How to Ruin a Local Economy: the Tourist Price

The super friendly locals of Panauti
The super friendly locals of Panauti

Yesterday I read an interview with Pegi Vail, the person behind the documentary “The Gringo Trail” (yes, I know, it IS a very offensive title) and it caught my attention that she (as well as some of the people who commented on the article) made a case against travelers, specially backpackers, who haggle for prices in order to pay the same price as a local.

It really got on my nerves, mainly because she makes the (extremely wrong and quite supremacist) assumption that the locals involved in the tourism industry are impoverished people who depend on the money of rich foreigners in order to survive (something that is far from the truth). To add salt to the injury, travelers in general seem to think that they’re actually helping those people by giving them an extra source of income!

Yes, it makes sense in the simplest way of thinking and I don’t doubt the good intentions of all the foreigners who agree to tourist prices and over tipping: More money for the locals = more happiness for the locals = more opportunities for the locals. Except they’re wrong. Dead wrong. Extremely wrong.

The soul of Angkor Wat in the eyes of a local
The soul of Angkor Wat in the eyes of a local

What is the Tourist Price?

First, I would like to distinguish the term “Tourist Price” with the quite similar “Local Discount”. Local discounts are awarded by the government and (sometimes) local businesses to people who come from the same city/state/country. Why is that? It’s mainly because a combination of three factors:

  • a) It’s a World Heritage site built by the ancestors of the locals.
  • b) The attraction/service is managed by the Government, thus, paid by the taxes of the local.
  • c) The locals simply CANNOT afford the standard price of admission.

That is why Indians can enter for free to the Taj Mahal while foreigners have to pay 30 USD to be admitted inside and also the reason why residents of the state of Quintana Roo can obtain extremely good discounts at Cancun’s most popular attractions.

A Tourist Price, on the other hand, is the variation of prices against foreigners in comparison of locals in places/services where none of the three points stated above are valid, this is mainly seen at restaurants, lodging and transportation and yes, in many countries this practice IS illegal (but never ever enforced) since in essence it’s a form of discrimination against the costumer.

Can you imagine walking into a McDonald’s and being asked to pay a different price based on your perceived income and the color of your skin? Madness!

“Well, it’s only a couple of USD, pocket change basically, no big deal man, I mean, I’m indirectly helping the local economy, right?” No, you’re absolutely not. In fact, you’re killing it and here’s why

Why the Tourist Price is killing the local economies

It all comes down to a simple word: Opportunities. In a free economy, people choose the professional opportunities that will bring them the most benefits. Wealth, happiness, status and a personal sense of accomplishment being the four most sought after factors.

From country to country, these four factors can have a great fluctuation, for example, in the USA you will most likely find people whose main focus is to obtain wealth and status while in Europe it is more common to find people whose main focus is happiness and a personal sense of accomplishment.

The super friendly locals of Panauti
The super friendly locals of Panauti

How about the situation in Third-World countries? From what I’ve seen and lived, the main factor is the simplest of them all: Wealth. Not because they would like to have it but rather, because they need it to survive and buy the basic items that most people (travelers included, of course) take for granted.

“But wait, you’re contradicting yourself! You said that the locals were not impoverished!” Yes and no. What I said was that the locals involved in the tourism industry were not impoverished. And that’s true. In Siem Reap, Cambodia, a Tuk-Tuk driver earns more money than a college educated doctor that lives in the outskirts of the city. Tour guides can earn four times that. That nice waitress at the restaurant outside Angkor Wat? She probably earns more money in tips than Cambodians with a Master degree.

Are you starting to see my point now?

How to ruin a local economy

Can you imagine what would happen in the USA if every single member of the waiting staff at the Cheesecake Factory earned twenty times the salary of a college educated medical doctor? Yes, you guessed it. Kids would start to aspire to become waiters instead of medical doctors. Why? Because it is the easy way out of poverty.

People won’t need to invest time and money in a college education that, chances are, they’re unable to afford. Most importantly, they can start working at a very young age, something crucial if they have a family (brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents) that depends on them.

The unique locals of Havana, Cuba
“One cup of coffee in exchange for a very interesting conversation? Sure why not”

In a few decades, the country’s hospitals would be near empty (filled only with the few gold hearted medics who don’t mind being criminally underpaid and overworked) and the number of unemployed non-skilled workers would have risen to the roof because nobody would ever pursue a college education, instead they will use their time to focus on trying to gain experience and contacts in the tourism/service industry. An industry that, in most Third-World countries, has already peaked or it’s quite close in doing so. After all, there IS a limit on how many people can visit Machu Picchu at once.

