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Should Visitors To India Pay More?

Should Visitors To India Pay More?

May 04, 2011

Foreigners pay substantially higher prices than citizens at Indian tourist sites. Is it justified?

It's an accepted truth in India that foreigners will pay more than Indian citizens for pretty much anything. The price of a rickshaw in Varkala, the small tourist town in which I live, jumps up to between 150%-400% of normal rates if the person getting in is from abroad. The drivers do this because they can; foreigners generally don't know any better, and by their foreign standards of pricing, 400% at the day's exchange rate often sounds like a pretty good deal.

You'd think this subtle exploitation of foreigners would be limited to the less scrupulous, but believe it or not, Indian governmental bodies are in on it too. Of particular note is the gulf in entry fees for Indians and foreigners at India's many tourists sites – and we're talking a far, far greater discrepancy than the rickshaw drivers' paltry 400%.

Here's a look at the recent adult prices of some of these major Indian tourist sites (taken from other sites, prices may have since risen):

Taj Mahal, Agra: Indian Citizens Rs 20, Foreigners Rs 970

Fatehpur Sikri, Agra: Indian Citizens Rs 50, Foreigners Rs 485

National Museum, New Delhi: Indian Citizens Rs 10, Other Rs 300

Hampi, Karnataka: Indian Citizens Rs 10, Foreigners US$5

Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra: Indian Citizens Rs 10, Foreigners Rs 250

So, foreigners who visit these sites pay between 970% of the Indian citizen price and an incredible 4850% for the Taj Mahal. Just how defensible is this? Let's take a look in some closer detail.

It actually makes good economic sense to charge these greatly inflated rates, and there are a number of reasons why. As mentioned, foreigners are accustomed to prices being much higher in their home countries. For example, entry to the Anne Frank Museum in the Netherlands is €9 (Rs 600), the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art is US$20 (Rs 886) and the Tower of London is £19.80 (Rs 1460). In that context, the Taj – an acknowledged wonder of the world, with centuries of tradition and some of the most striking architecture ever created by man – is very reasonable at Rs 970. India is more and more a part of the global market nowadays, and if we take the established countries of that global market as a yardstick, India's tourist prices measure up pretty well.

There's a flip side to that coin, though. India's increasing financial clout means that its middle class is growing: more people in India have more money than ever before. Plenty of Indian citizens are thus on the same level of income – and often higher – as their tourist counterparts flocking to India's tourist attractions, especially the backpacker crowd who make up a considerable chunk of that tourist traffic.

Even with that in mind, however, the average income of an American or European is substantially higher than the average income of an Indian. No objective justification for equalising prices there, either. (My concern on that score is whether or not those Indians that are mired in poverty, who number in the hundreds of millions, are allowed adequate access to tourist attractions like the Taj – or are they shooed away at the door for having dirty lungis and no shoes? If any readers have any information here, I'd be very interested to hear it.)

Then there's people like me. I live and work in India, but I am not a citizen. My own income level is about the same as the average upper middle-class Indians who flock to sites like the National Museum on a daily basis, and I pay tax to the Indian government. In spite of that, the going rate for me is still 3000% of any citizen who enters. I'm an outlier though, a freak, comprising barely a decimal point percentage of the total visitors to these sites, so my misgivings can hardly be taken into serious consideration. Especially when I am part of a dying breed, thanks to the Indian government's recent ruling on a minimum salary of US$25K p/a for employment visa eligibility.

Now imagine you've travelled from afar, at great expense, to tour the great tourist sites of India. You roll up to the Taj Mahal and are greeted with a board that says “Indians Rs 20, Non-Indians Rs 970”. Would you refuse to pay in protest at such an exorbitant discrepancy, or would you suck it up and hand over your cash? The fact is that very few foreigners are going to come all the way to India and baulk at Rs 970 for the grandeur of the Taj Mahal, even when it's blatantly obvious that they're paying over the odds. The tourism board probably banks on this in its budgets, and might suffer greatly if they were to drop the price. And a price reduction wouldn't sell any extra tickets, so there is no economic advantage whatsoever.

