Photo: Shiny towers.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Kuala Lumpur? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Malaysia.

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