Should Attractions in the United States Charge Different Fees for Non-Residents?

“T here seems to be a growing trend to charge foreigners higher entrance fees to national parks and monuments in many countries” is what I first wrote in this article from Friday, September 30, 2011 — along with posting a couple of unconfirmed examples used primarily for illustrative purposes.

In my travels since posting that article, I have noticed that that trend does indeed seem to be true. The latest example is when I was in Egypt earlier this month, where the disparity between the entrance fees of attractions for foreigners versus Egyptians can be significant. One of many examples in Egypt alone is the ticket cost to the Supreme Council of Antiquities Museum, where the price of admission is 60 Egyptian pounds for foreigners versus only four Egyptian pounds for Egyptians — or approximately $7.84 versus 52 cents, respectively.

Is that fair?

That prompted me to think about a question I asked almost four years ago: should attractions in the United States of America — such as national parks and monuments — charge one fee for Americans and a higher fee for foreigners? If so, should the fees paid by foreigners be a comparable amount based on what their home countries charge American citizens for access to their national parks and monuments — similar to reciprocal fees such as those charged between the United States and Brazil?

“It is all a matter of demand and supply”, posted FlyerTalk member cbn42 back in September of 2011. “If you want to attract foreign tourists (who then stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and keep the economy running), then charging them more is not a good plan. But American tourists, who tend to be wealthier than say Ecuadorians, are not going to be deterred by a $100 admission fee.”

A differential in pricing between residents and foreigners could also be seen as petty and discriminatory and possibly discourage tourism in the United States; but would that matter if the costs were reduced for American citizens versus increased for foreigners?

“Only about a third of the 400-plus properties within the National Park Service system charge an entrance fee”, according to this article which announces an increase in entrance fees to some national parks in the United States this year as written by Kevin Freking of the Associated Press. “…the National Park Service collects about $180 million annually through fees and had hoped to raise $45 million more through all the fee increases.”

What are your thoughts? Have you encountered differences in pricing and costs for foreigners versus citizens in other countries during your travels? Is this a practice which attractions in the United States should consider implementing — or is it simply a bad idea?

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

14 thoughts on “Should Attractions in the United States Charge Different Fees for Non-Residents?”

  1. 02nz says:

    Why in the world would we do that? If the idea is to get visitors to pay their “fair share” than this is a pretty terrible idea – remember that they already support the economy in other ways (e.g. hotels, restaurants, airlines) even if they don’t pay entrance to a national park or to the Smithsonian. I’ve been to plenty of places where they charge foreigners a higher price, but this would make zero sense in the U.S. In a place like Egypt, they want to maximize revenue from foreigners, so they charge what they can get away with, but charging the same to its own citizens would make the attractions off-limits to the vast majority, so they charge a lower price (often something like 1/10th or even much less of the foreigner price). But in the U.S., if anything many visitors have lower average incomes than Americans and relatively few have higher incomes than Americans. So charging a higher price would put off and drive away many visitors, and the net result wouldn’t be good.

  2. Rye says:

    No, everyone should pay the same. I don’t like it when I have to pay more than the locals but it’s usually in the poorer countries so I don’t sweat it. It’s usually not too expensive and just because they do it doesn’t mean we have to be dicks too, lol.

  3. 02nz says:

    Also, just because you’ve seen this in your travels doesn’t make it a “trend.” I’ve never seen it in a developed country, and even in developing countries, in my experience the trend is to charge uniform prices, as domestic incomes rise. In China the practice of charging a higher price for foreigners was very common 20 years ago but much less so now. (Of course they didn’t lower the foreigner price in most cases, but rather simply raised the prices charged to Chinese.) It’s all about price discrimination – and unless you have a large group of foreigners who are prepared to pay much higher prices it’s simply not worth the hassle.

  4. Tom says:

    It makes sense in the case of Egypt and other developing countries where their own residents earn way less than Americans do. Americans and Europeans probably don’t think twice to pay $7 to visit the museum in Egypt. Traveling to the US already cost travelers a fortune. Some people have to save their whole life just to take a trip of their dreams to America.

  5. JJ says:

    Let’s keep our system the way it is. We should continue to welcome visitors to the U.S. and not deter them from spending money here. Most of these discrepancies are in poorer countries (you don’t see this practice in Europe or Japan) so I’m fine with keeping it the same.

  6. Christian says:

    I’m not a big fan of the double standard in pricing, whether I win or lose in any specific case. If I go to say, India, and pay 20 times the local rate to see something, then I feel I’m getting gouged. I can afford it, but it still rankles. I add to the economy in lots of ways by visiting, so being penalized for the privilege of being a guest just feels wrong.