Yes, I know that you have a good heart and you think that the nice lady (conveniently dressed in drags) at the restaurant outside of Angkor Wat totally deserves a 1 USD tip (after all, you paid 5 USD for your meal instead of the 0.50 USD they charged your driver for a similar dish). But you know who truly deserves said money? Medical Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers…people who are frustrated at their country’s 80 USD per month minimum wage and the fact that a waitress can earn the same amount of money in one single day.

Before you visit a country, investigate the minimum wage and then decide if the tour, taxi, restaurant, service is incurring in the practice of Tourist Pricing. As a general rule: If the minimum monthly wage is anything below 200 USD, then chances are that you are hurting the local economy by overpaying and over tipping.

The local people of Sri Lanka
The local people of Sri Lanka

The “It’s not my fault” argument

“Come on Raphael, you’re not being fair, I mean, what can I do? It’s the country’s fault for allowing said wages in the first place”

I know that. I perfectly know that, trust me. But your actions can actively help local people from Third-World countries to avoid worshiping the tourism industry as their sole gateway from poverty. Your actions can help tour guides and Tuk Tuk drivers rethink: “Maybe I should have gone to college”. Your actions will inspire kids to realize that easy money is never good money. Your actions will allow you to travel more with all the money you saved by refusing to pay the tourist price.

The Tourism Industry is killing the opportunities of the citizens of Cambodia BECAUSE of generous travelers (and generous wannabe filmmakers, of course) who are not educated in the matters of life in Third-World countries and automatically believe that giving money like candies is the best solution. And it’s ok. Awareness NEEDS to be raised in this particular issue. Wealth disparity is not an excuse to behave irresponsible and hand out money to people you might believe need it the most.

For example, did you know that the actions of a few good-hearted Americans actually damaged the economy of the Philippines after the Typhoon?How about the fact that volunteering at Third-World countries is actually the worst thing you could do to help them? The number of volunteers actually increased the demand for orphans !!! How insane is that?

People need to be educated in these matters, this article is not nearly enough to cover all of the things that good intentioned travelers and volunteers are doing wrong in the Third-World but hey, it’s a good start.

A Foreword on the Tourist Price

If you ask me, the salesmen/guides/drivers who overcharge foreigners and forces them to pay the tourist price are just common criminals and scammers, no more, no less. They don’t need the money for they are certainly not poor. What they are is a shame to the good reputation of their country. In Mexico we have a saying of “El que no tranza no avanza” (He who does not cheat, does not advance), and it’s up to us to prove them all wrong.

Please, I encourage you not to fall for the trap of tourist pricing, haggle if you must or just walk away until you find an honest salesmen/guide/driver. Trust me, they DO exist and they are the happiest ones, not because they have more money but rather because they have a passion for their job and it truly shows in their honesty and hard work.

What is your opinion about the tourist price before and after reading this article? Agree, disagree? Participate in the debate and let me know what you think! I would really love to hear your take on this issue!

Things to do in Acapulco 5
The locals of Acapulco, Mexico

96 Comments

    • It’s because it’s the most used currency in foreign countries, prices in Siem Reap, Cambodia are all in USD. I actually wanted to set myself apart from the rest of the visitors and I ended withdrawing Cambodian currency from the ATM…To my surprise, a few establishments outright refused to accept it, arguing that it’s better for everyone involved if I could just pay in USD.

    • In all this commentary finding not a lot of good with what are generous intentions…..there is another point of view. One, if you interact where you vacation, it is easy to find people that WILL benefit from acts of kindness, where water is needed, or shoes or medicine. Also, the little girl in the photograph with the satin blouse is from San Juan Chamula and while it is true she most likely is an indentured worker, at least if she is in a tourist environment there is a chance she is going to school, There is a better quality of life for her over the village where she comes from……and while my understanding of things may be limited……I have been to her village and I know some of what happens there, and it can be worse than what happens outside of this place. no easy answer for these girls, and for certain, no education for her where she comes from.

