Jaza's World Trip

The guesthouse monopoly

Here in Thailand, hostels have never really taken off as the budget accommodation option of choice. That's because the country is chock-full of guesthouses — small, often family-run places with private rooms and a bit more charm — and these guesthouses are already such incredibly good value, that other budget places simply have no chance of competing against them. I have no problem with guesthouses: a private room (often a private bathroom as well) is nicer than a dorm; and there are plenty of other places to meet fellow travellers, apart from in a dorm room — on tours, on buses and in bars being a few examples. However, what I do have a problem with, is the insidious way in which guesthouses around here have expanded to offer bookings for such extra services as tours, buses and further accommodation. And, more to the point, I have a problem with the way in which they take advantage of their position as "the place where you sleep", to establish a monopoly over any and every service that a tourist could possibly want.

There are some guesthouses that really are just a place to sleep, and nothing more. But, for the heavily-touristed spots in particular, such places are becoming increasingly few-and-far between. A guesthouse isn't merely the place where you park your bum, drop your gear, and relax by the fan — at least, not if the guesthouse owners have their way. They want you to eat there, to make bookings there, and to use extra services such as laundry there. And should they notice that you've been staying at their place for a few nights, and that you've failed to utilise any of these extra services, there may be "consequences". They may kindly ask you if you're checking out today. They may suddenly raise the price of your room. Or they may even claim that the guesthouse is booked out for the next night, and blatantly kick you out. Basically, they lock you into doing everything through them — whether or not they're they're up with the competition — and they highly pressure you into becoming a victim of their monopoly.

This is a horrible situation, and it's like nothing I've ever seen before. In Mexico, South America and Europe, things are much more relaxed: in all those places, hostels are the budget accommodation of choice; and hostels are perfectly happy for you to sleep in their building, and to leave it at that. Many of them offer numerous extra services — some even have tour agents working in the reception area — but they certainly don't pressure you into shelling out on any of them. You're free to do what any responsible traveller should always do: shop around. Visit all the tour agencies, all the bus stations, and all the restaurants in town. Find the ones that you like best, and that offer the best value for what you need. Buy your greens from the greengrocer, your meats from the butcher, and your bread from the bakery.

Filed in: Chiang MaiMafiaMoneyNot happy JanUnfortunate