Price Gouging: the good, the bad, and an old man’s bed (part 1)

Downtown Damascus

“There’s no room here for you! Go!” the Syrian hotel clerk pointed at the door. We stood, frozen, looking through the glass-paned door at the dark streets of Damascus.

We were two women, weary about the prospect of wandering around downtown Damascus in the middle of the night. But we were also weary of price gouging. It was 1:30 AM and we’d just arrived to the city. We’d spent five hours on the Lebanese-Syrian border as one mustached, cigarette-smoking Syrian border guard after another told us our visas would be ready in an hour. Then another hour. Finally our visas were granted. After the short ride from the border, we went straight to a hotel that our Lonely Planet highly recommended… only to find that the clerk was quoting us double the price listed in the guidebook.

When we’d walked in, he’d eyed us—up and down—taking in all the signs of travel fatigue. We’d asked for a double. He quoted us 60 dollars and offered to show us the room. “This had better be an amazing room,” my travel mate, Sarah, whispered to me as we followed him up the stairs.

Sweets in downtown Damascus, Syria

It wasn’t. A handful of tiny roaches were scurrying across the walls. Sarah flicked an unfamiliar bug off of a bed. “For 60 dollars a night? No way,” she said to the clerk. He shrugged, indifferent, what did he care if we were two women alone on the street?

Back downstairs, I tried to haggle with the clerk, but he repeated the same price over and over.

“But it says 30 in the guidebook,” I insisted.

“That’s an old book. Prices change,” he said with a sniff.

A European couple walked in. “Wait,” I said to them. “Are you guys staying in a double?”

“Yes,” they said hesitantly, looking at each other.

“How much are you paying?” I asked.

“Thirty,” they said.

I threw my hands up in the air and turned to the clerk.

“They’re paying in Euros,” he said.

Sarah, who speaks and reads a little bit of Arabic, spied a framed government document—an approved price list—on the wall behind him.

“Just a second,” she said. She pointed to the sign. “That says 30.”

Door in the Old City, Damascus

And that’s when he kicked us out.

We went from one hotel to the next, only to be told that there were no rooms left. One clerk explained to us that October is high season in Damascus and that the hotels were full of Iranians and Europeans. She wished us luck and sent us back into the night.

(To be continued…)

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