Illegal practice of dual pricing persists in Czech Republic

Zizkov TV tower, photo: Czech Tourism

In the early 1990s, when western tourists started flowing into the country after the fall of communism, some local establishments came up with their own method of leveling the difference between Czech and foreign income. They started charging foreigners more than Czechs. Seventeen years later, the phenomenon of dual prices has not vanished in the Czech Republic and is apparently even used in local politics.

Zizkov TV tower, photo: Czech Tourism
If you want to climb the TV tower in the Prague neighborhood of Zizkov to enjoy a spectacular view of the capital, you'd better speak Czech. If you don't, you might end up paying CZK 150 to get in instead of 60 that is asked from Czechs. The policy of dual pricing was quite usual in the Czech Republic until in 1999 a court in Prague ruled that charging certain groups of people more than others is illegal. Despite this, dual prices have not disappeared. Jana Prihodova, the director of the Czech Trade Inspection, says that dual prices are even employed in local politics.

"The problem of dual prices has not disappeared, but keeps getting worse instead. There have been cases of local politicians trying to attract voters by treating preferentially the inhabitants of a particular community. They often want to lower the price of a certain service for the local inhabitants. This is illegal because it involves discrimination against a certain group of the population. There are also cases of dividing the public into foreigners and Czechs."

Dual pricing is now usually carefully disguised to avoid problems with the law. Foreigners may sometimes get a brochure in a foreign language, as the case is with the Zizkov TV tower, or a "service fee" is included in a restaurant bill. But as Jana Prihodova says, the policy of dual prices now affects Czechs as well.

"There has recently been the case of Prague 1. The ferry across the Vltava in this part of the city was free for the inhabitants of Prague 1 while others had to pay. That is completely unacceptable because if other city parts started doing the same thing, you could not walk across the street anymore without paying something. This is a current problem and I hope that politicians as well as people who run businesses realize that this is not possible."

Some economists say that there is nothing wrong with dual prices because everybody should have the freedom to treat certain groups of customers differently than others. Even the Czech Finance Ministry does not have any objections to them because dual pricing does not breach any law on their agenda. Dual pricing, however, does violate the Customer Protection Act because it discriminates against certain groups of people, be it foreigners or inhabitants of a particular municipality. Here is what dissatisfied customers should do if they encounter dual prices, according to Jana Prihodova of the Czech Trade Inspection.

"They should definitely demand to pay the same price and they should also inform either the respective branch of the Czech Trade Inspection or the head office in Prague. They can also reach us on the internet. The Czech Trade Inspection reacts very swiftly to these complaints and deals with them immediately. In many cases, we have also been backed by the Supreme Administrative Court."