Haggling while travelling in developing countries seems to be a major part of the experience. Is it part and parcel of soaking up a new culture for some it seems. Is it meant to get the best price for quality souvenirs for friends and family back home? Is it that sellers should only get so much money because they live in a country where everything is ‘cheap’?
I say ‘cheap’ because this is relative. To a tourist from a developed country, travelling in a developing or underdeveloped country everything may very well be cheap. When you compare prices to what you pay at home everything may seem to be rock bottom prices. I hear many travellers touting South East Asia as being perfect for travelling long term and living the digital nomad lifestyle because of this. Many do not stop to think or even truly reflect on the fact that, what they see as cheap, is actually sometimes out of reach of the average citizen in these countries.
Who Benefits most when Travellers Haggle for Products?
Sometimes both the buyer and seller do. We can never truly know if we are getting a good bargain even if we haggle like crazy. I know the initial price given for certain products may be ridiculous. I, for one, just walk off especially if I have no real desire to add said thing to my odious collection of material stuff. I don’t enjoy haggling and therefore do not thrive on it as some travellers do. Simply put, if I like an item and it’s reasonably priced then I will buy it. If I buy a number of things from one vendor then I may ask for a discount on the final price. I only do this when the prices are in the same range of what I would pay in a developed country.
Some people enjoy haggling and like to ‘one up’ some vendors – I am not sure if this ever really happens. I do not understand haggling over something that costs 10% or even less of the price you would pay in a developed country. What is wrong with vendors in developing countries making a bit more from us travellers than they do from locals?
Haggling with vendors sometimes speak volumes about a traveller. I witnessed a fellow traveller in a clearly established shop, with prices displayed trying to haggle. Why do some of us think that every business enterprise is open to bargaining? Yes, I am well aware that many of these same businesses rip us off and we need to be on guard. However, many of the things we haggle over are not necessities but stuff to give to others or to keep to reminisce on different trips. Ironically, as time passes we often throw out these things without a thought. So, we may have bargained into the ground to get these things while paying vendors peanuts.
These vendors often need the additional money more than we do: to eat basic foods, send their kids to school, access healthcare, keep a roof over their heads and other things we take for granted.
Do Travellers Haggle with the Major Stakeholders in the Industry?
How many of us travellers, call up our lodgings in a developing country and ask for discounts or haggle with them? How many of us do this when we go to different restaurants in these countries? How about when purchasing our flights to these destinations? What about the money for visas or exit taxes and others in these countries? I am really eager to know if haggling has worked to lower these costs because these are the real budget busters.
I find haggling in developing countries is especially reserved for those who operate on the ground. For example, when someone signs up for a tour he/she may ask for a discount but most don’t tend to be aggressive about this. Of course, all these companies are on the up and up so they will never inflate prices like taxi drivers, vendors in the market, individual tour guides and the ‘little’ people.
Again, the irony is that they probably get the smallest part of the pie and we probably part with less than 5% of our overall budget for a trip, with the people we haggle with the most. I much prefer staying in a locally owned place, that is reasonably priced and paying vendors reasonable amounts, to bargaining them out of money they need more than I do.
There are many travellers stunting at their lush accommodations on social media, while publishing how cheap food and transportation are in places like Thailand, Bali, Vietnam and other places. These same people will turn around and bargain in the markets in what they have already established is a cheap place. There is bargaining and then there is haggling. For instance, if a vendor wants to sell an item for the equivalent of USD20 and you know USD5 would be a good price why haggle down to USD 1 or less?
Sadly, we travellers sometimes disadvantage the poor when we don’t need to.
Many places have high season and low seasons for tourists. It is a survival technique to make more than you need and stock away some for those times when you have less. I am sure some vendors try to do this while others clearly want to rip off tourists. Ultimately, they want to live life to a standard where they too can relax a bit and enjoy the finer things in life. Vendors who offer quality products should be paid what they are worth. The fact that they live in a developing country where everything is deemed to be cheap should not negate this.
As travellers, we need to think about budgeting for trinkets and other souvenirs and mentally prepare, to part with fair amounts to those we buy from in developing countries. Haggling might be fun but often what gives us temporary pleasure, adds to the life of pain for many vendors who need the money more than we do (some food for thought).