage, and it's their right to experience it on their own terms.

  2. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply September 19, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Bret Love and Cristina Garcia Brindley I'd love to know what more you might add

  3. Comment by Cristina Garcia Brindley

    Cristina Garcia Brindley Reply September 19, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Well said!

  4. Comment by Craig Tuttle

    Craig Tuttle Reply September 19, 2013 at 10:59 am

    I agree and disagree. I agree that the country and it’s people are entitled to do things in the way they see fit, and that the tourist in your example should be more flexible in their attitude. However, I question the wisdom of charging the foreigner while not charging the citizens. It could make someone feel unwelcome (perhaps the tourist in your example was actually upset at this bad feeling moreso than the additional cost). Setting up a situation where people may feel unwelcome is antithetical to any government’s tourism strategy. I know, the tourist shouldn’t feel this way in our opinion, but everyone reacts differently and unpredictably, especially when weary and overstimulated with travel.

    From the perspective of the local government, I would rather forego the $10 “foreigner’s admission fee” (what kind of label would you put on this, anyway?) to ensure that the tourist feels welcome, and (as in your example) have this tourist continue to spend her money on the 3 to 4 drinks at $10 a pop, not to mention the food, lodging, local travel fare, souvenirs, services, etc. she pays for. Meanwhile, this tourist (now happy rather than whiny), is tweeting to the world on her $200 iPhone about how wonderful and welcoming this place is, what a great experience this or that place or cultural event was, and how all her friends have got to come here and experience it for themselves. Each one of those potential tourists, with their drinks, food, lodging, etc. etc. represents vastly more tourist dollars than the foregone $10 admission fee. From a government perspective, this would represent not only a boost to the economy (both local and regional/nationwide), but also a diplomatic boost via international goodwill and cultural understanding.

    If, on the other hand, you DO want to intentionally make this a rare experience, then raise the fee even more or simply forbid foreigners from coming (not very diplomatic, but effective perhaps). But how many non-paying citizens are visiting/using the site vs. foreigners? As in the case of regional eco-tourism: Whose trampling that rare native vegetation, anyway? Or should the paying foreigners be allowed in and the citizens be kept out, because the foreigners generate the needed funds for ecosystem management? But don’t the citizens have the right to hunt, fish, gather, etc. on their ancestral lands? Or is it perhaps a corrupt or sectarian government trying to manipulate local ethnic/tribal/partisan politics and culture? Round and round and round it goes, and where a clear answer lies, quite often no one knows.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply September 20, 2013 at 9:45 am

      Craig, Thanks for the comment. A few responses.

      First, the locals already have most likely been charged in terms of taxes. In many places…think east Africa…the locals have already been “charged” because they were actually removed from their land for the creation of the park. Second, I agree. I dont think it is in anyone’s interest to discourage the visitor. But in most of the examples I’ve read about I dont see that being the point. There are places that do charge higher prices or have visitor limits to help preserve the resource. That is a different story. Your second point about the fees being better spent spread around the local economy is a good one in fact. I think you make a strong case for that one. My only response at the moment would be that the attractions have costs to maintain the resource in the face of all the visitors. Roads, security, repairs, workers, etc. The locals have generally already paid for that in taxes or otherwise…at least there has been an outlay at the national or state level to maintain that resource…and yet there is still a need for income and the tourists can pay for that. Another option might be a tax on the visitor to simply enter the nation and all that money goes to the places people visit so that there isnt an entrance fee. I dont like that idea because when I go to India or whereever I dont tend to visit the tourist spots and wouldnt want to pay a tax for places I dont visit. So….

      Finally, I dont think the point is to forbid tourists. I think the point is (or should be) to find the price point at which the visitor can or will pay and the infrastructure can be maintained.

      • Comment by Craig Tuttle

        Craig Tuttle Reply September 20, 2013 at 1:11 pm

        Yes, and I think that the increased sales tax (assuming they have one and can both enforce or collect it) on every drink, meal, bed, souvenir, as well as the increased income tax (assuming they have one…) from those who sell those goods and services to the tourists, should do nicely to pay for the maintenance, repair, etc. of the attraction.

        • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

          Jim O'Donnell Reply September 20, 2013 at 2:12 pm

          Hahahaha! Now you’re onto something I dont think I like! 🙂

          • Comment by Craig

            Craig September 21, 2013 at 10:00 am

            Oh, I’m in agreement with you there, i think. I didn’t say I liked the idea of taxes, but you stated earlier that often the citizens had already paid taxes for much of the cost of the attraction. So, with the assumption that one or both types of taxes are already in place (income tax and/or sales tax), I’m suggesting that you will be simply gaining more tax dollars from those who are already making more profit from the tourism. So, a vendor for example will be paying more tax, but only in proportion to his increased income.

  5. Comment by Jeremy Scott Foster

    Jeremy Scott Foster Reply September 19, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    Interesting take, mate. Sometimes, it just comes down to ethics and circumstance. Just tonight, in Beijing, I almost got into a big fight with some tuk-tuk drivers over the equivalent of a dollar. But, it's because they were trying to rip me off which, as a temporary resident of Beijing, I refuse to allow. Frankly, I just don't want to be taken advantage of, no matter how much the dollar amount is. It's a matter of principle.

  6. Comment by Bob Bales

    Bob Bales Reply September 19, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    I find the practice happens mostly in Asia. Nowhere in the US will you see dual prices and I haven't seen them in other parts of the world with the exception of Asia. It goes so far as dual rates for taxis and other modes of transportation, accommodations and shops. As a result most people get a bad taste in their mouth feeling as if they are preyed upon. Obviously you have no problem paying a higher rate and that is fine. Maybe we should all adopt that mindset. Disney with all their international tourists would be much richer and I am sure the taxis in most major cities would love to examine passports and issue a foreigner tax to non US citizens.

    • Comment by Yvonne

      Yvonne Reply September 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      Well, they aren’t technically tourist destinations, but have you checked on non-resident tuition rates lately? Most assuredly dual pricing based on residency. And it certainly doesn’t stop foreigners from shelling out the big bucks for a college education.

  7. Comment by John Halbrook

    John Halbrook Reply September 19, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Right on, as we old guys like to say. i think you are absolutely correct on this one. Thanks for bringing the argument to the table.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply September 20, 2013 at 9:37 am

      Thank you for coming by and adding your two cents John! Much appreciated!

  8. Comment by Andy

    Andy Reply September 19, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    I didn’t read it all because I’m lazy, but I think a better idea would be the donation tactic many temples in countries such as India and Nepal do. You can go for free but you can ‘donate’ an entrance fee of your choosing. Perhaps even have a starting price of something low, say, a dollar. Those who give a damn will definitely pay up a fee they consider affordable and decent. Those selfish ones can just go away with their cheap price and you won’t hear them complain and review negatively online.

    You will definitely find the wealthier, conscious ones paying much higher prices than the $1 minimum. Win-win this way.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply September 20, 2013 at 9:36 am

      Andy, I really like this idea. I’m not sure how it would work at say a national park where there are much larger infrastructure costs. What do you think?

  9. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply September 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Jeremy, I get it. I understand that feeling and I;ve been in that position many times. I also thing there is some nuance here given that you are actually living there. Are you making more than a Chinese would in that position? Significantly more or just a bit or the same. That would be something I would take into account in how "ripped" off I felt. I'm not saying I know what the right choice to make in your position is but I think we need to sometimes re-check out principles.

  10. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply September 20, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Amen Cate. I could not have said it better.

  11. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply September 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Bob, In fact I have found dual rate systems in many, many places that are outside of Asia. Here in New Mexico where I live we have many, many dual rate systems for visitors. There are local discounts (typically about 10%) at most businesses in Taos. Statewide there are reduced rates for state residents at all public attractions (museums and the like) and days when locals get in free to many things. A nearby hot springs for examples gives buy one get one free to locals on Tuesdays and free for state residents on their birthdays. I've seen this practice in France, Russia, Panama, Spain, Mexico and all over the USA…I think it is very common. So common in fact that most people dont even notice. I guess I dont feel "preyed upon" like I did when I was in my 20s. Again, it comes down to the market segmentation. I'm sure some taxis would love to do as you suggest. I also think that many would not have riders in that case. The business has to judge what they think each segment of the market can pay and look for the price point there.

