When tourists visit a new city or country and are keen to learn about the local sights and history, the most common option is to seek out a tour company or guided group experience to lead them around. While these kinds of tours are well-intentioned, they often have to appeal to a broad group and thus they lack the intimate, casual, and local knowledge that you’d learn if you were simply being shown around by a friend who lives in that city.
Authenticitys is a tourism social enterprise, but it’s more importantly an organization that’s rooted in education. If our users can go on a trip and not only learn, but also have their biases and preconceptions changed by what they see, we believe this not only creates more meaningful trips, but has the potential to change the world. With this in mind, we have been a driving force behind a new trend of tours run by vulnerable, formerly homeless, and/or migrants in cities across Europe.
This is not about exoticizing hardship or “poverty tourism.” Rather, it’s about offering tourists and curious visitors a rare opportunity to hear the stories and real-life experiences of people who know a side of the urban landscape that doesn’t often get seen. It’s about stepping outside of one’s own normal scope of experience to learn about what it’s like to live on the streets, or as an addict, or without a permanent home. We believe storytelling is one of the most powerful change-agents there is, and these kinds of tours not only spark a change in the visitors who go on them, but also in the tour guides who serve them. For homeless, formerly homeless, or vulnerable/disadvantaged groups, one of the hardest aspects of their lives is the constant feeling of isolation and marginalization; when you feel like your voice doesn’t matter, it’s easy to feel that you, by extension, don’t matter either. By providing not only a form of employment but also a platform to share their stories, these tour guides regain agency and their sense of self. Nothing is more powerful than someone who knows their own worth, and by vocalizing their experiences, these tour guides very often regain that sense of self worth where it has previously been lost through hardship or difficult life circumstances.
In our network of social impact tours, we’ve partnered with a number of groups who are offering this kind of experience all across Europe. Here are a look at some of the offerings both in the Authenticitys network and elsewhere:
Unseen Tours London is a social enterprise working with homeless, ex-homeless and vulnerably housed Londoners to provide themed tours for visitors to London. The tour guides earn a living through the tours, with 60% of the income going directly to them, and also provide a window into an unseen side of the capital.
Vienna Shades Tours is a project that aims at reducing poverty in Europe through a social business model. Ex-homeless or vulnerably housed people work as tour guides and are thus given the opportunity to earn an income and a work experience as a first step towards their reintegration into the local labour market.
For nearly three years, querstadtein has been offering tours led by formerly homeless people around Berlin. By showing their tales of Berlin’s streets, squares and parks, our homeless tour guides provide insight into a hidden side of urban life. A querstadtein tour is about understanding each other and getting a perspective of the city outside of the established norms. Having reached more than 10,000 visitors since being founded, querstadtein aims for its tour guides to gain recognition and a sense of self-respect from their work.
Amsterdam Underground offers people who have historically been cut off from the traditional labour market a chance to participate in society and educate others. Through their tours, Amsterdam Underground’s guides make something positive out of the experiences they have have, and give visitors chance to learn more about issues like homelessness and addiction.