  • Thanks for this excellent post, Raphael. An interesting perspective that I had never given much thought. I’ve often paid the tourist price simply because I didn’t know any better (I was 18 and traveling for the first time and things seemed cheap) or because I got into a situation and was too timid to haggle my way out. I’ll be honest — I HATE haggling. It makes me SO uncomfortable. But I think I will make an effort the next time I am traveling somewhere where this is an issue. I’m currently in New Zealand where even the “local” prices make me cringe. Haha.

    • Haggle is definitely a double edged sword, I sometimes feel bad after negotiating to buy a 20 USD t-shirt for only 2 USD but then I remember that the cost of production is way below that and that the profits of the salesman for that particular item are more than enough for one complete meal.

  • Wonderful post, Raphael. I would love to see an end to this problem. I’m so tired of hearing: “C’mon, it’s only a few dollars for you… that means so much for us here.” When you travel for months on end, those few dollars end up being a lot!

    We have experienced the tourist price in a number of countries and have no problem haggling. (My husband is Peruvian so it’s second nature to him.) There are cases when we’ve really had no choice though. Most recently we dealt with tourist price hikes for shared grand taxis in Morocco. For example, a ride from Tangier to Tetouan costs locals 25 Dirham (3 USD) per seat, but we were asked to pay double. Not a big deal for our bank account, but the principle was unsettling so we resisted. One Moroccan women stood up for us and told off the taxi drivers, calling them thieves and bad Muslims, but no one would budge. All 10 taxi drivers were sitting around, waiting for a job, and nobody would take us for anything less than the tourist price. Only one guy could see past the $$ in a family of tourists and realize our 4 year old could use a place to sit down. We made an agreement with him up front: we’d pay half the cost up right awy (which equaled the local price in full) and told him we’d pay up the rest if he got us to the destination safely. We turned over the other half of the money upon getting out and said, “We have no problem giving tips for good service, but please tell your friends it’s not okay to screw over every tourist who comes through your town. We’ll warn the rest of them not to come.” Who knows if that has any impact?

    Awareness may be a good start to controlling this problem. Hopefully posts like yours can help other travelers be more conscientious about the negatives of dual pricing systems. Then it’s everyone’s individual responsibility to DO something about it. Stand up to the tourist price in a respectful way, if you can!

    • I have often seen that the mentality behind a scammer’s mind consists of dehumanizing the victim and seeing only the money sign instead of regarding them as persons. They create a mentality of us versus them that truly comes to light in Muslim countries where it is not uncommon to see menus in English and Arabic with the same products…only that with different prices. I once called out on that and guess what the store manager told me? “It’s a translation fee”. How sad, indeed.

    • You’re absolutely right about Morocco, locals are so spoiled by rich tourists, they will ask for 20 Euro just for showing you the way… But that’s where I learnt to haggle ๐Ÿ™‚ Safe travels!

  • What a great post, again you’ve got me thinking and wondering about s topic I had really never given much (serious) thought to. We always pay tourist price, as I just always feel so bad to take food out of peoples mouths – but now you’ve given me reason to reassess that choice.

    • You’re welcome! One of the biggest paradox is that by paying the local price, you actually put food in the salesmen/driver/guide/waiter mouths. By paying the tourist price? You’re most likely putting booze and vices in their minds. The revenues of said people are in no way regulated taxes-wise so they’ll most likely going to end up spending it instead of saving it…and we all know that vices is the easiest form of entertainment there is ๐Ÿ™

  • Thank you for this article, it gave me a new point of view. I thought money would help the economy, and didn’t see it in this way, although I know the resources used for charity work done by tourists could be used better.

    • Indeed, I once read an article about a girl who did some volunteering in Namibia by building a library with another group of voluntourists and was so shocked to find out that every single night the workers of the charity destroyed and rebuilt the sections were the voluntourists worked. Why? Because the library had to be built right and a bunch of good intentioned volunteers with no background in building libraries cause more harm than good since they waste resources.

      Even the big international charities have some very crucial issues such as overhead costs and administration fees. For every dollar people donate, only a few cents reach the cause that people are fighting for in the first place!

      • very true, most ‘charity’ workers get paid very well and almost all of then ‘gap year volunteers’ do much more harm and tend to start this trend of white people made of money

      • Yes, it might be actually the same incident I was thinking of. I suppose, though, charities have different practices, and sometimes a great deal, or all the money donated goes to the intended purpose.