  12. Comment by Matthew Urdan

    Matthew Urdan Reply September 20, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    How do you know if someone is a foreigner? Are we to check IDs every time we enter a national monument? Seems like admin costs would be prohibitive and result in traffic backups at high profile destinations, like Yosemite and result in fewer visits from Americans to avoid crowds. Just an example. But what difference does it make? A person entering a park creates the same impact as any other person, on average. It seems like a price should be set and charges made uniformly. But when in Rome….whenever I go to a big city I expect to pay more. Not bc I'm an American or a foreigner, but bc costs are simply more.

  13. Comment by Matthew Urdan

    Matthew Urdan Reply September 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Jim O'Donnell Here in the Smoky Mountains of TN, most businesses offer a local discount because it is an economically depressed area that survives on tourism. The rationale behind it is that if people visit, locals will recommend places where they get discounts. Also, businesses want to encourage locals to patronize their businesses during the off season. Major attractions like Dollywood offer Sevier County Days where anyone who lives in the county can go for $5.00 with a donation of canned food for the local foodbanks. This engenders great good will in the community among locals. Dolly Parton is really amazing for all she does for the area. Other local attractions follow Dollywood's example. It's a win for the locals, but it's not really a dual rate. Businesses do expect something in return for the discount, and that is recommendations from locals to those who are visiting to patronize the businesses that take care of the locals. It's a great synergistic relationship. As for the one really big attraction in the area? Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is the most visited national park in the world and gets about 9 million visitors a year–more than double the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, visitation is completely free. There is no entrance fee. Period.

  14. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply September 20, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Matthew, Passports are very simply the best way to know. Like when I visited the museum and miraflores locks on the Panama Canal. Everyone had to show an idea at the ticket window and locals have a lower price. I dont see that kind of simple system as outlandish. Its already in place in one form or another in many places. Again, it comes to the price point within the market segmentation and really depends on what and where. Here in NM, a guy from Indiana and a woman from Japan are charged the same to go into a state museum while I New Mexican can show a drivers licsence and get in at reduced price or on some days even free. I see no problem with that at all.

  15. Comment by Matthew Urdan

    Matthew Urdan Reply September 20, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Jim O'Donnell I don't see a problem with local discounts as well, see below, but it should be something that you have to ask for if you are entitled to the discount, like an AARP card for senior citizens (which I get in less than two years when I turn 50).

  16. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply September 20, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    Matthew Urdan 50?!?!?! Sweet Jesus man. I'm sorry. Look, I'll give you the old guy discount at Around the World in Eighty Years anytime! 😉 I think you do have a good point. Maybe the better way to handle it is set a price and then anyone that can show up and prove they are a local gets a % off.

  17. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply September 21, 2013 at 12:19 am

    Matthew Urdan I really like what you wrote. I think ALOT of that is excellent policy. We have much the same here. National Parks charge to be sure but they charge one price. Locals discounts everywhere around tho. I really like that kind of policy and think it could be good to do test replications elsewhere. Thank you for bringing that up.

  18. Comment by Amber

    Amber Reply September 21, 2013 at 1:48 am

    I generally do not have a problem paying more for somethings, particularly for visits to historic sites, museums, etc., so long as the discrepancy is posted and legitimate. I do, however, dislike being scammed into paying more for things solely because I am a foreigner. Be up front about it, fine. I understand this is part of travel, but it is one of my least favorite things about exploring a new destination.

  19. Comment by Tanita Fabjan Demšar

    Tanita Fabjan Demšar Reply September 21, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    Bravo! You put it wright way!
    I was also angry sometimes to pay more… but, yes travelers are priviliged people among top 10% richest peolple on the Earth! and rule nr. 1 shoiuld be as you said – Spend the money or walk away.- as it goes with everything at home as well….
    Igor fabjan

  20. Comment by Cheryl Bleick

    Cheryl Bleick Reply September 22, 2013 at 12:59 am

    Of course there are dual rates for locals and tourists! Just visit Las Vegas for a minute or two. I get in free to lots of places where someone without a local address pays $40-50. Try staying at a hotel anywhere without paying the entertainment fees. Hell, yes, tourists should pay more than locals. As tourists, we create more pollution and generate more garbage. Our very presence can, and often does, encourage more crime. Those "extra" fees keep the local infrastructure from completely falling apart. I have no problem with it.

