Taken for a ride: the price of top tourist attractions

Castle Rheinstein


People travel thousands of miles to see the world’s top tourist attractions. When they arrive they are hardly likely to be deterred by an overpriced entrance ticket. With this in mind, is it reasonable for tourism chiefs to charge any amount they can get away with, or is there any benefit in providing a good deal to visitors who will probably never come back? Let’s look at a couple of examples:


Romance on the cheap 

If you’re after an example of a value for money day out, look no further than the German town of Rudesheim, the unsophisticated, unabashed tourist hotspot on the Rhine. It’s a popular place for river cruise boats to moor up for a day or two, so it might seem natural for local businesses to hike up their prices to cash in on the passing visitors. When the lady in the tourist office tried to sell us the Romantic Tour package I expected, with the scepticism of experience, to be offered an overpriced tour of the type I’d normally pay to avoid. And yet…

For only €14 we enjoyed the following:

A 15 minute cable car ride up to the Niederwald monument (a panoramic viewpoint over the town and the Rhine valley)

An hour’s walk along a section of the Rheinsteig, a long-distance path, with wonderful views along the river and beyond (ok, this bit is always free)

The 20 minute chair lift ride down to Assmannshausen (a chocolate-box German village)

A boat across the river to Castle Rheinstein and entry to the castle (well worth a visit)

The 50 minute trip by boat along the Rhine from the castle back to Rudesheim.

Boat rides, chair lift, cable car and a castle, all done at our own pace and all for €14. A pretty good deal in anyone’s book and it tended to follow a trend that we found across Germany (away from the circus of Neuschwanstein Castle at least).

Squeeze them until the pips squeak

In a previous post I wrote about the entrance fees for visiting the world’s most famous sites (Entrance fees to the 7 Wonders of the World) – it’s clear that the pricing policies adopted in different nations pay little attention to supply and demand, running costs or anything else you might get taught at business school. Some bean counters (the folks at Petra appear to be a good example) like to find that ‘sweet point’ – a cynical approach that translates as hurting people till they squeal too loudly. They look at the highest price they can charge before enough people walk away to hurt their overall revenue.

I suspect the Shard in London is another case in point. The £25 fee to access the panoramic platform appears way too high – beyond the ‘sweet spot’ their money men have estimated and I would make a bet that the price will come down quickly (or there will be so many 2 for 1 offers that only the most unsuspecting victims will pay the full ticket price).

There’s more to it than profit

Other tourism officials, such as the folks in Rudesheim, seem to have no interest in raking in the profits and are offering tourist prices in western Europe that wouldn’t feel out of place in SE Asia. Perhaps there are subsidies involved, I don’t know and it’s not really my concern. As a tourist I consumed the experience on offer and am passing judgement on whether it represented a good deal for me.

Not only did we have an enjoyable day out and see parts of the local area that we wouldn’t otherwise have seen, but our experience had a positive impact on our overall impression of Germany as a whole and made us more inclined to return. How much is that worth?



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11 Responses to “Taken for a ride: the price of top tourist attractions”

  1. We went to Petra in 2002 … a time of tension in the Middle East, and even peaceful Jordan had very few visitors. So, most attractions were charging half-price to non-Jordanian visitors.

    Of course, if you find Petra too expensive, there’s always ‘Little Petra’, a few miles up the road. At the time of our visit, entry cost us zilch, nada, not one brass wazoo!

    October 31, 2012 at 10:30 am
    • I never made it to Little Petra but next time I’ll go – but it will be in addition to ‘Big Petra’. Despite grumbling about the high fees I still wouldn’t miss the chance to see it again. But then they know that don’t they…

      October 31, 2012 at 11:29 am
  2. Rolf Henry #

    Double-standard pricing entrance fees is frequently used in south east asia – meaning, locals will enjoy the site for free while visiting foreigners will pay a ‘hefty’ price, in comparison. This is often met with criticism by foreigners but without going into the political discussion, I think it makes sense. Either way, the price charged from the foreigners is nowhere like the prices being charged for often less interesting sites in Europe and the US. As long as at least a substantial portion of the revenues is invested in maintaining and debeloping the site, I think they should use normal pricing theories and charge as much as they can from the foreigners (locals should be free – from an educational point of view).

    October 31, 2012 at 10:53 am
    • Thanks Rolf and a good point about differential pricing. I’ve got no problem at all with paying more than locals to see a tourist site. It’s part of their heritage and particularly in the parts of the world where the cost of admission could be more than a day’s wages, entry for local people should be heavily subsidised or free. The Taj Mahal is 750 rupees for foreigners, 20 rupees for Indian nationals – both perfectly reasonable.

      Where I think a visit can leave a sour taste in the mouth is when the price of an attraction is so clearly out of line with both the experience on offer and with the cost of food/lodgings/incidentals in that country.

      October 31, 2012 at 11:36 am
    • They do that here, too … we’re only a couple of miles from Stonehenge and, if you live in the SP4 postal area you get a pass which gives you free admission.

      (I have one, but, since I’m a member of English Heritage anyway … )

      November 1, 2012 at 7:28 am
  3. Interesting read and comments. In Austria more and more destinations offers free passes for visiting local attractions if you stay at a hotel. So the difference between paying for something or getting if for free is a question of staying at a hotel or not.

    October 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm
  4. This looks like a lot of things for just 14 euro! Definitely worth it 🙂

    October 31, 2012 at 11:45 pm
  5. You must have caught them off-peak Andy, Good Value though for what is included and certainly the experience is priceless.

    November 13, 2012 at 9:50 am
    • That was exactly my thought Ervin – but no, I’ve checked the website and it’s a €14 bargain at any time.

      November 13, 2012 at 10:26 am
  6. Hey that sounds like a great deal and it’s not too far from me (the Netherlands) so I should get myself over there. I think Germany does a pretty good job overall at keeping prices reasonable, especially compared to the crazy entrance prices of things here in Amsterdam. I particularly like the Bayern Pass, an unlimited regional day rail pass in Bavaria and Salzburg for 38 euro… for five people. Ridiculously good value.

    November 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm
  7. Yep.. nobody likes that..but if people continue to pay…
    I personally hate ‘touristy’ things and/or anything involving a lineup. I guess like most people I wouldn’t mind to pay a small fee for something but definitely would leave if it was way too high.

    November 24, 2012 at 4:30 am