  • This is a really interesting article that I am sure a lot of local governments and entities would do well to read, though I am not too sure they would necessarily agree with your comments. The problem is this, we are all conned frequently both in our local economies and also nationally by politicians who ultimately think about themselves, and their personal well-being rather than what is beneficial for the economy as a whole.

    Regarding the topic of paying the tourist price, I think thats a potentially hot topic because for the most part I don’t think 99.9% of travelers would ever know any different. Then again, you could also relate this to the difference in prices between in-store and online prices.

    A really great article that highlights a number of key, well-debated points!

    • Yes, price discrimination is a huge deal in every day life. In all of the world it is extremely normal for hotels to have 5 different prices for the same room: Telephone reservations, Early Walk-ins, Online reservations via third party, Online reservations via hotel website, Late Walk-ins. The late walk-ins always get the cheapest price, of course.

  • I seriously thought that the tourist prices are the thing of the past. Wherever I go I just try to be myself – meaning eg. if the service is good, I’ll tip. If it’s not, then no tip. As for the educational message we send (better be a tuk tuk driver than a doctor), there is a worse scenario: when the kids start believing it’s better to be a thief than tuk tuk driver :). Some very good points you’ve got here, Raphael!

    • That’s a very good point, Frank. At least here in Mexico, the lack of opportunities in the North-East area (area devoid of any significant tourist attractions) have led to a very rampant spike in organized and un-organized crime.

  • What a great read and topic for debate. Totally agree with your arguments and it is something we as tourists probably don’t realise straight off. We love haggling, and think we have it down to a fine art now, but when we first started it was difficult to know where the magic ‘line’ was…at the end of the day, the vendors won’t sell to you if they’re not making profit so people shouldn’t worry about doing them out of a meal. It’s so difficult though to haggle with actual companies offering tours when everyone else pays the tourist price – why would the operator accept a lower price from us if they know the next person in the queue will give them full price. Great points about the tuk tuk driver v doctor, never really thought about it to that extent!

    • At least in China, I have often experienced that the saleswomen were willing to take a loss on their products as long I bought more than two . My reasoning is that they have already made a lot of money off clueless tourists BUT they have a huge amount of stock of products that they have to get rid of before the end of the day.

  • Tourists just want to see these beautiful, awesome places… and to buy a few souvenirs. What I dislike are local folks taking advantage of the tourists by charging so much for their goods. It’s almost always highway robbery. The tourists are always the victims.

  • Great points you have made – it’s a touchy subject too, so props to you for writing on it. Personally I agree with your argument fully and I help more people see what we are doing to the local economies in these countries because we as tourists are not helping at all. Sharing this on Twitter as well by the way!

  • The only instance in which this ever really annoyed me was in line to buy some banh mi at a street stall in Hue. We were a big group waiting to get on a sleeper bus to Hanoi, all us backpackers. The stall owner was literally charging people in the queue very different prices for the same thing. I was charged more than the person in front of me. But what can you do? Only pay it, or walk away.

    • I tend to carry a lot of coins and small denomination bills for this type of cases, I would have just paid the same as the person before and threaten the vendor with calling the authorities should he insist on ripping foreigners ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Yes, but that same USD can be crucial to one person in a negative or positive way. One of the most common scams in Thailand involves a Thai bar-girl seducing a foreigner and convincing him to marry her next time he visits Thailand…but until then, she wants a monthly allowance so she can live happily in the provinces with her family (implying that she will quit her job as a bar-girl in the city). The amount of money she asks can range from 300 to 1000 USD. Not so much, the foreigner guy thinks..until he investigates that life in the provinces is extremely cheap and 100 USD per month is way more than enough for a big family.

  • I grew up in Indonesia, so I recognize these issues really well. Everyday on the streets of Jakarta you see kids selling magazines, candies, singing for money etc. Do you give them money / buy from them so they can help their families, or is it enabling/encouraging them to not go to school? My grandparents and I would often go to the mountains on the weekends, and we would buy vegetables from local farmers, often sold by their kids. I think it’s acceptable for the kids to help out their parents when they are not in school (school breaks or on the weekends). But unfortunately so many of them abandon going to school all together.

