Ripping-off Foreign Tourists

During a recent visit to Hyderabad on work, I took some time off on a Sunday to visit the Golconda Fort which dates from the 13th century and is located on the western outskirts of the city. Like most tourist places that I have visited in India, the place is in ruins. It appears to be standard operating procedure that maintenance of these so-called ‘heritage sites’ is pathetic. But then one may argue that India is a poor country and cannot afford to keep these places clean. Perhaps so. But would it really kill the visitors to take their trash with them instead of littering the grounds with their plastic wrappers?

It says something about the culture of the people and I am ashamed of the Indian acceptance of filth and squalor. I assume that at least some Indian tourists are put off by the filth and I suppose most foreign tourists find it unappealing as well. Which would explain at least in part that India gets about 3 million tourists a year while neighboring China gets about 60 million tourists.

Another thing that bugs me no end is the differential pricing scheme that they have for entry into tourist places in India. For instance, at the Golconda Fort, an Indian is charged Rs 5 (about $0.10) as entry fee but for foreigners it is Rs 100 (about $2.) It makes you wonder. Are the people who make up these schemes stupid or are they xenophobic or are they racist or all of the above? Surely, ripping foreigners off cannot amount to welcoming them.

Besides, how do they enforce this sort of blatant discrimination? Technically I am a foreigner because I don’t have an Indian passport anymore. So unless they ask people to produce passports, the only way for them to suspect that one is a foreigner is by the color of their skin. Basically it boils down to this: if you don’t look Indian, you are required to pony up 20 times what an Indian-looking person would pay to have the same privilege.

It is morally repugnant to discriminate against people, even if the discrimination is against those who are presumed rich. Not just that, it is commercially short-sighted because people notice this sort of blatant double-standards and it affects the overall tourist traffic into the country.

If you think that ripping off tourists by charging them very steep entry fees for visiting your ruins is a cool idea, you might be a third-world country.


Followup Feb 2006: They have decided to change the policy. See part 2 of this post.

Venkat Ramanan writes:

Well said! The differential pricing by itself reflects the parochial mentality of Human Beings born in India. India is truly a Third World country if Tourism Minister boasts of burgeoning domestic travellers. In an interview which appeared in the BBC Televisions, Tourism Minister said “Last year there were 309 million domestic travellers in India which was much higher when compared to many other developed countries”.

If you think that an unemployed youth who travels from one rural area to Mumbai or Chennai in search of work as a domestic traveller, or a family who moves from one place to another to attend the funeral of a family relative or a friend as domestic travellers, you are truly a Third rate, or for that matter nth rate country. Sick Babus, Sick Bureaucrats! Keep writing… Atleast let us be reminded of the fact that we have a lots to improve!

Walker Duhon writes:

Speaking as a two-time white tourist to India, I don’t mind getting ripped off, though I understand your point in principle. When I have gone to India I also usually follow American tipping conventions as well. The dollar just goes so far, it really doesn’t matter to me as much. India is just such a tremendous bargain.

Charging different rates to foreigners for landmarks seems pretty standard as well — I saw it in Sri Lanka too (by the way Sri Lanka is surprisingly pricy compared to India). It makes sense to me — if you are willing to pay $1000 for the ticket you should be willing to hand over $2 to see Golconda Fort.

6 thoughts on “Ripping-off Foreign Tourists

  1. V.K. Friday December 31, 2004 / 4:00 am

    I am an Indian and I have always found the pricing discrimination based on race to be appalling. I have been speaking against it ever since I first visited the Taj Mahal as a teenager. I have visited and lived in foreign countries and no tourist destination in any of those countries that I have been to ever has engaged in this kind of policy. This stems basically from the belief that a foreign tourist who could afford a plane ticket to visit India must well be able to afford the higher price of admission. Granted this is generally true of visitors from Europe or United States, however the question is of principle. When you invite someone over as guest to your home for dinner, do you charge them a fee at the end of the meal just because they are wealthier than you ?
    The key to welcoming more foreign tourists is to make the foreign tourist feel welcome.
    Also as you pointed out, the only way they distinguish a foreigner is by color of skin. A white skinned person is charged more than a brown skinned person purely on the basis that most “white” countries are considered “developed” and most “brown” countries are considered “developing”. What about a black african student who is studying at an Indian university ? Is he considered “poor” and charged less ?


