Can we get rid of touts/hawkers at tourist sites with a medallion?
So many of the world's great sites are made much worse by the presence of "touts" (also known as hawkers, souvenir sellers etc.) particularly the ones who are pushy, constantly talking to you to advertise their wares, or even getting in your way. They can range from those who just fill the site with cheap souvenirs to those that constantly try to start a conversation with you about something else as a way of catching you off guard.
I don't think that many nations and great sites understand just how much the touts detract from the quality of these places. Sure, the great site is still the great site, but it's a much less pleasant experience after 143 people have all tried to sell you a selfie stick, as though you are finally going to buy from the 144th. But clearly some people do our the touts would not be there.
This is most strong in areas of lower income, where labour is cheap and tourists are comparatively super-wealthy. Even getting a tiny fraction of the rich tourists to buy high-margin junk (or even non-junk) makes almost any amount of disturbance worth doing to the impoverished sellers.
Governments could just try to ban or regulate the touts, and some places do, but in some places they clearly don't want to; selling like this is a vital source of tourist income for the poor in some cases. In some public spaces it is hard to legally ban the touts, and in many places the well behaved touts are an asset, selling drinks or other useful items without harassing. And while I myself can't fathom why, many tourists like to shop even more than they like to visit the popular sites. But nobody likes touts that harass the tourists endlessly. Touts are much less common in higher-income places, and in fact vendors there are usually highly regulated.
My hypothesis is that the negative value of the touts far exceeds the gain for the local economy, which is to say that I think many tourists would, if given the option, contribute more to help the local poor than is made by touts for the opportunity to enjoy tourist sites tout-free.
A no-harass medallion
To carry this out, one idea would be to develop a special badge, pendant or other symbol that tourists could buy and wear. It would mean "no soliciting." Tourists would buy it and the money would go to support the local economy, but at the same time, people who look like tourists would also walk through the areas wearing the medallion, arresting and punishing anybody who approached them trying to sell.
The simple core idea faces a number of complexities.
There would be a strong motive to forge these medallions, since they would sell for a fairly high price. You might need to make it so they can only be bought at special official shops. Unfortunately, since a forgery that looks like the real medallion is just as effective at keeping away the touts, it is not clear what verifying authenticity would mean -- if it looks real it is real. Those who care about helping the locals the official way would buy at the official shops, but forgeries would be available for half price by other means.
This is a shame because there is a certain irony in the idea of having touts sell the medallions. They would be free to harass people not wearing the medallions, and this would encourage people to want to buy them.
One approach would be to have the medallions change every day, and be difficult to forge on short notice. The word would have to go out on each day's form. If the medallions are relatively expensive, this could allow a hard to forge design. Tourists could also pay a deposit on medallions and return them for a partial refund.
One anti-forgery technique might be digital, expecting that tourists will all have smartphones. The medallion could be a bluetooth device. It might emit pulses of light (IR or visible) which cameras can detect so any forgery is spotted if you ever walk past an enforcement camera.
This makes the medallions relatively expensive, but they can be permanent devices. Tourists would pay to load the codes in them for that day -- visual codes the touts can recognize, and other codes anti-forgery devices can recognize. This works well if the medallions are also the entrance tickets for the sites and buildings. As such:
- When you buy it, your phone can tell you if it's genuine -- in fact your phone loads the codes for the day into it.
- Any time you go past a gate or scanner, a forgery would be spotted, even if it fools the touts.
Distributing the money
If tourists pay for these medallions, you need the money to replace the money that used to push the touts to harass. The problem is, how do you distribute it? You could give it to the touts who are obeying it, but then everybody could stand up and say, "Why don't I get paid, I'm not harassing the tourists?" It's as though you are rewarding those who caused the problem.
There is also a bit of a protection racket aspect to this. You're paying the people who were harassing you for protection from harassment.
If the touts can sell the medallions and daily codes, then of course the money flows to them and they are incentivized to sell them and obey them. It might be better though if it were somehow put out into the communities, rewarding people who didn't harass the tourists. Everybody wins in the tourists are not harassed, since they are more likely to come.
This is just a preliminary thought, and I welcome other ideas around this theme.