It doesn’t seem that long ago when the Siam Ocean World in Bangkok first opened its doors to the general public. I remember visiting during the first week. I gave it a good review though I also said that I thought the 450 baht price tag was a little expensive for what they were offering. It is not exactly world class and I have certainly seen better elsewhere. America, Australia and even Singapore have better aquariums. But, it is one of the best on offer in Thailand. I also gave it a thumbs up because it was charging the same for Thai people and foreign tourists. But, not any longer.
Last week I found myself back at Siam Paragon. I wasn’t planning on visiting Siam Ocean World as it was a bit too expensive for a return visit. However, my sister and her family are coming to Thailand at the end of this month and I was doing some research. I wanted to check on the prices. Imagine my horror when I spotted that the prices had more than doubled for children and had considerably increased for adults. This small time aquarium is now charging a staggering 850 baht for adults and 650 baht for children! Not only that, they have gone down the road of double pricing. As usual, the management are ashamed of this so they try and hide the real prices from foreign tourists. Prices are normally written in Arabic numerals like Western countries. But, they decided to use the rarely used Thai numerals instead. Shame on them.
I don’t know what their excuse can be. Why did they choose to be so greedy at a time when people around the world are tightening their belts. I know many Thai people have this impression that all foreigners are rich. They say that if they can afford to fly to Thailand then they must have lots of money. But, what they fail to realize is that many of these people saved up for years for this once in a lifetime holiday abroad. That in fact, the airfare alone would have depleted most of their holiday spending power and that they would have little left for the actual holiday itself. For my sister, this is their first holiday abroad as a family. With five of them, you can imagine how long it took them to save up for this holiday.
One of the excuses that places like Siam Ocean World give for charging exorbitant prices for foreigners is that this is the kind of price you would pay back home. If not more. But, why do you think people come to Thailand? Ask any Thai person and they will say the beaches. That is not exactly true. I have seen more pristine beaches elsewhere. Others will say the national parks with the wildlife and waterfalls. Again, I have personally seen much better elsewhere. So, why do people come to a place like Thailand for a holiday? The answer is, because it is cheap. You can have a meal on the street for not much more than $1. You can buy the latest Hollywood movies for $2 and fake brandnames for $5. So, who in their right mind would travel half way across the world to visit an aquarium that is the same price as back home?
Quite frankly, I think many of these tourist attractions that overcharge foreign tourists are only hurting themselves in the long run. As word spreads about the double price policy in Thailand and how expensive it can be for families, then people will start voting with their feet. Thailand has had a good run with their “Amazing Thailand” advertising campaign but it is all starting to get a little stale. The paintwork is starting to chip and people are starting to see what is really behind the Thai smile. Just take a look at the increase on reports of scams over at BangkokScams.com.
Come on Thailand, wake up. You have a beautiful culture and a beautiful land. Don’t spoil it with greed. It is time to face the truth and do something about it. Otherwise, emerging markets like Vietnam and to a certain extent Cambodia and Laos will soon overtake us as the regional hub for tourism.
UPDATE JANUARY 2011: The price for foreign tourists has now risen to 900 baht.