Fare Enough?

Last updated: July 22, 2015

Foreign tourists pay more to visit some Indonesian tourist attractions – good or bad?

Bromo Entry Fees 2014Anger has erupted at the latest pricing policy (right) for visitors to Indonesia’s most visited volcano: Mt Bromo.

As well as a large price increase, local hotel and tour operators are concerned that a new pricing policy – charging foreigners 10 times the rate of domestic tourists – will decrease visitor numbers.

However, Indonesian national parks aren’t the only tourist attractions charging more.

Maria Sharapova at Borobudur
Maria Sharapova: $US20
Julia Perez at Borobudur
Julia Perez: $US2

For example, locals currently pay Rp30 000 ($US2.25) to enter Borobudur, while foreign tourists are expected to part with $US20. This isn’t a little secret either; Borobudur and Prambanan openly advertise the different ticket prices online.

Is this another example of shameless exploitation of foreigners by government bureaucracy? Or is there an economic benefit of a dual pricing policy, a.k.a. “tourist prices”?

Arguments For & Against
Canadian tourists, Nick and Dariece, from the website Goats on the Road, strongly believe foreign tourists should be welcomed, not asked to pay extra. They point out that e.g. rich Egyptians visiting the pyramids are doing just as well as foreign tourists. They also use a reverse example: asking e.g. Saudis to pay more to visit Canada’s biggest tourist attraction – the Niagara Falls – would be rightly called discriminatory.

However, a Mexican travel blogger, Raphael Alexander Zoren, argues local people deserve discounted entry if at least one of the following is true:

  1. It’s a World Heritage site built by the ancestors of the locals.
  2. The attraction/service is managed by the Government, thus, paid by the taxes of the locals.
  3. The locals simply CANNOT afford the standard price of admission.

Beyond that, he suggests it can be counterproductive, resulting in talented local people wanting to become tour guides rather than e.g. doctors, because they can earn more.

From this viewpoint, it could be argued that at least the first two points are true for Borobudur: it was built 1200 years ago by the local people and is government owned/operated. For many Indonesians, the third is also true.

Locals at Mt Bromo benefit more from large visitor numbers, not large entry fees

However, Mt Bromo came from tectonic forces, not local people. Also, many of the Mt Bromo locals (the Tengger people) work in the local tourist industry, offering jeep and pony rides – their income will not improve from higher admission prices; to the contrary, it may even decrease with fewer tourists. In addition, the standard price of admission for foreign visitors used to be reasonable by local standards.

So, from Mr Zoren’s perspective, a dual pricing policy would be justified at Borobudur, but not at Mt Bromo.

A Local Perspective
As a long-term resident of Indonesia, the author can now distinguish a reasonable price from a tourist price. Many locals, however, cannot distinguish him from a tourist and still try to give him a tourist price. On a daytrip to Bali to renew his daughter’s passport, the author intentionally wore formal clothes including batik to not look like a tourist, yet he still frequently received e.g. offers of transport.

Bargaining at a Bali MarketShopping makes life more interesting again. If visiting a traditional market, prices are often not fixed and bargaining is required. The experienced person decides in advance how much he is willing to pay for something. If the vendor does not offer a price you consider to be reasonable, it’s ok to walk away.

The complaints by some over Indonesia recently granting free entry to tourists from many Western countries suggests tourist prices has some local support.

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