Then the question is this: is it ethical? Should citizenship of a different country mean you have to pay more? Should citizenship of India entitle you to such an impressive discount? I'll keep quiet about this and let you make up your own minds in the comments below. 


  • Rajpriya
    27.05.13 03:05 PM

    May be Australia has degraded itself to third world status and has moved India up to First World Status.

    Aussies may be thinking that transport costs must be peanuts for Indians students who could afford to go there for education.

    Paying higher taxes you automatically belong to a higher income group.
  • Prads
    27.05.13 09:29 AM
    When international students go to country like Australia to study Bachelors or Master degree, they have to 6 times more tuition than local student. They get no discount in trains and other transport. BUT they MUST pay the SAME amount of tax as the local people. HOW IS THAT FAIR?

    Now, western people go to countries like India and then bitch about price being too high for tourist and not being fair. SUCK IT UP!
  • Greg
    06.07.12 01:05 AM
    Just another reason to avoid visiting. At one time I had thought it would be a nice place to vacation, but not now and this just puts the nail in the coffin. As a tourist, I don't mind paying a bit more than locals but the prices quoted in the article are just blatant rip-offs.
  • Daphne
    30.01.12 01:16 PM
    I came back from a trip to India last week and it annoyed me greatly that not only the prices for national heritage sites but for ANYTHING tourist related you are charged mulitiple times the price then what it is actually worth. I bought a bed cover and discovered yesterday that the same cover is for sale for exactly the same price here in Holland!!! (thankfully it is the same price and not actually cheaper here!) I do feel extremely cheated since the dutch retailer has to pay for import costs, shop rent, tax and make a profit. So imagine how much over the top I paid in India for exactly the same thing? And this happens all the time with anything you want to buy. They see your tourist face and the price multiplies.

    Since I am the owner of a travel company for trips to India I can at least take ' revenge' by never taking anyone of my groups to that particulair shop and warn my customers they can get better value for indian things/souvenirs at home.

    As for the argument that Europeans and Americans earn more, sure but also our cost of living here is much, much higher than in India. Saving up for a holiday takes a long time. We may earn a bigger month salary but we must also spent most of it just to pay the rent and food etc. Indian seem to forget that and only see what we earn and feel we can pay more for everything.

    I feel treated unfairly very much by having to pay for everything more in india, so much so that I will not go there for my own holidays anymore. I will only go to actually earn some money back by traveling there with my groups.
  • Anshul
    15.12.11 01:43 PM
    I understand the pain of the blogger over the injustified entry fee rates for tourist spots. Actually this is prevalent in some of the asian countries also where international tourists have to shell out more currency than local ones. Not much a happening idea in west countries though. But what I think and suggest is yes this is irrational and injustified. Be it international tourists or local ones - all need to pay the same amount as its the same thing that everone is going to see. If govt wants to attract more tourists to earn more economic surplus, better improve teh safety and security acros teh country.
  • Tijo Joy
    Tijo Joy
    14.06.11 04:21 AM
    Hi Barnaby,
    Could understand because you earn in INR. IMO it was designed for people coming from outside India. As mentioned by: Balance, when you convert the fee into USD or GBP, it is very less than you pay for any attractions over there. Also the fees of 500+ INR, is too much ask for a normal Indian citizen. To me foreign nationals working in India, should be paying the domestic citizens rate. May be next time accompany with some Indian guys and they can get you in cheaper.

  • Balance
    06.06.11 11:13 PM
    It may have escaped your notice (although I can't see how it could have, given the general media portrayal of India), but India is a vastly poorer country than most. Thus, subisidising these tourist attractions for the local populace makes sense and charging more to foreigners (who tend to be wealthier by quite a large margin) also makes sense.