    • It is really heartbreaking to turn away from children who beg for money and yet, it is for their own good. Education is the only way to improve a country and their citizens. And yes, I agree that every children should help their parents (provided that it doesn’t collide with school and homework). When I was growing up in Acapulco, I often served the role of delivery-boy for my mother’s friend restaurant. It was fun until a car almost ran over my bicycle haha ๐Ÿ˜€

  • A brilliant post. Although just want to say that its not only when you visit another country that you face this phenomenon. Sometimes all you do is move out of your native state/ city and all of a sudden you are paying tourist prices. It might be because I live in India where you have so much diversity every few kilometres that out of your city you are a Tourist.

    • Vacationing within your own country can be extremely expensive due to abusive taxi drivers! The first time I went to Mexico City with my family, we were charged about 20 USD for a 30-minute ride. Little we knew that the driver had the obligation to turn on the meter. Next time we did the same route? 4 USD.

      Mind you, this was in the early 90’s so the Internet wasn’t as big yet so the only way to prepare for a trip was to listen to what the elders had to say. At least in Mexico haha!

  • This is such an interesting post. It’s a very controversial issue, one that probably doesn’t have a definite answer. makes for good thinking material, though.

    • Yes, there’s no definitive answer, just different points of views. I’m actually tempted to interview scammers and con artists and go deep into the rationale of what they do and why. I’ll probably need a bodyguard though.

    • Haggle is fun once you get the hang of it! And specially rewarding once you get that proud feeling of not having been taking advantage of! In India, all women, even the poor ones, wear fashionable sarees and this salesman is trying to tell me that the cheapest one costs 10 USD? No frigging way!

  • I have to agree on many points you make because it happens in Costa Rica as well. Many of the locals here in Guanacaste don’t go to college and choose the tourism industry as their path because it is true, a waitress at a bar makes just as much (and maybe more depending on the night) as a doctor in a touristic area. People become parking lot guards since they can charge $5 a car with hundreds of cars passing by everyday and they don’t pay taxes. Why bother go to school when you can be making that much without an education? Why become a profession where you have to give a good chunk of your paycheck to the government? Tourism is great for a country no doubt but it can be a double edge sword sometimes. Great article Raphael!

    • The big sad truth is that countries like Honduras and Nicaragua would kill to have the same tourist infrastructure as Costa Rica, Belize and Mexico. It is definitely a double edged sword, I feel sad for all the potential scientists, engineers and doctors that we’re loosing due.

  • Hi Raphael, some good points in particular about giving money to children in Cambodia, I was talking to two Canadian children’s charity workers in Phnom Penh, they told me that it was a “pimp style” setup where homeless children are given very basic! shelter and food then “sent to work” to beg for money!.

  • Wow, you make a lot of great points about something I hadn’t given much serious thought over…and I’m a little ashamed to admit that. but, it was good for me to read this before going to SEA.

  • Well, without thinking so much about it I always tried to haggle and tried to spot the real price. Why? Because when I travel I try to go further, longer… then you can’t spend so much USD in the everyday life tripping.

    You’re article now gives me a better reason to do so, thank you.

    Also, I spotted a similar problem a few years ago in Africa. People giving candys, pen, toys, money … to demanding kids everywhere. I never gave nothing to them cause I’d feel heavily responsible for their sad future waiting for the next white man.

  • Interesting points raised Raphael, just as usual! There are several of them that I will need time to think it over well to know my response.

  • A very thought provoking article that brings up many valid points. After years of working in non-profits (both locally and internationally) we couldn’t agree more with the idea that tourist money has the ability to undermine local economies. Thanks for challenging the traveling world with ideas of sustainability, rather than where the next party is. It’s a refreshing change.

  • You sure sparked a lot of conversation here!

    I hate haggling. I rarely buy any actual items when I am away. One time in Istanbul I had to buy a head cover because I had forgotten to pack mine. It was so frustrating to have to work out a price. I am so used to seeing a price tag and paying and leaving. I was so consumed with my own annoyance and it never occurred to me that there is so much more behind it. Thank you for this enlightenment.

    • To be honest, haggling is even common in the corporate world when it comes to determining a salary for a new employee. It is quite common for the HR person or the boss himself to ask you “How much would you like to earn” as a form of haggling while determining a salary.

