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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Time to End Dual Airfare, Hotel Rates

It is hard to resist raising a silent cheer for Irene Stevenson, the American who took a hotel in Yekaterinburg to court for charging foreigners a discriminatory surcharge.


A louder cheer is due for the court that ruled in Stevenson's favor, proving that the much maligned Russian justice system can stick to the law even in cases when this runs against the desires of the local authorities, as Nick Allen reported in his article Saturday.


For what regular traveler in Russia has not exploded after being asked in some provincial town to pay an exorbitant sum to stay in a sub-par hotel, simply because they are foreign? If you are foreign, the usual rationalization goes, then you can afford to pay. Or, better still, if the Mayfair or Park Lane in London cost hundreds of dollars per night, then why shouldn't the Intourist in, say, Syktyvkar?


Ms. Stevenson happened to be staying at a good hotel, the Oktyabrskaya in Yekaterinburg. But this does not change the principle that to charge foreigners extra for identical service is discriminatory and wrong. It is also counterproductive because it discourages the lucrative tourist trade by making Russia seem expensive and unwelcoming by comparison to other destinations.


But even the original rationale for charging foreigners more is now disappearing: By no means are all foreigners now richer than all Russians. Foreigners may have come here to trade from North Korea, China or Vietnam, or they may be from the other countries of the former Soviet Union, or they may be students. A foreign passport does not make them rich.


And the same goes for airlines and museums, which also charge one rate for locals and another for foreigners.


Museums, it has to be said, present a more complex problem. Nobody could claim they are getting a substandard product at the Pushkin or Hermitage museums, and it seemsdchurlish to resent paying $10 or so for entry when these museums are barely able to pay their staff.


Still, there have to be other and better ways of securing revenues. Businesses, after all, have long since found that there are growing numbers of Russians who can afford a great deal -- why should museums not also benefit from this truth? Many museums in other countries ask for a voluntary, suggested charge, such that some will pay more and some less. Others open for free one day a week. Others offer numerous discounts.


Unfortunately, it is too much to ask that Ms. Stevenson's victory will lead to the immediate scrapping of Russia's two-tier system of payment. But it is time for the country's hotels and airlines and museums to rethink -- if only out of sheer self interest.