Dec 27 2011

Kuala Lumpur’s biggest scam: Discriminatory pricing for foreigners

Published by at 4:17 am under Sightseeing & activties


It is a sad fact of travel that tourists are seen as ripe for ripping off by a dedicated band of con artists, whether that be credit card fraud, elaborate gem scams, or even fake charities. However clever these cons are, with a little bit of common sense they are perfectly avoidable. The problem with Kuala Lumpur’s biggest tourist scam — discriminatory pricing — is that it is not only endemic, but also officially sanctioned.

An increasingly common scam netting visitors.

An increasingly common scam netting visitors.

KL Bird Park is one of the city’s top tourist attractions, and were it not for its pricing policy, I would not hesitate to recommend it to visitors. Foreign tourists are charged a whopping 48 ringgit to get in, with a paltry 10 ringgit discount for kids. For a family of four that’s 172 ringgit, just shy of 60 US dollars. If that same family was Malaysian, they would pay just 60 ringgit, about a third of the price.

Time to turn your back on discriminatory pricing?

Time to turn your back on discriminatory pricing?

The management of KL Bird Park clearly knows it is doing something wrong, otherwise it would not go to such great lengths to disguise its ticket regime. While the charge for foreigners is marked clearly in English, and in numerals, the local price is written out in Malay, so unless you know that dua puluh means 20, you would be completely unaware what was going on.

Something fishy in the ticketing policy.

Something fishy in the ticketing policy.

The bird park is part of a growing band of tourist attractions that charge foreigners more than locals. Others include Aquaria KLCC , the National Zoo and the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus. As recently as three years ago, the Skybridge tour at the Petronas Twin Towers was free. Then the price went up to 10 ringgit for a while. Now it’s 50 ringgit for foreigners, and 25 for locals.

Sky high tourist rip-off.

Sky high tourist rip-off.

The price differential is disguised by referring to locals as “MyKad holders” (MyKad is the Malaysian national identity card), the most popular technique used by KL’s double pricers.

A view to a con.

A view to a con.

Excluding long-term expatriates from the local price undermines one of the main arguments used for double pricing, that nationals pay for attractions through taxation. Even if this were true, and plenty of the worst double chargers are private concerns, expats tend to pay shed-loads of tax. Another argument is that tourists are richer than locals; but take one look at the cars parked outside KL Bird Park and you can see what nonsense this is.

It's not just the money, it's the principle.

It's not just the money, it's the principle.

One of the city’s oddest cases of double pricing is at the National Museum. Foreigners are charged five ringgit, and locals two ringgit. Is the management really saying that Malaysian visitors cannot afford to pay an extra three ringgit? Few foreigners probably mind paying such a trifling amount. But with many KL attractions, the differential is anything but trifling. All the more reason to support attractions that are either free, or charge the same price for everyone, such as the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia.

Not just a great museum, but an example to Tourism Malaysia.

Not just a great museum, but an example to Tourism Malaysia.

Tourism Malaysia does not seem to appreciate why many visitors find being charged a vastly higher price so offensive. Then again, that’s probably because most Malaysians have not been on the receiving end of similar treatment abroad. When they visit North America, Australia, or Europe, double pricing is practically unknown. Often it is illegal. Would that were the case in Malaysia.

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11 Responses to “Kuala Lumpur’s biggest scam: Discriminatory pricing for foreigners” ...

  1. Daveon 27 Dec 2011 at 9:39 am

    This raises an interesting point. I’m living in Thailand, where I’ve gotten used to paying up to ten times (or more) what Thais pay for attractions, national parks, etc.

    I’ve come to terms with this for the most part, at least it doesn’t bother me much anymore. But what does get under my skin (no pun intended) is when a group of tourists from Hong Kong or Japan walk through the gates of an attraction and do not get charged the “foreigner” fee. In Thailand, “farang” (foreigner) refers explicitly to white people. Japanese or Chinese might get charged the foreigner rate, they might not, but they definitely aren’t referred to as “farang”. Coming from New York City – one of the most racially diverse places on earth – it’s tough for me to get used to the racial prejudices here. I once had a Thai person tell me that an African American friend of mine who also was living in Thailand is not a farang because they’re not white. Hmmm… Not sure exactly where I’m going with this but it’s certainly food for though. Thanks for the article.

  2. Paton 27 Dec 2011 at 10:00 am

    Same here. Before moving to Malaysia, I lived in London and Manchester, two of the most racially diverse, tolerant places on earth. So coming to a country where unequal treatment is a way of life, has taken some getting used to. The odd thing is that on a personal level, Malaysians are generally so pleasant/friendly/welcoming to foreigners, whether they be tourists or expats.

  3. Suson 27 Dec 2011 at 10:41 am

    Stop the discrimination!

  4. Tim doughtyon 27 Dec 2011 at 2:19 pm

    I’ve kicked off about this a few times. I noticed the bird park price scam, and made a lot of noise in Malay about it – only by threatening to notify the freshly arrived tour bus occupants did they shut me up by giving a “discount”. Most recently I discovered the appalling mark-up rip off in Sabah, for trips to Maliau basin. There they charge locals rm1400 and foreigners rm2600. Let’s face it, national museum prices are ok, there are a great many poor families for whom rm3 is a lot of money, but if you can afford to shell out over a grand for a few nights, you don’t need a discount

  5. John Wongon 28 Dec 2011 at 3:55 am

    In Vietnam, higher entry fees apply to foreigners visiting the Nguyen Dynasty Citadel in Hue. Citizens pay less for favorable access to this historical site since it is their national heritage. Double pricing in many situations occur however, where it has nothing to do with this principle and is simply opportunistic profiting from transient customers. It seems that in Malaysia, the latter is the case since the sites mentioned cannot be considered a national heritage where citizens (identified by their Mykad) should have favorable access. If foreigners are to be charged more, it should be an officially designated “Malaysian heritage site” and the different prices clearly stated. This is certainly an issue that should be addressed by National Tourism Organizations.

