Singapore, a Follower of Dual Pricing for Locals and Foreigners in Cultural Institutions

It  is a bad surprise for visitors to wealthy Singapore but non-residents must fetch admission prices in museums up to 100% more than locals. A strange practice for a city where average GDP per capita (in PPP) reached in 2016 over US$87,000, making the city the fourth wealthiest in the world.

The story of ‘dual pricing’ for tourists and locals when visiting sightseeing, cultural institutions or national park abound not only in Southeast Asia but also in many other countries in the world such as Egypt, India or Italy. But in a country such as Singapore, which prides itself to play fair rules, it sounds like a surprise as the country is rich, immensely rich and would certainly not suffer of any financial losses by offering a single price to anyone keen to visit some of the city’s cultural institutions.

Singapore GDP per capita -expressed in Purchasing Power Parity- stood in 2016 at over US$ 87,000 according to the official data from the International Monetary Fund.
This is doubled as much as France, the UK or Australia and 60% more than the US GDP. And of course, if compared with other members of ASEAN, Singapore wealth per capita is four times larger than the GDP per capita in Malaysia, five times bigger than Thailand and 7.5 times bigger than Indonesia…

Singapore wealth then makes incomprehensible the decision to have a dual pricing for foreigners in national cultural institutions. The price difference varies from 50% to almost 100%.

For example, the Asian Civilisation Museum, one of the most beautiful museums in the Island State, charges S$23 for foreigners and S$15 for locals and resident expatriates. Singapore National Museum is free for Singapore citizens but foreigners must fetch S$15 for a ticket. Most entry fees at museums were discreetly increased late last year… and often by 50%!

When questioned about this official practice, Singapore Tourism Board Communication Director seems unfazed by the question: “This is common practice in many countries. The government wants to encourage Singaporean citizens to go to their cultural institutions. We cannot talk about tourists being discriminated”, he says.

It is true that in Cambodia, Thailand or Vietnam, the practice of having foreigners paying twice or three times the price offered to locals is common.  But of course, the standard of living of locals is a fraction of the one of many foreign travellers. But again in super-wealthy Singapore?

Another often heard explanation is that locals fund their cultural institutions through their taxes. Why then do not institutions such as the Louvre in Paris or the Pergamon Museum in Berlin practice dual pricing although local citizens pay taxes? Why are London national museums permanent collections free to any visitors without looking at their nationality?

Culture is a world asset and as such it should be accessible and affordable to anyone. In Singapore case, the extreme high prices for foreigners are certainly acting as a deterrent
factor for many citizens of other ASEAN countries. To spend S$23 to visit the Asian Civilisation Museum? This is the equivalent of a meal for three people in Thailand or Malaysia; and probably of three days of food for a Cambodian. Would an average tourist be keen to spend the equivalent of a lunch or dinner just for a museum ticket?

“We only have a few museums implementing the dual pricing policy”, adds Chong. From the 57 museums officially recorded by the National Heritage Board, only 16 of them carry indeed this dual pricing policy. However, if detailing all the museums available in the City State, some are of little interest for tourists such as Singapore General Hospital Museum or the Civil Defense Heritage Gallery. They are some 35 Singaporean museums or cultural institutions worth a visit for foreigners implement this rule. However, Singapore Botanical Gardens are free of charge to any visitors and deserve praise.

The museums case for Singapore shows that the City State finally has very little concern for its neighbours while talking at the same time about an integrated unified ASEAN. In the name of the ASEAN spirit, ASEAN citizens visiting the destination should be entitled to pay the same price than Singaporeans. This happens for example in France where French but also EU students are exempted of paying at many museums. And let’s remember that many of the art pieces exposed in museums are actually originated from neighbouring ASEAN nations…

Curiously, while Singapore claims to promote itself as the “Art and Culture Hub of Southeast Asia”, its discriminatory dual pricing system just proves that the country is more interested by its title than by a true commitment to promote and foster culture for the entire region. This is probably not good for Singapore tourist-friendly image. But Singaporean officials will tell that they know best than others!

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