  • I can worry about a lot of things in life, but to worry about whether I am over-tipping people in foreign lands when I am on vacation is just another example of political correctness run amok. I feel If a U.S. waiter deserves a 15 or 20% tip, then so does a Mexican waiter. Also, I refuse to believe that people who tip generously are somehow dissuading people from entering necessary careers by rewarding non-college occupations with inflated dollar amounts of income. The reality is that the workers in the tourist industry are not hypothetical constructs. They have families to support in the here and now. Also, people choose careers for many other reasons than the Almighty dollar…I should know. I was a teacher for 40 years. I feel that the author is asking me to feel guilty for doing the right thing,.to feel bad for being generous, and to worry that I might in some way be polluting the societies that I visit. One cannot have it both ways. This is like the white folks of Playa del Carmen lamenting the “good old days” before Walmart came to town–like somehow the people of Mexico don’t deserve to shop at Wally World. As if we Anglos are better educated and know what is best for the locals. I believe Mr. Zoren truly wants me to feel like a “damned” foreigner, “Damned if I do show appreciation and generosity, and damned if I don’t.” Maybe everyone should stay at home, and then we would not abuse the poor folks in foreign lands with our evil capitalist dollars.

    • It is a problem because visitors should adjust to local standards instead of imposing their foreign ones. First-time Japanese tourists do not KNOW that they should tip because in Japan, tipping is non-existent so you can imagine the outburst of a US waiter when the a Japanese couple compliments her for her performance and yet, fail to provide with a tip.

      If you try to impose your 20% tip standard on people that are used to receiving 10% or less then you ARE part of the problem.

  • You bring up a lot of good points. What irks me is that I’m an American living in Malaysia, paying taxes in Malaysia, and still getting charged the stated Tourist Price at local attractions like the funicular or museums. At other places like food stalls and markets, I’m at least more likely to get the local price since I’m of Chinese descent and can pass as a local. My husband, on the other hand, is tall and white and inevitably gets charged more than I do. That’s why I do most of the transactions.

    • I hear you on the challenges of never getting away from being charged tourist prices even when you’re a local expat working and paying taxes. In India however, if you work, you get a PAN (tax number) card and with it are supposed to be able to pay local prices for attractions, even at the Taj Mahal. Which was awesome since I was earning local rupees same as anyone so had to spend them wisely. In practice though, it was hard to convince the under-trained and under-paid gate staff and watchmen of that rule. Learning even a bit of the local language does help with the tourist price, but yes, being tall or blonde is a negative on the sliding scale of negotiation in most places. Oh, Otherness, how you still confuse us silly humans.

  • You bring up some really interesting points that I really never thought of before. I can see how easy it could be for the tourism industry to be glorified as an easy way out of poverty. It is very frustrating that this “tourist price” exists. It does give a bad reputation for those destinations. I don’t want to be treated differently just because I’m not a local, especially when my intention is to learn and appreciate more about the people and culture of where I am visiting.

    I definitely need to work on my haggling skills before my next trip! It is not one of my strong suits!

  • Good points. I like the last remark about the happiest ones are the honest ones. When it comes to places that are charging more for tourists I’m always haggling down. Sometimes I’ll go to various vendors until I find the right price. When I do, they’ll often remark about shady practices by the other vendors.

  • I never thought of this put in these terms. Thanks! Thankfully I normally do not visit touristy areas and just stay off the beaten track. I am not blind to the facts though. I have seen how whole economies have changed due to some surfers showing up at some town to surf a break.

  • This is a very interesting post. I agree with some things you’ve said but totally disagree with other comments. I haggle for a good price most places that I travel and I’m a frugal backpacker so any deals are great. I’ve had brilliant experiences all over the world, with local families and local tour guides who do not ask for tips or presents but I’ve given them for a brilliant experience. If I was in a hospital or came into some contact with a lawyer or some other professional, no doubt I would pay them well. You can’t compare tour guides to doctors or lawyers in relation to tips and salaries because of tourism. Its the government who set minimum wage and should look at partnerships or contracts that generate more money and expertise to those professions. Kids won’t be dissuaded from being something other than a tour guide because there is money to be made; a good education will teach them that money does not equal self worth and development. I taught in a developing country as a volunteer and it annoyed me to see you say this could damage a country more. Volunteers give so much to people on an emotional and psychological level and as a teacher I hope I inspired and coached the girls I was with each day for the life ahead. I went in trained and ready to deal with girls who had been abused and neglected. There simply wasn’t money to send another local person in for a full salary so I did it for nothing and I’m sure I made a positive difference. I read the interview with Pegi Vail and thought there were important points about damaging natural beauty of a place with mass tourism but there was a bit of backpacker ‘bashing’ in it too. I take it with a pinch of salt but will think more about my negative impact on places in the future.

