Travel companies defend higher prices

The practice of charging foreigners twice as much for hotel accommodation has infuriated many visitors to Slovakia who expected to find lower prices here than in other western countries. But hotels are not the only culprits in the price-fixing game - travel companies also regularly charge foreigners more than Slovaks for tickets.
Tatjana Barta, a Canadian citizen of Slovak heritage, was furious when she was forced to pay a rate 172% higher than her Slovak companion for a bus ticket to Vienna. "I didn't understand. It had never happened to me before in all my life. Even though I speak Slovak, I couldn't grasp the idea of what they were telling me. The concept that I had to pay more because of my nationality had never occurred to me in my life. That's why I was shocked," she said.

The practice of charging foreigners twice as much for hotel accommodation has infuriated many visitors to Slovakia who expected to find lower prices here than in other western countries. But hotels are not the only culprits in the price-fixing game - travel companies also regularly charge foreigners more than Slovaks for tickets.

Tatjana Barta, a Canadian citizen of Slovak heritage, was furious when she was forced to pay a rate 172% higher than her Slovak companion for a bus ticket to Vienna. "I didn't understand. It had never happened to me before in all my life. Even though I speak Slovak, I couldn't grasp the idea of what they were telling me. The concept that I had to pay more because of my nationality had never occurred to me in my life. That's why I was shocked," she said.

Vienna is not the only destination that costs foreigners more to visit - a return bus ticket to London is 34% more expensive for foreigners than for Slovaks. But according to Emil Binda, the director of Slovak Bus Transport (SAD), a state-run transport company, the practice is logical and even financially necessary.

"We have to have two different prices," he explained, "because the lines to Vienna and London are run jointly with companies from Austria and England. SAD pays 24 Sk per kilometer while the Austrian company [which he declined to name] must pay 28 Austrian Schillings [84 Sk] per kilometer." Binda explained that since the foreign companies must pay more, foreign clients must follow suit.

Binda said that he personally does not approve of separate prices, supporting this claim by pointing to the fact that the Vienna and London lines are the only two run by SAD with different prices. SAD's financial agreement with the Austrian and English companies, he explained, required separate prices on those two lines. As to other cases of price discrimination, Binda said "I don't understand why hotels have different prices because a bed for a Slovak will be, I assume, of the same quality as a bed for a foreigner."

The price differential question is a particular problem for more exotic travel like boating on the Danube River. Slovenská Plavba a Prístavy (SPaP), a shipping company that offers cruises to Vienna and Budapest, charges foreign tourists 990 Sk ($29) for a trip to Vienna, approximately 182% more than Slovaks must pay. A ticket to Budapest is even more disproportionate at 2,900 Sk, almost three times more than the 990 Sk that Slovaks are charged.

The dramatic difference, according to SPaP manager Peter Malaschitz, should not be considered irregular. "Foreigners pay the normal price," he said, "and they are not being discriminated against. We have simply made an exception for Slovaks because the ticket would be too expensive for them to afford. So we have given Slovaks an advantage."

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