Is Dual Pricing in Thailand Racist?

Many foreigners who either visit or live in Thailand have complained that they feel that dual pricing in Thailand is racist. Others argue that it simply reflects the economic disparity between those who come to Thailand and the citizens of Thailand. Who is right?

To get to the bottom of the question, let’s take a look at what is meant by the term dual pricing in Thailand as it has many forms.

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Types of Dual Pricing in Thailand

  • Government Dual Pricing – This is the act of pricing entrance to national parks at different rates for foreigners.
  • Other Official Dual Pricing – When tourist attractions and others have an official price for tourists that is higher for foreigners.
  • Opportunistic Dual Pricing – When a shop owner or other type of merchant decides to price their goods higher for foreigners than they do for local Thais.

In terms of Government or Other Official Dual Pricing in Thailand, many foreigners wrongly claim that no other countries engage in dual pricing. One only has to look at Senior’s Discounts or Local’s Only prices to counter this claim.

For instance, Disney, the world’s largest theme park company, often offers amusement park tickets at discounted prices for locals. Show a California driver’s license and one can receive a big discount on entry at Disneyland in Anaheim, Ca.

Senior citizens also enjoy widespread discounts at everything from restaurants to movie theaters simply for being able to prove they are 55 or older.

Many nightclubs offer Ladies Night specials. Police and members of the military are often given discounts. There are many affinity based discounts, many of which would exclude foreigners (AARP, Auto Club, etc) as those organizations only exist in the host country.

Some would point out that while these discounts do exist in other parts of the world, they do not specifically discriminate against foreigners (though police and firefighters tend to be citizens of the host country so it actually does discriminate.). There is some truth to this however it could be argued just as easily that given Thailand’s rather disjointed patchwork of governmental agencies, it’s simply easier for them to distinguish between citizen or non-citizen (Thai citizens are required to carry a Thai ID card) than it is to ask a park employee to determine a foreigner’s immigration status in the country.

Dual Pricing in Thailand Based on Wealth Differences

However, there is also room for an argument to be made that given the wealth inequality between most Thais and most foreigners, the Thai government would be doing the Thai people an injustice to charge them the foreigner rate as well as leaving tens of millions of baht in revenue on the table if they charged all foreigners a rate which locals could afford.

racismWhen dealing with third-world or developing economies, it’s difficult to draw parallels with first-world nations. 400 baht, the foreigner price at many national parks, is more than the legally mandated minimum daily wage for most Thais. So while it might be what a foreigner would normally spend on lunch, a Thai person has worked for an entire day or more to earn that same amount. Imagine a Thai would wants to visit a national park with his family? Entrance for himself, his wife, and their three children could equate to 25% of his monthly wages.

And given that Thai national parks should primarily benefit Thai people, pricing most of them out of ever being able to visit any of their own national parks seems rather oppressive.

Of course, the Thai government could always lower the price for everyone such that Thais could easily afford the fee. But traditionally, national parks, regardless of the country, are not profit centers and rely on some taxpayer funding. How fair would it be for Thai people to pay taxes to subsidize lower prices for foreigners?

The only compromise, other than dual pricing, would be to have national parks that are available only to Thais with the lower fees and tourism oriented national parks that are available to foreigners.

But how do you reconcile situations like the Grand Palace that is both a place of Thai history and religious importance to Thai people? It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions for foreigners who want to learn about Thailand. Should Thais be deprived of their own heritage and culture or should foreigners be told that a popular tourist attraction is no longer available to them?

Such a solution would end up being more problematic than dual pricing.

Similarly, the government is probably adding fuel to the claims of racism or at least unfairness by not positioning the Thai price as a discount rather than having two published rates. If the rate for 400 baht but anyone showing a Thai ID receives a 300 baht discount, the optics are better than having a 100 baht price for Thais and a 400 baht price for foreigners.

While many of these discounts might be okay for a private company, many point out that by publishing official foreigner and Thai pricing, the government is promoting racism.

At the governmental level, this is a trickier topic to address because while it may be discriminatory on a certain level, it’s something that is pervasive throughout Thai society. Foreigners cannot own land in Thailand. Foreigners are prohibited from entering certain professions. Foreigners cannot own businesses that engage in certain industries. In fact, foreigners (with few exceptions) cannot even own more than 50% of any company in Thailand.

So, is it racist or is it simply in keeping with Thailand’s tendency to put Thai interests ahead of foreigner interests?

Perhaps it’s a bit of both depending on how liberal you want to get with the definition of racism. However, given how ultra-nationalistic the Thai people are in general, it is far more likely that most Thais view this as an issue of putting Thais ahead of foreigners.