    • Interesting perspective, Katie. I think the main problem with volunteering at orphanages in Third-World countries is the feeling of abandonment that it creates on the child once the volunteers leave for their next adventure. I believe that a local volunteer who will never leave is definitely a better option than a foreigner who’s only going to be there for a couple of months.

  • I’m really enjoying your reflection pieces. As someone who is currently based in a developing country, this is an issue I face on a daily basis and, in fact, have received criticism from visiting friends for taking many positions similar to yours. The attitude of “it’s only another dollar” for an inflated price is hurtful overall. Well done.

  • I never really looked at it this way, it’s quite shocking. I’ve been to Siem Reap and to think a Tuk Tuk driver makes more than a doctor is appalling–it really gives you a good perspective of what goes on behind the beautiful scenery of local attractions.

  • I cannot thank you enough about your post. This is alway something that comes up when ever I travel even in the USA with their tipping tradition. I tip based on service I get. So when I travel to other countries I am not willing to pay anymore than the locals for the same service. I am not rich by any means I work hard for my money just like everyone one else so having to pay higher just because I am perceived to be a “rich tourist” doesnt sit well with me for many of the reasons you have highlighted.

  • Oh Raphael, yet another great post I totally agree with. I have had countless arguments with travellers handing out tips and gifts in developed country, justifying the gesture with ‘it makes them so happy and doesn’t cost me anything!’ I have become hoarse trying to make them aware of the dangers of this behaviour. From now on, I’ll direct them straight to this post.

  • I absolutely agree with you in regards to tourist prices. I was shocked by how the locals tried to gouge us in Bangkok and there were scams a plenty. I get that as non-third world citizens we can do some good for these countries by traveling there and spending money but there are ways to help these countries and help put money in the hands of the people and not just the few who are gouging us with their tuk tuk prices.

  • Thanks for the great thought
    provoking post. As a seasoned traveller
    I realised long ago that one must do as the locals do, and bargain in countries
    where it is appropriate. The first thing
    I would learn in the local language is: โ€œI need a better price,โ€ while giving
    them a knowing look. This usually worked
    and everyone was happy.

    I do have an issue with the idea
    that people earning more in certain fieldsโ€™ ruins the local economy. You mention
    waiting staff as an example. What if
    they earned as much as Doctors in the US?

    First of all the medical
    profession is highest paid field in North America.

    People have lost their homes and
    sleep in cars in the US because they do not afford to pay the medical bills, or
    pay for the treatment that these college educated Doctors prescribe. I donโ€™t how the new Medicare proposals will
    affect this.

    Doctors in the US leave college
    with an incredible debt load that usually directs their choices of specialities
    that sometimes do not include humanitarian motives.

    Having more Doctors in a country
    does not necessary mean people will have more access. If a waitress or street
    vendor cannot pay for treatment. It will
    not matter how many Doctors there are in the country.

    Like any country where public
    education is free at the secondary level, not everyone aspires to be a Doctor,
    lawyer, or engineer in third world countries, where secondary education is fee
    paying. And these are not the only
    professions that will get people out of poverty. Many blogs are written by
    people who have in fact stepped out of these professions in North America and
    Europe, to work the travel industry.

    The factory worker in the US car
    industry is paid a very high wage for someone who is usually not college
    educated. The wage reflects the hard,
    tedious work that requires certain standards to maintain the safety of the
    finished product.

    Being in the service industry in
    most countries is usually a means to an end not the destination. I do believe
    that education is key to moving away from poverty. That waiter or waitress, in third world
    countries should get as much as possible because they are usually supporting
    many members of their family. I disagree that it is an easy way out of
    poverty. It is very hard to be in the
    service industry, especially when you are doing it to pay your college expenses,
    or those of your siblings. I can personally attest to this. Usually, families are much larger in third world
    countries and the familial expectations are high. The person working will be expected to help
    grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters who may living in rural areas.
    Schools are not free in most of these countries, so the waitress/waiter will be
    helping to support a sibling who aspires to be a Doctor, or engineer etc.
    Children tend to leave school because their parents cannot afford school fees.

    Nigeria, for example has a high
    number of skilled college educated workers who cannot find jobs and their
    hospitals are not empty.