  6. gordon greyon 18 Sep 2012 at 11:17 am

    i said it before on another post. i don’t complain and i never get ripped off. i never go to any national parks or museums unless i know beforehand that i will be charged the same, or i go with a citizen friend or i get clever like the above and raise a stink with 50 off a bus. i have done that before on border crossing passport scams on my own bus crossings in central america by getting up and making a speech to all foriegners. i once was so convincing that i determined that the rip off artists ~ driver and assistant ~ did not make $200 extra from my bus, that day. they were not happy because we all trudged off the bus to wait in line individually, and further, foregoing possible loss of our passports. other than that i hardly go to these places mentioned, take public transportation or metered taxis where everyone pays the same, stay out of museums and go to the beach.

  7. vanessa workmanon 21 Oct 2012 at 5:08 am

    They aren’t really jacking up the price for foreigners, it’s just ‘locals’ get a discount.
    I suppose it’s how one looks at it. But I’m happy to get 10-20% ‘local’ discount…at many places. An obvious con is of course a different story.

  8. Malaysian teenageron 31 Oct 2012 at 7:50 am

    I am a Malaysian and this article does not piss me off at all, instead sadly, its true. There are lots of other cons and scams going on.
    Taxi Rides.
    Most foreigners don’t know their way around and cabbies take for a big merry-go-round and eventually drop you off. The price they charge is almost triple. If the refuse to use the meter or set a fix rate, do this. Go outside of the cab, and take a photo of the number plates and on the left passenger seat beside the driver, on the dashboard, is the taxi drivers identification number. Snap a photo of that and threaten you will report him. He will be fined a whooping rm300.00, which is what one earns a day. That ought to stop the cabby.
    Beggers
    Beggers use foreigners sympathy and beg for money to buy medicine and food. As a student few years back, several times me and my friend used to trail these beggers for hours to see what their lives actually were. One particular begger, a chinese man stood our from the rest. After asking people for rm1(1 dollar) a person, he got quite a lot and walked into a gambling den and gambled the money. Later he got up and walked over to the bank and deposited in some money. AS he walked out, he saw us and approached us and asked for RM1.

    There are those blind ones that swarm the cities “looking” for prey. These people are part of a team. My friend drives a taxi and I used to hang out with him. Once a begger and his seeing friend approached us and said they will pay us rm350 to ferry them to all the busy night spots.

    Snatch thieves
    Snatch thieves see foreigners as gold mines for their higher currency, which means more money on them and the fact that they will face no retribution. Some even get raped and left naked in the streets. If you ever see a motorcyclist hovering around you, be extra careful.

    Dining and Pleasure.

    I know many people want to taste the local food, but we Malaysians are all out for a quick buck. If you visit stalls that actually serve the best food, if not so hygenic, but tremendously awesome. If you ever eat anywhere, only order food that is priced.

    Short change
    New comers dont know the price and shop owners will give you less balance for stuff you buy.

    Free cookies
    Someone will come up to you and say its their birthday and give you a cookie. You will wish him/her happy birthday and eat that cookie, and hours later wake up to find you have been robbed, or worse, one of your body parts removed. Etc – kidney.

    Lots more. I doubt this website has enough space to write em all..

    Advice –
    1) Travel with someone local. That way you wont be scammed.
    2) Don’t ever flash your money.
    3) Dont accept any freebies. Its better that way.
    4) If you’re in KL, visit YMCA and meet their Community Service person and ask for tips on where to go.
    5) Don’t get fooled by rm168/night hotel stays. Many hotels in KL and Selangor, or Penang don’t have websites. Look for hotels in google map. Look for directions from KL to xxxxx. In the xxxxx, type in Hotel, or motel or Inn and the names will appear. Call those names and ask their prices. The average is RM50(if you’re lucky) until RM80.
    6) Don’t ever leave lotsa money in your hotel room. If you have too, say Goodbye first.

    There are some nice folks too. but they are scarce. Most juz wanna con you.

    Cheers..

  9. wanon 02 Nov 2012 at 4:27 pm

    i my self are malaysian and taxi scam are the worst, its not only the foreign thy double charge even the citizens, expecially kuala lumpur, but overall we do welcome other foreigner, i hate taxi driver and do ask local to escort u

  10. downsyson 17 Nov 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Indeed, there are plenty of scams around KL as a lot of people here are out for a quick buck. They are mostly uneducated cab drivers or low-level scammers.

    As for the official places, allow me to explain a little – these are my opinions, not facts. The fact of the matter is, the locals don’t seem to support local places of interest (hey, how many times have you been to yiur local museum?). In order to increase patronage, the govt gives discounts to MyKad holders to encourage them to visit these places. So instead of thinking that you’re getting charged more, look at it from a different perspective.

    Sure, there are plenty of Malaysians who can afford the price of entry. But there are many more who can’t, or choose not spend much money on local attractions. So basically, this is the govt’s way to encourage more local tourists. Whether this is the right way to do it or not is up for debate.

    Hope this sheds some light to way things work round here in KL.

  11. Paulon 28 Mar 2013 at 4:52 am

    I have also seen differential pricing at the theme parks on the Gold Coast in Queensland (Australia). I had thought that this was because interstate and overseas tourists would only ever visit the park once; while the discount to locals might be intended to encourage locals to visit more frequently. I am not sure if this rationale would be applicable here …

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