  21. Comment by Jim O'Donnell

    Jim O'Donnell Reply September 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    I agree. Thank you for joining the discussion.

  22. Comment by Deia

    Deia Reply September 22, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    I feel ambivalent about this. In my days as a foreign student in Melbourne, I had to pay the full adult fare on public transport while my local classmates paid the discounted student fare; it definitely wasn’t pennies. I guess it’s what it is. Discussing it wouldn’t change things and I’d pay if I think it’s worth the money. I’m really interested about that first week in Paris, though. That sounds like a great story!

  23. Comment by Karen Warren

    Karen Warren Reply September 27, 2013 at 5:59 am

    When I was in India we had to pay considerably more than the locals to get into places like the Red Fort in Delhi. I thought that was absolutely the right policy – even with the higher charge it wasn’t particularly expensive for anyone who was ‘rich’ enough to get to India in the first place, but many locals would have been priced out of their own heritage without the reduced rate.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply September 28, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      Well said Karen. A very good example.

  24. Comment by John Mata

    John Mata Reply September 28, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Nice article, Jim O'Donnell. Here are my thoughts:

    By and large, markets should be aloud to flow in a natural way. When markets are aloud to be free, market forces, such as supply and demand, will push prices to where they really ought to be.

    I suppose consumers, in this case travelling ones, can complain all they want. But, at the end of the day, it's the travelling consumer who is aloud to choose to pay the asking price of something or not. No one is forcing them. It's their choice. Conversely, if vendors, or a country, are artificially raising prices by charging too much for goods and services, or a right of way, they will will likely see a dip in tourism and their over all customer base. Markets can only bear what they can bear… it's that simple.

  25. Comment by Paul Fowler

    Paul Fowler Reply September 30, 2013 at 8:04 am

    Completely agree. I look at it this way:

    We as tourists pay what the thing should cost. That $30 is exactly right according to what you get back. Then, as a nice government scheme, locals get to visit THEIR historical monuments for free, to increase cultural and historical awareness.

    This happened all the time in Colombia. It makes total sense to me and I just can't get people complaining. The other option isn't to make it free for everyone, it's to charge locals as much as we have to pay, and does that really seem fair?

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  27. Comment by eemusings

    eemusings Reply September 30, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    I don’t like it, but I’m ok with it for the reasons you mentioned. What bugged me was that once in Vietnam they were charging each foreigner in line a different price for the same sandwiches (the people in front of me got a cheaper deal … am still baffled as to why).

  28. Comment by Molto

    Molto Reply October 1, 2013 at 2:28 am

    Tourists always pay more and that’s fine. But it depends how much more. Twenty times more? Not fine. I visited one fabulously corrupt country where admission fees for foreigners are much, much higher and most of the money goes to politicians. The locals can go in for almost nothing and travel in loud, bad-mannered packs that almost make it impossible to enjoy the attraction, for which they have no respect and vandalize by touching, climbing on, etc. What little money that actually goes to the monument probably just offsets damage done by the locals. I also lived in a country where I paid taxes for many years so many monuments could be open free to everyone. Yes, I want to support local communities, but I prefer to do it by spending money with local businesses, not funding greedy administrators.

  29. Pingback: Should Foreigners Pay More? Damn Straight. | Travel Writers News

  30. Comment by Cassie

    Cassie Reply October 8, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    Wow, thank you for sharing your thoughts! I’m really glad I clicked over here. I’m not sure if this is the same conversation I engaged in once or a different one — it was started by someone complaining about the foreign entrance fee to the Galapagos National Park and the limitation on the number of tourist cruise ships and catamarans they permit. It happened shortly after I got back from a trip there last fall and I was horrified by the British (I think) traveler who suggested that he couldn’t scrape together the $150 park fee after he paid over a thousand dollars to fly there and at minimum two thousand dollars for the requisite cruise. We saw for ourselves the irreparable damage unregulated tourism has had on the Galapagos in the past and the way the money is being put to work today in a last-ditch effort to save this amazing place. Yes, it’s a lot of money for budget travelers to pay, but it’s a once in a lifetime experience in an incredibly sensitive destination and something I for one am happy to budget in.

