Tell me about yourself: a bit about your personal story, how you got to where you are now.
I come from a marketing background. I was a product manager for 8-9 years. When I was 21 years old I came to India, working for a company developing portfolio of home products, doing import and export in Asia. That was 14 years ago, and was my first contact with India. After I worked 8-9 years, I took a break for 2 years to explore more cultures. I was in different countries in Europe and worked there, and also went to Central America. After that I went back to BCN, and because I wasn’t happy with my career, I started thinking of my own business with a social impact.
I discovered social business around that time. The idea stuck to me. It is not to run an NGO based on philantrophy,but unlike traditional business, a social business operates for the benefit of addressing social needs. So I combined tourism and social impact. At that time I didn’t know anything about social tourism.
5 years ago I decided to come back to India because I felt responsible for this country. It was just a feeling I had, hard to explain. So I quit my job in 2011 and came to India with this idea of a social tourism business. I started meeting people, communities, and designing activities for engagement. I did some tours in North India, designing activities with the communities there, visiting the cities, meeting NGOs, and all that added up to design these tours that we have now.
After that I went back to BCN and did all the promotion and raised awareness around the tours. I had no financial budget, so I started with a blog. And this was how the first two groups started. The first 2 years I was between India and Barcelona, but later I decided we needed to consolidate the company and create a solid structure and team. I thought this is how our work could remain strong in the future. So I came to live in India although I had never thought that I would live in Delhi. In fact, when I came here 21 years old, I thought I could never live in this country. It hasn´t been easy, but I’m very happy after 5 years. I’m focused on my work designing tours, building local partnerships and raising awareness in responsible tourism. This year we initiated the first pavilion in Responsible Tourism in one of the biggest travel shows in Mumbai and Delhi. We are proud of it. Delhi is also the best place to network, build a team, meet communities, and do the tours.
I’m always trying to improve. Actually it was 2 years ago that I realized what we were doing was called responsible tourism. Then, I joined the MSc in Responsible Tourism in the International Centre in Responsible Tourism in Leeds (UK) where I’m still alumni to research and learn. It has opened a new door for me and Open Eyes.
Can you describe the experience you’ve created?
We have 3 different tours on Authenticitys. Let me talk about the Rajasthan Art tour. This is a community of more than 3000 families living in the north of Delhi. The whole community is from Rajasthan. They have amazing art, music, body acapella, special skills for crafts, and manual puppet shows. They have settled in North Delhi, which is very different from Rajasthan, but they still preserve their way of living.
Tourists don’t tend to go to this area… It’s a slum area but this community has amazing art. They do music, body acapella (music made with their body) at different events like weddings, shows, etc, but tourists don’t have the opportunity to connect.
So we created an event where you visit an artist’s house, and it also involves the community. For an hour and half the tourists have an experience in one of the artist’s house. They participate in the art, have a lot of interactions with the artist and the community, a lot if interaction with the family, and also learn about the colony itself. They also have a 15 minutes walk in the colony, where they meet other artists.
They’re all artists, all 3000 people. You can see it as you walk in that area. They do fire shows, walking on long sticks… it’s quite impressive to walk through the community. Imagine it like a Cirque-du soleil in a slum. It’s quite special. Finally the tourists go back to the artist’s home and have some chai.
What are your other two experiences on the Authenticitys platform?
We also have tours where we work with women taxi drivers in Delhi. 99% of the drivers in Delhi are male. Being in a taxi with a woman is an experience. They feel so confident driving. Our partners train them on topics such as how to navigate a map, issues on human rights in case the police approach them.
In the tour,woman taxi drivers go pick up the tourists form their hotel and then they can go to a local market which is not very touristy, and see 200 artisans from all over India, and buy directly from them. This market is beautiful to buy any Indian art and craft and quite well organized, as it is part of government project. It is also hassle-free for tourists. They can spend time with the artists… it’s a half day experience. This type of tour has a social impact supporting gender equality and empowering the local economy.
We also have another tour with women taxi drivers, where they take participants to the Nizamuddinsufi area. There we work with local guides and students who will take them to particular corners, explaining Sufism. If it is a Friday they would listen to the sufi songs that happen every Friday. With this tour we want to preserve sufi culture and improve livelihood of the youth.
How did you come up with these ideas?
I work the same way I worked before. Then I used my marketing skillsfor a furniture company, and now I use them to develop impact tourism. I use my skills to understand the needs and create solutions that have impact for community. I still use the 4Ps model from marketing: product, price, place, and promotion and run the social enterprise in that direction. Unlike many people believe, marketing can be an excellent tool for ethical businesses.
What does impact tourism mean for you? What is the impact you aim to create with this experience?
There is an impact for every decision we take, and the things we do. There is an impact when you eat something, buy a piece of cloth… for tourism it is the same.
For me, tourism means awareness. One of the best impacts responsible tourism can have is to share the incomes that come from tourism more equally, involving the communities that are usually excluded. This income should reach all the strata until the bottom layers. Although we don’t donate to these communities, we create outlets for their services. We are the bridge between these communities and tourism. We, Open Eyes, sustain ourselves by adding a margin for our marketing and training and we help them sell these services.
Communities in rural areas, woman taxi drivers, artisans,… they have skills that can be very good for designing activities for tourists. It’s a holistic approach, not just about economy. It has a cultural impact, and is a learning scenario for both the visitors and the visited. It is also about creating more authentic and meaningful experiences.
What value will participants get out of this experience? Do you have a customer success story to share with us?
The authenticity of the experience is something unique. It’s not a copy and paste activity. We design all our activities ourselves, we know the communities, we know and design with them. This creates a very different experience for tourists. Also knowing that part of the money they pay goes to the communities makes people feel good.
There is also social, educational value. For example, we have Indian kids participating in the Rajhastan art tour. Some mothers see this activity as a way for their children to develop empathy for different communities, and cultures. One mother told me that her kids were now recognizing members of this community from their clothes and turbans, which is not very common even if they’re living in the same country!
Have you participated in any experiences yourself so far that left an impressive impact?
Yes, we’re always part of different projects. In Mumbai for example, there are city walks in the slum area where the money goes to the community. But we didn’t want to do just a slum tour that doesn’t involve any skill form the community. We wanted to promote the skills in the community rather than the slum area itself.
But regardless, I always find tours that involve community very inspiring.
What made you choose to work with Authenticitys?
Authenticitys is very different from other online platforms promoting city tours. They really look for the impact that the tours have, and also want to know about the organization and people behind these activities. And once they believe in your impact they get involved with the communication aspect. For us it is important that Authenticitys cares about these things. It shows they’re dedicated to social, ethical, responsible tourism.
Open Eyes Project’s Profile & Experiences on Authenticitys
This interview is part of a series about our experience partners. More interviews will follow soon and also be linked here.