What if Western Countries Had Dual Pricing?

Another common argument you will hear is that if other countries priced differently for Thais than they did for the local people, Thais would scream bloody murder. Given that the application for a visa to the US, UK, EU, or Australia (and most of the people who make the racism claim are from one of those countries) is both far more expensive, more invasive in terms of documentation required, and take significantly longer to obtain, one could argue that the foreigner price is already built into the system for them.

For example, my wife (who is Thai) and I were planning a trip to France and Italy. As an American, I didn’t have to do anything. I am granted 90-days visa exemption upon arrival. My wife, a permanent US resident, had to fill out an application, supply 3 months worth of bank statements, show a letter from her employer that she was employed and that she had a job when she returned, show 3 months of pay slips from her job, show proof of funds for her stay in the EU, provide several years of prior year tax returns, show hotel reservations in her name, and show a flight itinerary in her name (yes, you have to book a hotel and flight before you are granted a visa – which is a huge financial burden if you are then declined). Then, she had to travel to another state (300 miles away) to apply and pay the visa application fee at the embassy, in person.

I think most Thais would be thrilled to be able to enter the US or EU under the same 60-day visa exemption that US and EU citizens enjoy in Thailand and simply pay $10 extra at national parks.

Many people opposed to dual pricing make an excellent point that a permanent resident or someone on a retirement or work visa should get the same pricing as Thais because their tax dollars also contribute to the maintenance of the national park system and other similar places where dual pricing exists.

While earlier it was pointed out that the reason that the local price was not given to these longer-term expats due to the fact that it’s easier for Thais to segment people based on citizenship rather than immigration status, they do have a valid grievance that the Thai government should address.

But, yet again, we have to ask whether or not this is racism or simply laziness and inefficiency. Is their malice behind not extending local pricing to foreigners living long-term in Thailand or is it a matter of the government, in general, not feeling it’s worth the time, cost, and effort to make a distinction between anybody who is not a Thai citizen?

Ultimately, it’s up to each person to decide. Though, as previously mentioned, treating foreigners differently under the law is ingrained into Thai society so if one finds dual pricing in Thailand racist, they’ll likely view the entire Thai system as racist.

Is It Really Racist?

Further complicating any accusation of racism is the fact that citizenship is not a race. The signs at national parks indicating dual pricing do not say, “Asians pay X and White people pay Y.” They say Thais pay one price and foreigners pay a different price. In fact, many of the signs showing a lower price for Thais are written entirely in Thai using Thai numbers which further infuriates people who argue that dual pricing is racist as they say it is obvious Thais are trying to hide the dual pricing from them.

And, they wouldn’t be wrong on the fact that the dual pricing seems to be hidden via only mentioning the Thai price in Thai script. But this seems to further bolster the case that the government’s motive is not racist as Japanese, Koreans, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and other Asians are equally deceived.

Opportunistic Dual Pricing in Thailand

Lastly, there is the issue of dual pricing in local shops, food stands, and other places which is neither official nor advertised. Many argue that if they walk into a shop and the shopkeeper quotes them 200 baht for an item that they would sell to locals for 100 baht it is racist.

The only problem with that is that the same shopkeeper will do it to an affluent Thai too.

Many Thais that I’ve spoken with have mentioned getting charged higher prices for reasons ranging from being married to a foreigner to wearing too nice of clothes.

Understandably, this might be annoying for many foreigners in Thailand who feel that this dual pricing is directed at them but I’m not sure I would consider it racist. It’s more about a mentality that a fair price is a price that someone else is capable of paying. If you drive a nice car, the thinking goes, you can afford to pay more than someone who can’t afford shoes.

Perhaps annoying but I would find it difficult to classify it as racist.

Of course, there are racist Thais. I’m sure there are people who can cite one or more examples of dual pricing resulting from blatant racism. It’s not that racism doesn’t exist in any form, it’s a matter of whether or not the primary reason for dual pricing in Thailand comes from a malicious, racist motivation.

It has become somewhat normal in western counries for people to misapply the racist label on anything that seems unfair and where the two sides on an issue are of different races.

Perhaps that is what is happening here. Some people feel the pricing structure is unfair and because the people imposing the pricing structure are of a different race, some feel the unfairness is a form of racism.

But it’s an argument likely to fall on deaf ears in Thailand which is far less observant of political correctness than most western countries are. It’s highly unlikely that government officials are going to appreciate that some people feel dual pricing is racist.

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