Tue, Mar 26, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Two-tier or not two-tier

Foreigners, even long-term residents of Taiwan who pay taxes, are often charged significantly more for tickets at public institutions

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

The National Palace Museum Southern Branch in Taibao City, Chiayi County.

Photo: Tsai Tsong-hsun, Taipei Times

When Chris Nelson arrived at the entrance to Alishan National Forest Recreation Area (阿里山國家森林遊樂區) in April 2017, he had an unpleasant surprise. The Californian and his wife approached the ticket gate where, he says, “the staff heard her accent and assumed she was from Taiwan, and saw my face and assumed I was a foreigner. They didn’t check our IDs, but were right in both cases. My wife paid the local rate, and I paid the foreigner rate. I immediately felt it was unfair.”

Taiwan nationals pay NT$200 to enter the recreation area, while non-Taiwanese are charged NT$300. The differential extends to children aged 7 to 12 and those carrying student ID — locals pay NT$100, but for foreigners, admission costs NT$150.

“I’m opposed to double pricing as a matter of principle,” says Nelson, a translator who’s lived in Taipei on and off for close to three decades. “It’s something I associate with countries known for cheating outsiders, like China. Dual-pricing is unbecoming of Taiwan.”

Richard Saunders, a former Taipei Times contributor who moved back to his native England last year, expressed fury when he heard about Alishan’s pricing policy.

“No! That’s really bad news. I’ve come across double-pricing in China and Guatemala, and each time it enraged me,” he says.

WEALTHY FOREIGNERS

Saunders objects to different admission charges because “they emphasize that you’re a foreigner, and supposedly richer, which isn’t necessarily true. Also — and this is what makes me really angry — it often feels like a quasi-political stunt, with the authorities trying to impress short-sighted locals by showing them ‘look, we’re charging foreigners more because this is your country, and they can afford it.’”

In early 2012, Saunders and others (among them this writer) lobbied the Tourism Bureau to pressure Yushan National Park to reverse a plan that foreigners climbing Jade Mountain (玉山) would have to pay NT$700 to stay in Paiyun Lodge (排雲山莊), while local citizens would be charged only NT$220. The proposal was dropped in October that year. All hikers now pay NT$480 per person.

Among Taiwanese, the idea of charging foreign visitors more than local people enjoys some support — even when the shoe is on the other foot.

“I don’t mind paying more than locals when I go to other countries,” says Chen I-ping (陳逸蘋). “Many attractions are run by the government and funded by taxes. The government should encourage its citizens to visit museums and national parks, so they can know more about Taiwan’s culture and nature. Giving local people free or inexpensive admission is the best way to encourage locals to go to those places,” says the well-traveled Tainan native. “It’s good for people’s welfare. I think extra charges for foreigners are reasonable, but I don’t support charging tourists vastly more, like they do in Sri Lanka.”

The Forestry Bureau’s Web site reflects similar thinking. The bureau is the central government unit responsible for managing Alishan National Forest Recreation Area. Noting that the number of visitors entering the area tripled between 2010 and 2015, with foreigners accounting for most of the growth, a 2016 Web page announcing higher ticket prices said Taiwanese nationals would be exempted from the price hike, “to encourage people to get closer to nature.”

Hsu Shih-yun (許世芸), an associate professor in the Department of Leisure and Recreation Management at Asia University, has encountered two-tier pricing in Hawaii.

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