Friday, October 12, 2007

Why are foreign tourists overcharged in India?

Foreign tourists in India often find themselves paying higher entry fees than local people at historical monuments.

While a foreigner pays Rs 250 at World Heritage Monuments like the Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra and the Qutab Minar here, the fee for an Indian is just Rs 10. Similarly, at monuments like Hawa Mahal, where Indians pay Rs 5, foreigners are charged 20 times the amount.

"I am a guest in this country, so why am I being charged high prices at every place I visit," asked Joseph Ramos from the Philippines who was visiting the 13th century Qutab Minar monument. It was his first trip to India.

A German tourist, Heidi Blum, said she had to shell out Rs 30 for a samosa but found out that the snack was available for as little as Rs 5 in most places.

"I can't believe I gave six times the amount that local people pay. This is not right," she said.

Some shopkeepers justify the high prices saying in terms of dollars or euros, it does not amount to much for a foreign tourist. But the fact remains that there is discrimination.

The issue needs to be addressed at a time when the high voltage Incredible India campaign is on to bring more visitors to the country. Nearly 4.5 million foreign tourists came calling last year.

Anshu Vaish, director general of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which is responsible for the upkeep of monuments in the country, has an explanation: "The reason for charging more from foreigners and less from Indians is because our national heritage belongs to us and locals should not pay more. But making or changing policy (on entry fees) is not in our hands."

Vaish also pointed out that entry to many monuments in India was free.

"Out of 3,667 monuments in India, an entry fee is charged at only 150 monuments. The rest have no entry fees for Indians as well as foreigners," she added.

Sudhir Kumar, a tourism official, justified the higher charges for foreigners. "The reason we charge them more is to better maintain the tourist spots and their surroundings," he maintained.

As for exorbitant prices charged by curio shops and eateries near monuments, Vaish said the ASI had no control over it.

"We only take care of the monuments and their surroundings. We don't know who the final authority for (licensing and controlling) the shopkeepers and vendors is," she said.

Leena Nandan, joint secretary in the Tourism Ministry, echoed Vaish's views. "We take care of tourist spots and promote culture. We're not responsible for the licensing of shops near the monuments," she said.

"The sale and purchase of goods from these shops is a matter between the seller and the buyer. It has nothing to do with the Ministry," Leena added.

As for police, they seem to turn a blind eye to foreigners being overcharged.

"I have never heard of any shopkeeper charging more than the printed price of goods. No foreigner has complained to us about it," said a policeman posted at Qutab Minar.

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