Have you ever stood outside a world famous monument or historic site and questioned whether you can justify spending the money on the entrance ticket? The chances are that you’ve only thought about it briefly before accepting your lot and paying up for the once-in-a-lifetime experience. After all, you’re not likely to return to that part of the world so this will be your only chance to see whatever it is you’ve come to see.
Yet the admission prices of the world’s best known sites vary widely and seem to bear little correlation to anything other than the opportunism of the local tourism authorities. Consider for example the costs of accessing the 7 Wonders of the World.
Admission Fees for 7 Wonders of the World
The list below shows the admission price in British Pounds (converted at today’s rates) for an adult foreigner. It is worth noting that some of these sites offer discounted rates to domestic citizens, children and students.
Christ Redeemer Statue: Free if you walk up, £13.50 if you take the return tram ride to/from the base of the statue.
Great Wall of China (Badaling): £4.30
Chitchen Itza: £8.70
Taj Mahal: £10.50
Machu Picchu: £28
Petra: £44 (£79 if visiting on a day trip to Jordan); a three day pass is £53
As a further comparison, admission fees to other very popular sites of note include:
Angkor Wat: £12.50
Neuschwanstein Castle: £10.50
This is not intended as a definitive list of the world’s most unmissable attractions, but it does illustrate how the prices vary so greatly between the different places. There is not even a correlation between the cost of living (or touring) in a country and the price of its no.1 tourist attractions.
Premium priced Petra
And so to Petra. Without doubt a worthy inclusion in the 7 Wonders list as anyone who has been fortunate to visit can confirm. The walk along the Siq is punctuated with curious carvings and friezes, all the while building up to that climax: the first sighting of the Treasury. Most visitors will have seen the building in the famous Indiana Jones scene, but the initial view invariably leaves them momentarily staring in awe (before reaching for the camera and reeling off several hundred pictures). The rest of the huge site offers many more impressive experiences and is worthy of at least two and possibly three days in order to see it comprehensively.
Yet the admission fee set by the Petra park authorities is so far in excess of the other sites that it deserves some scrutiny. Is it because the site is so large? It is not as large as Angkor Wat and yet a three day pass there will cost a mere £25.
Is it because of the unique nature of the site? Each of the other places listed above can claim to be equally unique. Petra is special, but so is Angkor Wat, the Mayan sites of Central America, the Taj Mahal, etc etc.
Taken for a ride
Defending the steep fees, Visit Jordan argued (via their Twitter feed) that the fee to Petra is justified as it includes a horse ride and a map. The map is free at almost any site, while the decision to make the horse ride a compulsory purchase seems to be little more than a collusion with the horse owners that in my view is deeply damaging to the tourist experience. The horses we saw on the trail in 2009 looked less than healthy, and at the entrance to the Siq we witnessed tourists arguing with the horse owners about the tip that was expected from them for the short ride for which they already had paid 7JD (£6). Is that the image that Jordan Tourism wants to promote? Can we realistically expect this hassle to change with the new fee structure?
Putting these points aside, many people have no interest in taking a horse when the easy 15 minute walk is a preferable option. By denying this choice to tourists are the Petra Park authorities cynically exploiting the fact that people will pay whatever they’re told to pay having travelled so far to reach Petra?
‘The funds are going to improve the service to future visitors’ is another defence. But why should today’s visitors pay such a high price for those coming in five or ten year’s time? And what evidence or accountability will there be in how these extra funds are actually channelled to improve the visitor experience? The visitor experience was hardly great in 2009 (thank goodness that Petra is so impressive that it does itself justice) and the fees were already high then. What hope now for the visitors of 2013 to see some benefits of the recent price hike?
Each of places listed above is a special site and worthy of being listed as one of the world’s wonders. But despite the unforgettable experiences they offer (maybe because of them) they should not be priced beyond the reach of the ordinary traveller. I would be interested to hear from others if they think Petra, with its new pricing, is still within that reach.
Special thanks for this post to Matthew Teller for providing some useful insights into the relationship between Petra authorities and tourism; and to Matthew and Matt Long for providing the inspiration to write this post following a discussion on Twitter. All photos are my own.