I recently came across this article, where the editor of Dubai-based HotelierMiddleEast.com bemoans the practice of bartering (aka bargaining or haggling).
He’s making a serious point, about the madness of hotels’ imposing absurdly inflated “rack rates” on walk-in customers while offering cut-price “corporate rates” to agents, but I’m more interested in why one of the main bugbears for Westerners visiting the Middle East is the lack of clear pricing – on everything from hotel rooms to market vegetables.
In the West we’ve got used to sticker prices – a single figure which rolls in all the costs of production, distribution, business overheads, profits – everything, into one final, unshakeable, legally enforceable price.
Just about everywhere else, prices are open to negotiation. Regular customers get discounts; newcomers (or foreigners) can expect to pay more. Buying and selling – especially in the Arab world – is a sociable process, where human interaction (chatting about family, drinking tea) often matters at least as much as economics. Prices are fluid; instead, each side weighs up value. How much does the buyer value the item? How much does the seller value getting that item off his hands?
All this leaves a lot of visitors floundering.
Or that’s my impression. I’d be interested to hear other opinions – do you hate haggling? If so, why? Isn’t it all just part of the experience of another culture? Perhaps you’ve tried haggling and got it horribly wrong? Or maybe some brave souls have tried to haggle at home – any success? Was the effort worth it? All stories welcome!