    Plus the absolute amounts when converted into USD or GBp are very small (one or two pounds for example). These rates are still much less than you would pay for ANY toursit attraction in the UK, for example.
  • dan
    06.06.11 10:08 PM
    I live in Mumbaim India and im from England, i pay my Indian taxes! ive lived here for a year! I think it is outrageous that they do this! i am willing to pay a little more but when they charge this, its disgusting! i hope in the UK they put the price up on tourist destinations to Indian residents of England so they can feel what it is like! Its not nice!
  • L
    27.05.11 07:19 PM
    I hadn't realized it until a couple of years ago when I visited a museum on one of my trips home (NRI). My immediate reaction was: it's UNFAIR. Then I told myself that most Indians can never afford to pay the entrance fee if it's as high as the foreigner fee and the museums need money to run (the museum I visited was in a deplorable state) and foreigners shell out that amount however reluctantly because, like you said, they are not going to throw a fit in front of the museum for mere thousand rupees right after spending thousands of dollars to visit India. Also I told myself it's a subsidized price for the citizens. I didn't think about the Indian residents who are not citizens.

    I still don't think it's fair and I guess the rationalization I gave myself only makes ME forget the unfairness. I guess a somewhat fairer thing to do would be to extend these "subsidies" to non-citizen residents as well.
  • Loknath
    21.05.11 01:17 PM
    This fee board should read thus

    Indians with ration card: Rs.2
    Indian without ration card: Rs.10
    Foreigners: Mercy

    This might get a hell lot more money for the Govt and they need not explain to anyone why they charge more to someone. Everyone pays what he feels it is worth. But first the foreign tourists should get the history of the place right before they consider it worth the money.

    Otherwise the simple trick is to pay the guide and watchmen some money to let you in from another secret entrance. This is very easy esp. in places like UP and Bihar. Often they are the only curators of the place, if at all. So they will let you in free of charge. All you have to do is probably pretend you are from a country more hopeless than India (are there)..e.g. tell them you are from Bechuanaland or Mozambique.
  • Madhu Nair
    Madhu Nair
    07.05.11 03:03 PM
    Like most folks, even I don't know why they do it. In fact in Rajasthan there were couple of instances when the price for Indians was written in Hindi just so that the foreigners won't get to know :) I wish they would just provide subsidized rates for folks who are not able to afford full price or have a free visit day once a week or once a fortnight. This would help even backpackers who are on a budget. I felt bad for couple of backpackers I met at Hampi who couldn't afford to pay the entry price :( ... They just clicked pics from the outside and went away !


  • katie
    05.05.11 10:45 PM
    prashant, what are the larger benefits of not getting citizenship?
  • Matt
    05.05.11 08:20 PM
    It is not fair. No Western country that I've been to charges a different rate for tourists vs locals (that I can think of). And way to pick on the Tower of London - every major museum in London is free for locals and tourists alike.

    The Taj was particularly exorbitant - 970Rs feels like a lot of money even if you're a tourist in India. How many dinners in nice restaurants does that buy?

    I can understand charging foreigners more, and would put up with paying a bit more - say double or triple, but nearly 50 times the local price (as at the Taj) is just rude.
  • Shivya
    05.05.11 02:40 PM
    Fair or unfair, the same happens when Indians (or foreigners) visit other countries in Asia, like Vietnam. The justification lies in a tourism economy, and I suppose overall for a country, it evens out.
  • Prashant K
    Prashant K
    05.05.11 02:17 PM
    The policy is correct.
    You can very well get Indian citizenship if you wish, but u won't do that since you see larger benefits for not doing so. Hence this is a very small price for that huge benefit.!!
  • Benny A
    Benny A
    05.05.11 10:01 AM
    I hope by keeping low price tag, they can attract thousands and thousands citizens - and the volume helps. But the ratio is not fully justified.
  • sharell
    05.05.11 09:47 AM
    I feel your pain over it. I think it's very unfair when the person is an Indian resident, and especially when one step further like yourself, earning Indian standard wages. Residents are contributing to the Indian economy, and in most cases are paying taxes to the Indian government on what they earn, so they should be allowed to pay Indian rates too. The argument is often that the Indian government is subsidizing the rates for Indian citizens... so surely such a subsidization should be extended to any tax paying resident.

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