  2. Vishal Patel Friday November 3, 2006 / 8:36 pm

    Foriegn Tourist have no manners and a parnoid when they come to India they think indians are thieves and pick pockets they feel behave the same to indians who live in their countries like the uk and usa considering that indians there are the most law obiding and in high earing jobs


  3. Neethu Friday March 30, 2007 / 2:43 am


    you don’t feel ashamed to say like this in public about a country you visited. Nobody called you to come to Inida. India is a wonderful country with lots of resources and Inidans can proudly say they are from India. One day you will see India will be the most powerful country in the world. Whichever country you from you never see poverty and bargains in your country. it is common Sir .So don’t think India is the only country have all these problems.


  4. Friedrich Kelm, Germany Wednesday April 11, 2007 / 2:29 pm

    Thanks to Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, who did give back to me my (former) belief in the deep democratic character of the political institutions of India, as he wrotes on 8th February 2007 a letter to the Indian Minister of Tourism and Culture, Mrs. Ambika Soni (mentioned in the newspaper INDIAN EXPRESS from 8th February 2007), that she should please try to evolve a new procedre to put away the existing practice of a dual-tier entry fee, which discriminate permament foreign visitors at the gates of India’s monuments.

    I could also read on 14th March (at my stay in Bhopal this year) in the newspaper THE PIONEER, Bhopal, that: “Elders seek single price tickets at heritage sites”, that even the Rajya Sabha in New Delhi seeks to end this unbalanced dual-tier entry fee system.

    After ten journays to India (my first trip was in 1986, my last in Marh 2007), I know there is less interest in the Indian public to discuss the case of the dual-tier entrance fees system, because (as the majority feels) it’s only the money of others (and we have other problems) – but it is stolen money. (Unjust enrichment is an offence – even in India.) And much more important: to install a government organised entrance fee system in which the origin or descent of a human beeing makes the difference (and not rules the principle of equality) based on (it‘s hard to say for me, but unfortunately the truth): hidden racism. To realize this connection, was a shock to me.

    If India maintain such an unbalanced system of entry fees, it will, in longer terms, going to loose its good reputation around the world and even its status of beeing a constitutional state.
    Manmohan Singh has recognized this, as he wrote this letter to Mrs. Ambika Soni to end this practices – therefore thanks to him from all Indian lovers. He represents, what is calling, best Indian democratic tradition.


  5. Usha Kutty Juman Tuesday September 18, 2007 / 12:37 pm

    I agree totally with those who say that this is pure and simple RACISM!!! It is NOT ok to say that India is such a ‘huge bargain’ that what does another few dollars mean! It’s not the money, it’s the principle behind it that we are talking about here. Unless all NRI’s who are foreign passport-holders are checked at the gate, rather than waltzing by smugly for 10 rupees, on the strength of their brown skin, this is incredibly unfair! Who is a foreigner…define it by passport, not by skin colour.
    I would like to add just how painful the dual-tier pricing policy has been to me personally. I am Indian and a Indian passport-holder. My husband is white American and an Indian PIO card holder. For the past five years, we have lived in India, and paid Indian taxes (diligently!). Yet he still get asked to pay 10 times more. As he pointed out (much more politely than I am wont to) to a forest officer in Silent Valley, Kerala (near my parents’ farm) that if this happened in the US, it is called racism. It really, really, really upsets me…I would rather pay the higher amount myself as well. It reminds me of Jews who were made to wear a Star of David armband during the Second World War. Why are not more people agitating to change this…it looks so greedy and hostile to visitors. Let’s put our signatures to a petition for change.
    And where does this leave my daughter…half-white, half-brown? Is she a foreigner too?
    Hyderabad, India


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