Regardless of where or when you travel, the cost of a vacation can be a particularly daunting prospect. However, for many Arab tourists the costs of traveling abroad can be even more extravagant with many finding themselves victims of scammers, cheats and con artists. Whether a few fils or thousands of dirhams, hustlers are hampering our holidays.
Earlier this year, Kuwaiti influencer Smood Alm told followers on Instagram how she was asked to pay 2000 euros when she renting a car in Spain, despite the advertised price being 500 euros. Alm was adamant that she was being ripped off because she was from the Gulf, and she is not alone.
Haifa (*not her real name), who works in fashion in Saudi Arabia, recalls how an even greater hole could have been burned in her pocket last year when a ‘luxury concierge’ offered her tickets to Paris Fashion Week for an extortionate price.
“It has happened several times now that companies like this have contacted me to ask if I want tickets to certain shows,” she tells Vogue.me exclusively. “For example I have been offered tickets to Rick Owens in Paris for 2,000 euros and Yves Saint Laurent for 23,000 euros! It is ridiculous.
“[They’re] targeting people in the Middle East who they assume have money and don’t understand how it works”
“Fortunately I work in the industry so I know this isn’t how it works. You don’t actually need to pay anything to attend these shows as you receive invitations from the fashion houses.
“These concierge companies get their hands on unclaimed invites and then sell them to people with an interest fashion – often targeting people in the Middle East who they assume have money and don’t understand how it works.”
Are Arabs who travel really more vulnerable than other tourists? According to Dr Heather Jeffrey, an associate at the Equality in Tourism charity and senior lecturer in Tourism at Middlesex University Dubai, it is not about a specific nationality but more a matter of difference and opportunism.
“Arab tourists may feel they are more likely to be targeted in Europe but then European tourists will likely feel more susceptible in the Arab world,” Dr Jeffrey explains. “Tourists tend to be taken advantage of simply because they are a tourist.
“Vendors look out for the markers that show you are a tourist – usually language is the most obvious but yes, appearance also comes into it – and they make certain assumptions. They decide that you don’t know how much something should cost and therefore they can charge you more.”
Those who live as expatriates may also face this problem but are better equipped to handle it as they know the true value of goods or services in their adopted country so won’t accept being overcharged.
“Whether visiting developing countries or more established tourism destinations, research is imperative”
“When we become part of a tourist class, we end up paying what is essentially a tourist tax,” says Dr Jeffrey. “This happens if we don’t have the insider knowledge of a particular society about the price of goods and services.”
For visitors to Italy the ‘tourist tax’ has been the subject of much publicity. In 2018, Chilean Juan Carlos Bustamente was charged Dhs250 for two coffees and two bottles of water at a cafe on Venice’s famed Piazza San Marco. Earlier this year two holidaymakers in Rome were charged Dhs300 for ordering a coffee and a hamburger each.
The issue appears to have spread elsewhere in the Mediterranean, too. Former British boxing champion Ricky Hatton revealed last month that he paid around Dhs3,700 for a steak at a restaurant in Mykonos, while back in May an American tourist on the Greek island paid Dhs2,400 for six plates of calamari at a local eatery.
“It’s a dangerous thing to do,” Dr Jeffrey says. “Certain cities and countries around the world have become known for this and that can really damage their reputation in the eyes of tourists.”
“However, the rise of digital media has been great for tourists as now these places are being exposed,” continues Dr Jeffrey. “On platforms like TripAdvisor and Airbnb, people can share information. And apps like Uber and Careem ensure you are not being ripped off by taxis as the price is set.”
So how can people best protect themselves when traveling? Whether visiting developing countries or more established tourism destinations, research is imperative according to Dr Jeffrey.
“People may often associate being ripped off with traveling to poorer countries, where the disparity between tourists and locals is bigger. But in reality, it happens everywhere. I’ve had a market vendor in Tunisia try to sell me a spoon for Dhs300 and also been to fancy restaurants in Europe where the price is conveniently left off the menu.
“Before going on holiday, think carefully about what you are willing and happy to pay for different goods and services. When you are there, be sure to check receipts and bills, and don’t be afraid to challenge people over prices if they seem unfair. Confront the tourist tax head on!”