    And don’t get me started on the young, RTW travelers who tipped our Ecuadorian guide and staff a measly $20 at the end of our five-night cruise because they simply “could not afford” any more — I mean, they HAD to save that money so that they could travel around the world full-time for another eleven months after this cruise! Shameful…

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply October 10, 2013 at 6:46 am

      Cassie, thank you for the insightful comment. I’m continually amazed how many people dont actually realize how much it costs to protect and manage wonderful places like the Galapagos. I dont know if I will ever be able to go there because of the cost but I’m ok with that cost being high and ok with the limits they place on tourists. Those islands do not exist merely for our satisfaction.

  31. Comment by Prads

    Prads Reply October 30, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    I am a international student studying in Australia and I pay 7 times more tuition fee per semester than local people here. So, I don’t see why “third” world can take more money from tourist while “first” world country like Australia do charge more money for their services to their visitors.

  32. Comment by Ross

    Ross Reply December 9, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Great post. I totally agree that foreigners should pay more. I have been in several places in several countries where I have paid more and although taken a little aback the first time when you think you have the privilege to be there, the extra $10 or $20 wont hurt. As long as the foreign price isn’t extortionate its okay. Nearly any place where foreigners have to pay more is in poorer countries so I don’t think anybody who has spent hundreds of dollars to get there should have any complaints.

  33. Comment by Adam @ SitDownDisco

    Adam @ SitDownDisco Reply December 27, 2013 at 12:29 am

    I don’t agree. I hate discriminatory pricing and none of the arguments here seem legitimate to me. A great example of why it’s a crock is at Petra. $1 for Jordanians and citizens of gulf states and $75 for everyone else. You try and accept that the money is required for maintenance of the park, but when you get inside you realise it’s simply a money grab at a world heritage site that arguably should be accessible to more people.

  34. Comment by Steve Grocki DieselFitter

    Steve Grocki DieselFitter Reply December 27, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    COSTA RICA: in the mid-90s to early 00s the Locals paid more for an Exit Visa than us Visiting Americans. I wondered: WHAT is That about? I don't know whether it's the same way anymore; did you notice the signs at the airport, showing the fees?

  35. Comment by Steve Grocki DieselFitter

    Steve Grocki DieselFitter Reply December 27, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    COSTA RICA: in the mid-90s to early 00s the Locals paid more for an Exit Visa than us Visiting Americans. I wondered: WHAT is That about? I don't know whether it's the same way anymore; did you notice the signs at the airport, showing the fees?

  36. Comment by Cassandra Collings

    Cassandra Collings Reply December 27, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Going here in July!!

  37. Comment by Steve Grocki DieselFitter

    Steve Grocki DieselFitter Reply December 27, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    Cassandra Collings "Here" being Costa Rica?
    ~ Jim O'Donnell was there while you were in Cancun; he's a photographer & writer– perhaps he has a Blog that would be helpful to you. I've been to C.R. 3 or 4 times, but that was between 1993 & 2001. You probably know my sis&3-kids lived there for about 7 years; dad had a house there (I stayed once or twice; he was in Miami Bch).

  38. Comment by Cassandra Collings

    Cassandra Collings Reply December 27, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    How can I see his stuff Steve? I would like to share it with my travel partner Molly!!

  39. Comment by Raphael Alexander Zoren

    Raphael Alexander Zoren Reply March 8, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Very good article! I agree with everything on it, foreigners should not expect to recieve the Local Discounts. The problem with most backpackers is that they cannot distinguish the “Tourist Price” (that is, unethical taxi drivers, guides and salesmen who overcharge foreigners) with government sponsored “Local Discounts”

    Local discount: The entrance to the Taj Mahal is 30 USD for everybody…but the Indian government subsidizes and waives the entrance fee to Indias. This is absolutely right and I applaud it. Indians should not have to pay to see their own cultural heritage

    Tourist price: The taxi driver charges 1 USD for an average ride to the locals…but since you’re a foreigner he wants to charge you 10 USD. This is absolutely despicable. People who overcharge foreigners are morally wrong and are nothing more than common criminals.