  7. globetrotter says:

    How can we differentiate between immigrants and tourists, unless we have senior and children discount fees that require photo ID ? In developing countries, it is easy to identify based on physical appearance, accent or lack of knowledge of local language. If there is a huge gap in living standards, average living wages and inflated currency exchange rate, then it matters not. However, when we talk about encourage and welcome tourists to this country, we must start with TSA agents and custom officials who display superior/ elitist attitude or unwarranted/ blanketed suspicious behavior toward tourists in the name of national security.

  8. Linda says:

    I live in Mexico, and have for 10 years now. I have my Permanent Residency, and am married to a Mexican man. Before I got my Permanent Residency a couple of years ago, every time we would go to archaeological sites, museums or cenotes, I would be charged the “tourist” rate. At some places, even though I now am a Permanent Resident, I still get charged the “tourist” rate (of course, I usually just refuse to go to those places any longer). It absolutely makes me mad as hell! I think it’s awful that tourists get charged more (and here, it’s usually much more!), than the “locals”. I think it’s a very bad policy, and wouldn’t recommend doing the same thing in the U.S.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I can absolutely see why that you think it is a bad policy, Linda — and thank you for sharing your experiences.

  9. jeroen says:

    Its a complete fine way to make people outrages. The USA aint Africa where it is appearantly normal to rip off foreigners by charging them up to 8 times the normal rate. No one has ever been able to explain to me what the logic would be in having different rates for non-residents. The income argument is not valid since residents do not have the same amount of travelling costs to get to that location. Imagine what would happen if i would charge a foreigner $ 15 for a bottle of beer, while a resident would pay just $ 2.50 for that same beer ………. not a single foreigner would visit my bar

  10. Sally says:

    Our National Parks face a $12 billion dollar backlog in critical repairs. I doubt if raising the entrance fees by 50% or so, for foreigners would stop any of them from visiting. In comparison to the other costs of them visiting our country, this would be “nothing”. I was recently in Yosemite. It seemed as though well over half of the visitors were not from the US.
    I also think that the LIFETIME senior citizen fee of $10 for all National Parks is ridiculously low. My husband has this pass. We have visited 4 parks in the past two years. Yes, I know we have paid taxes to support the parks, but we still should charge a higher fee more in line with the value of visiting the parks.

  11. JR Schanzenbacher says:

    Well, we have a problem right here at home with States charging fellow Americans more depending on where they live. I am seeing a number of States charging more for someone that lives in another State. That seems really ridiculous.
    Let’s look at Maine for example. If I want to stay and camp at one of their State Parks I will pay 25$ versus a Mainer paying 15$. Huh? Do you not want us buying food, gas, dinners etc. (along with the taxes)? That makes no sense at all. I can understand a slight…. sic very, small difference to perhaps give the home-stater some recompense for their slight tax burden to pay for the park but NOT a 67% extra surcharge to the out-of-stater. That’s not right.
    I sell cars. If I have one that costs 15000$ for sale in Pennsylvania and I charge out-of-staters 25000$ for the same car, I think I would see the Better Business Bureau involved very quickly.
    The point is, people are people are people. If we want to have an open society and open world, then everyone gets charged the same.

    1. Sally says:

      I don’t understand the logic of comparing the purchase of a car to an entrance fee for a National Park experience provide by US taxpayers.
      If our National Parks need $12 billion in repairs and updates, how should we pay for that?

      1. JR Schanzenbacher says:

        The comparison was not a qualitative one but a quantitative. The point being a matter of percentages of fairness comparison versus a means of cost reparations which you are talking about.
        The point I was making was not about National Park shortfalls but the inequality of State Parks from some States charging AMERICAN citizens of other States a significantly higher amount for usage. In my example (Maine State Campgrounds) they charge 15$ for Maine resident and 25$ for AMERICANS from other states. This happens to be a 67% higher amount or, as I referred to it, surcharge. I then took the further example of illustrating that if I were selling cars at one price ($15000 from my example) to residents of my State, but charging another price to other State residents ($25000 from my example which IS 67% higher also) to illustrate the total unfairness. It matters not if we are discussing campgrounds and piddly 25$ bills or cars and 25000$ bills. Unfair is unfair. My point is we are all Americans and the State Campground benefits no matter who is staying.
        Now, in my first post I did not spell out the logical leaps I made from there so I will put them “on paper”.
        My point of unfairness was meant to make you think one step further than considering your fellow American in the neighboring State being overcharged for the same campground and expound that to include visitors from neighboring countries, as well as those further away, being charged differently for a National facility. If we are going to exclude a group, or discriminate against said group, then we open the door for other exclusionary actions. Why not Race, or Religion, or Party affiliation, or car color.
        I took this to the silly end but the point is, in a country where “All men are created equal”, I find it odd that we are actually talking about these types of actions especially when we are “….to hold these truths as self-evident”. Maybe they are not.
        Now, to address your issue of a National Park shortage. That’s really very very simple. My argument and your supposition go hand in hand as far as we just charge more for the Parks. TO EVERYONE. Period. Exclamation Point!

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