For many West European tourists the countries of Central and Eastern Europe seem relatively cheap - especially when it comes to eating out. What many don't know is that it's even cheaper for the locals. Katerina Richterova reports.
My friend Julian and I were taking a ferry ride down the Danube to Vienna. I had paid 10 EURO, while for the same ride my American friend had to pay 21 EURO. Strange you might think. However, double pricing, differentiating between a Slovak and a foreigner are present in Slovakia. To make sure it was not just a coincidence that happened to us I asked tourists in the streets of Bratislava whether they have encountered double prices too:
"No I haven't met them yet..."
"We just had a meal for which we were charged more than was on the menu initially, but we didn't say anything. We have been warned that might happen..."
"For example in a museum we had to pay a different price than the Slovak people and also when we paid for our room in a hotel."
"We just arrived, but we heard that double prices are being charged..."
According to the finance ministry's prices policy, for the same services and goods, and under the same circumstances a foreigner cannot be charged a different price than a Slovak citizen. However, as in most cases, there is a way to work around this law. Mrs Badikova, from the agency for Slovak tourism:
"Some hoteliers wanted to motivate Slovak people to stay in their hotels so they made special discount prices for Slovak people and maybe then started the beginning of double pricing system. We can say it is something like supporting the domestic tourism."
Foreigners are in fact charged the normal price, but it is the domestic customers that are given a reduction, say entrepreneurs and companies that set these prices. Thus positively discriminating or favouring Slovaks. Mrs Badikova continues:
"Double prices in Slovakia in the present time exist rarely. The main reason of double pricing system in Slovakia is social and economic situation of our country."
Tourists can most often be charged a different price for accommodation, restaurants, for some sightseeing and for transportation, especially on ships to Vienna or Budapest, but also on trains and some buses. This pricing system was used a lot more before the fall of communism in 1989. Eva Mazuchova, from the Bratislava Information Service Office:
"Only few hotels, only let's say two stars hotels have different prices, castles in Slovakia I know that they have different prices, but the entrance fee for galleries and museums are the same."
One might think tourists may be offended by being charged a higher price and decide not to come to Slovakia. Anna Dovicovicova, manager of the Bratislava information office, says only some tourists complain:
"Such tourists are mostly from German speaking or neighbouring countries. Tourists that come from more distant countries, like Australia for example usually don't complain, because they are not even aware of the fact that prices are different."
And on the streets of Bratislava the people I spoke to didn't mind too much the prices they were paying:
"The prices are so low anyway, that if they charge a bit more it won't make any difference to us, because it's only a few cents really."
"At the moment we find the country kind of cheap when we compare it to home. It is a lot more expensive in Ireland, than here."
"I don't think these different prices for foreigners and for 'homies' are very good."
"Tourists probably have a lot more money than the general Slovak so I think it's fair enough that tourists should pay a little bit more. I've no major problem with it."
Double prices are more common if we go further eastwards, to countries like Ukraine or Poland. In western Europe they occur rarely. For now it seems that Slovakia has not seen a fall in tourism during the summer season. And According to the Slovak tourist office the double pricing practice could disappear in the near future, maybe even as early as next year.
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