  40. Comment by George Mitchell

    George Mitchell Reply July 24, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    Having travelled around the world for three years and worked in Europe for seven years, we are well accustomed to different rates. I do not think that Europeans should pay next to nothing for their museums while foreigners pay higher prices. But we have to graciously accept that many people in the developing world could not afford to pay tourist prices to see their own world heritage sites. So yes, there should be an inexpensive pass for locals. What I would question is outrageous tourist prices. I think a fair price is the cost of a movie. However, many countries are charging more than world-class prices for national parks but not providing the services that a world-class NP should provide — such as free bathrooms, tourist brochures, maps, well-marked trails, interpretive signs and other things which should be provided so people can learn about their culture and appreciate the significance of what they are seeing. Also charging an extra fee for a section within the same NP is being very cheap. Turkey does that a lot and even though I love Turkey, that is clearly exploiting the tourists. The response is simple – don’t go to those places. Another example is charging a lot of money just to go to a beach simply because it is famous. There are a lot more costs to maintaining an archaeological site. So if we tourists have to pay AND the money actually goes to supporting the site and NOT into someone’s pockets or general revenue stream then that is worthwhile. The problem is when you do not see world heritage and other sites being properly maintained.

  41. Comment by Timmy Huh

    Timmy Huh Reply July 25, 2015 at 5:58 am

    I have also been in this situation when I was in Thailand. I had to pay 500 baht for entering the Grand Palace in stead of free charge like the native residents. I was totally angry about this.

  42. Pingback: Tourism’s Suicide …? | Around the World in Eighty Years

  43. Comment by Robert

    Robert Reply January 26, 2017 at 10:24 pm

    You make some good valid points, but how apologetic and humble can one be? Good grief! I agree that locals deserve free access or a low fee to local places. That for me shouldn’t be the argument. However, these extra charges for entree for foreigners need to be reasonable as often, it’s not! It’s simply extortion and opportunism. You are arguing that there should be additional charges without even considering how much they are charging. What do you mean when you say, that we SHOULD pay more? 30 % more, 50 % double? Yes, that I can understand, but how about in Sri Lanka (as this girl you mentioned refers to) where at places you can expect to pay 40 times more than a local. That isn’t what I call within the realms of reason (as is the case in many sites in Sri Lanka). That’s without merit and morally disturbing (I WOULD HOPE!).

    I’m from a third world country. It’s not like my country would be so arrogant to charge such extortionate prices.

    Give me a break, that people complain about where that money goes and that simply researching it brings an end to that conversation. Yes, tourism benefits the local people and brings money into the country; however, that’s a broad statement. Working in South East Asian I can tell you that the money so often goes to enriching the smug few and not the many.

    Extreme nationalist tendencies is I hope a thing of the past and not the future, as it breeds new grounds to discriminate.

    Why the hell says traveling such a heavenly privilege? According to who? you? We live in a mobile global society where hopefully we can all enjoy a general sense of what’s right and wrong. We are global citizens and we all share the same humanity. At least those ideals we should work to. The idea that I can charge someone 40 times more for a person of a different nationality is simply immoral.

    but paying 30 times more (for example in Sri Lanka) is

  44. Comment by Janice Little

    Janice Little Reply May 11, 2019 at 8:20 am

    The spoiled, entitled & disdainful comments here are hopelessly annoying and dishonest. The foreigner should pay more–period. You can choose which countries you travel to and should not enjoy an equal price with the locals. This is especially, true in third world countries, where the cost of living for many locals is at subsistence level. I also don’t believe an American, should have to pay 80-100 dollars to visit their national parks. Something for which the people have already paid for, through extremely, high taxes.

    • Comment by Jim O'Donnell

      Jim O'Donnell Reply May 13, 2019 at 11:12 am


      I could not possibly agree more with you. Thank you for the wise comment. Jim

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