    In East Africa, which I am
    familiar with because I have an African arts and crafts business. Many of the co-operatives I deal with sell
    their crafts to tourists. Cooperatives
    are run as a business and many aspire to be in this business because it is viable
    and allows for a relative amount of control over their finances.

    Parents in East Africa value
    education, and know with an education their children will have a chance to be
    better off than they are. School fees are a priority here. The problem in East Africa and other African
    countries in general, is that there are not enough public sector jobs and many post-
    secondary graduates do become street vendors in the hope of becoming full-fledged
    business people. This is self-employment
    and should be seen and the entrepreneurial reality that lifts people out of
    poverty.

    It must be remembered that many third
    countries have a system where many palms have to be greased to get even basic services,
    from public officials, to vendors getting their products. It is not ideal, or ethical, but it is the
    reality and what the population has to work with. To be fair, there are Ministries
    in charge of rooting out this corruption, but who watches the watcher.

    In conclusion, while I whole
    heartedly agree that tourists should not give money excessively in third world
    countries because they feel sorry for the people in tourism earning an honest
    living. And I do agree with people doing their homework before travelling. I do
    believe that people should be rewarded for a job well done as in any country in
    the world. If you get exceptional
    service, it is okay to show your appreciation.

    I do not agree that professions
    that are overpaid in North America translate well or solve the problems of
    shortages in third world countries.

    • I think the key is for travelers to understand where their money is going. Developing countries need money, yes but they need it in the right areas. In my opinion, it would be better if instead of overpaying or over-tipping, travelers actually used that extra money and donated it to NGO’s in said country since the economy needs a boost in the macro level and not in the micro one.

  • I love most of your posts Raphael but this time I have to say that I disagree, as a student from a country of the third world and resident in a touristic place (Puerto Vallarta) based in my own experience I think that no any quantity of money as a waitress could change my plans to be a professional but in fact earning money as a waitress in a nice restaurant in the city has helped me to manage school and work at the same time,which I have proven that having another kind of job (like an office assistant) it’s quite complicated if you are studying (schedules, etc.)… for many of us working at a young age is not a decision in fact it is something we have to do for our circumstances and if it wasn’t for the good pay waitress job I have I would probably have had to choose between school o work, and with no option I would have had to leave school to get an office employment to get a decent payment to help my family…

    • I absolutely agree, Diana. However please understand that the circumstances of Mexico and Latin America are very different from the ones of Cambodia and South East Asia. Professional jobs in the Latin world are well paid in comparison with jobs in the tourism industry. In South East Asia it’s the opposite: A tour guide in Angkor Wat can greatly out earn a Medical Doctor with a PHD.

      • Hi Raphael,

        So Tourist Pricing is okay in another countries (e.g. including all Latin countries with poorer GDP per capita than Cambodia such as Nicaragua, Honduras, and Bolivia), except for all or some SE Asian countries?

  • I find most of your articles interesting reading. I would like to add my few experiences so that your readers can be further be advised. I have travelled to KL, Malayasia on numerous occasions and there in not a single time when I am not openly gauged by taxi drivers in KL. They do not want to turn on the cab meters but tell you a flat rate which is sometimes 4-6 more than the normal fare. I have drawn this matter to the Government of Malayasia but this practice continues un-abaited. I do not find these practices prevalent in other East Asian countries.Indonesia has the most honest taxi drivers.

    These taxi drivers would wait for hours to catch a victim who would come off the hotel. When I complain that the meter is not turned on, the driver would just ignore me. I often wondered how they can sleep at nights and feed their family with this kind of haram money.

  • The tourist price is one of the reasons I left Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio, for example, $16 for gringos $3 for Ticos. It was like that everywhere. I don’t mind a local discount. I’m from Vegas and took advantage of it but when I had to pay 5x as much as someone else because of my skin color? No thanks. I had never looked at it from the angle you presented about doctors and lawyers, although my cr lawyer ripped me off too.

    • Ha! Dude, I hope you understand that your skin colour gives you privileges that completely compensate you for paying a little more when you travel to lower economic countries. You did the right thing though, and left. And yes, I’m being a jerk, because this article is all sorts of bullshit, written from a privileged tourist whose basically arguing that local people who rely on tips are just motivated by evil and want to scam everyone, whereas tourists who travel to places to get as cheap an experience as possible are saviours, but only if they tip the absolute bare minimum. Jerks.

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