Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bilking the Foreigner? Discriminatory Pricing in Argentina and Chile (Part 2)


Recently I wrote on the topic of discriminatory pricing against foreign tourists in Argentina and Chile, with which I disagree. My opinion brought a vocal dissent from my cousin, María Elisa Rodríguez, who is a tourism guide in the town of El Calafate, in Argentine Patagonia. I will translate her remarks here, and then offer my response:
“I do not agree, this information is not objective and not completely true. In Argentine national parks, we charge one fee for residents and another for non-residents; that is, foreigners living in the country pay the resident fee, and Argentines living overseas pay the non-resident fee. The rationale is as simple as it is fair: residents support the national parks with their daily taxes, and for that reason they get a discount.”

“Without going overboard, this practice is common in Europe, where museums have a differential fee for EU residents and non-residents, and also in the US (it surprises me that such an experienced traveler would feel annoyed, instead of trying to understand the reasons behind a policy, whether or not he agrees with it, especially when his own country applies it). For example, see the following link: http://www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm.”

With all due respect to María Elisa, who is highly intelligent and knowledgeable about many things in the travel and tourism sector, I think she has misread my comments. When I have written about Argentine and Chilean “reciprocity fees,” I have simultaneously criticized US immigration for its restrictive visa requirements, including the need for an in-person interview that often obliges applicants to make a special trip to a US embassy, at extra expense, from distant destinations within their own countries.

She is correct that Argentine national parks (such as Los Alerces, at top) have differential fees for Argentines – well, some of them do – but those fees are sometimes lower for local residents than they are for Argentines from the rest of the country. I question, though, whether non-resident Argentines ever pay more than resident Argentines – my Argentine wife, who has lived in California for more than 30 years, has visited Argentine parks many times, and no official has ever bothered to ask about her country of residence.

María Elisa mentioned US national parks but, at the link she cites, it says that the US$80 annual pass (which two people may use, and which is valid for all passengers in a given vehicle) is “available to everyone,” not just US citizens. Separate and cheaper passes are available only for US citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over, and for those with permanent disabilities. It is true, as she says, as that European museums charge differential rates, but I had never seen that in the US until last week, when I paid US$10 to visit the Denver Art Museum (my cousin, a Colorado resident, paid US$8).
It’s worth adding, as I’ve written before, that even though Chile collects differential rates at some of its national parks, anyone can purchase a Pase Anual (annual pass, about US$20) valid for all protected areas except Rapa Nui (Easter Island, now collected at a booth at Aeropuerto Mataveri, above), Torres del Paine, and Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos (near San Pedro de Atacama), which do have differential fees. For US$60, Chile also offers an annual family pass valid for two adults and up to four children.

On a related topic, I should repeat that in at least one matter Chile practices discriminatory pricing in favor of foreign visitors. They are exempt from the 19 percent impuesto de valor agregado (IVA; value added tax or VAT) for accommodations when paying in dollars or other foreign currency; thus, a US$100 hotel room costs them US$81 instead. Personally, I’ve always felt this was unfair to Chileans and, as I’ve indicated in the paragraphs above, would prefer to see all visitors treated equally.

On a related matter, Uruguay also discounts IVA to foreign visitors, even on restaurant bills.

Moon Handbooks Chile, in Los Altos
In just a week – Wednesday, July 17, at 7 p.m., to be precise – I will offer a digital slide presentation on travel in Chile at Santa Clara County’s Los Altos Library (13 S. San Antonio Road, tel. 650/948-7683). Coverage will also include the Chilean Pacific Islands of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Juan Fernández (Robinson Crusoe), as well as southernmost Argentina (Tierra del Fuego and the vicinity of El Calafate) that appear in the book. I will also be prepared to answer questions about Argentina and Buenos Aires. The presentation is free of charge, but books will be available for purchase.

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