Slum Tours Offer A True Feel, Chance To Celebrating India’s ‘Reality’

Interviews October 24, 2018

Travel co’s unique, popular Dharavi tour draws international visitors

With the definition of travel constantly changing, it is important to understand that the modern day traveller(s) is/ are not operating as per a fixed trend or something that has for long been practiced. Instead, the wandering souls will be drawn to anything that has a novelty element to it (unique/ theme-based tours). The belief that anything that will help them grow, learn and soak themselves in the place they are visiting, creates opportunity for unique experiences irrespective of it being local, national or international.            

Now imagine getting a true feel of the slums in Mumbai as one walks through it, carefully witnessing the multiple, parallel industries flourishing there. Can’t imagine the sight right? Trust us, you’ll return more knowledgeable, intrigued and delighted than ever.

Leather making in progress at a Dharavi tannery

Leather making in progress at a Dharavi tannery

I was taken aback and it sounded very strange, but my business partner (Krishna) went for a tour to slums in Delhi. After he returned to Mumbai, he asked me if we could conduct tours here (in Delhi) slums too. Offering this important aspect (slum tours) to visitors was something we had never planned for.

Kristin Templin, CEO, Reality Tours and Travel

Templin, who hails from New York has over a decade worth of experience of having worked in the travel and tourism industry and has served in Hong Kong too for a fairly long period. The travel-addict who has visited over 115 countries, knew that she wanted to work for a tourism organisation which gave back to the local community.

 

“It is pretty amazing when one understands the importance of giving back to the society and what better than to do it in a developing country? I strongly believe that responsible tourism is one of the best ways to connect people and one of the fastest ways to empower people in developing countries,” adds the 36-year-old.

 

Though established in 2005, RTT did not begin offering tours until January 2006; the company famously acquired a reputation of providing slum tours (in Mumbai and Delhi), that not only helped in debunking certain myths about India, but also added a new dimension in the ‘travel tour’ space, adding an element of surprise and excitement.    

 

Krishna Pujari and Chris Way Co-founders of RTT

 

Krishna Pujari, co-founder of RTT says that the other co-founder Chris Way, whose original inspiration for the tours came from witnessing the potential of slum tourism in the fevelas of Rio de Janeiro.

Chris found it interesting and wanted to replicate the same in Mumbai in Dharavi. I was a bit sketchy because there were certain notions surrounding Asia’s largest open and dirty place. But my negative perception changed, once I personally visited it.

Krishna Pujari, Co-Founder, RTT

Besides the largest plastic recycling unit there, a wide range of business activities such as pottery-making, embroidery, bakery, soap factory, leather tanning, manufacturing of garments and many more flourish. It houses about one million of Mumbai’s inhabitants and its industries have an annual turnover of approximately US$ 665 million. 

 

80 percent of Mumbai's solid waste is recycled within Dharavi-RTT

80% of Mumbai’s solid waste is recycled within Dharavi

 

“Leave alone conducting, it is challenging enough to even think of doing a tour inside Dharavi. The place was known for all the wrong reasons earlier, but now it’s quite popular because of the tours we conduct, the activities happening there. People at first thought I was crazy when we asked the locals what they thought about the idea of conducting a tour” says Pujari.

The new-age travel company is driven by empathy, compassion and those at the helm strongly feel an urge to give back to the community and society at large.

 

Pujari “I would spend close to a month there. That place was almost like my second home. Locals thought I would get foreigners to see the place. They welcomed my idea and were very happy upon hearing about the idea of slum tours. I brought foreigners to show them the other side of slums and wanted to give back. People only think of the place as unhygienic and with open drains, but a change in mindset was needed.”

 

However, the Mangalorean feels that it was hard to get people to shrug off the ‘slums are dirty’ tag. However, their reluctance was not hard to understand after all.

Learning To Give (Back), In Reality!

As the popular adage in English goes ‘just as you sow, so shall you reap’ seems to have been understood by and incorporated well in the company’s (RTT) mission. The company’s CSR wing does enough to reap and harvest a good, bright future of the children, that will become the change-makers of tomorrow.

With a strong belief that tourism can be a force for local development, RTT uses a profit sharing model to fund their sister-NGO Reality Gives, where 80% of post-tax profits go directly to Reality Gives which runs high quality education programs in areas where Reality Tours works.

 

“There are problems, but want to counter them by providing long-term quality education, which will eliminate most of the problems. There is a soccer program for the girls and cricket coaching for boys. These initiatives are necessary for them to become healthy citizens of the country. It is our responsibility to help them. If we don’t give them a job, then who will?” he asks.

 

Cricket in full swing at Sanjay Colony slums of Delhi-RTT

Cricket in full swing at Sanjay Colony slums of Delhi

 

The same model is now being used in Delhi’s Sanjay Colony slum for local development. In order to increase their impact they also consult with tour operators across the globe. One of the co-founders, Chris Way, consults with Smokey Tours in Manila, Philippines, to help them implement the same model.

Easily one of the most popular and in-demand tours, the Dharavi walk has catered to and impacted about 20,000 people so far. As of now, the company has 14 tours successfully running in Mumbai. Reality Gives also runs a primary school that imparts training on computers and soft skills.Youth empowerment programs are regularly undertaken, besides soccer and cricket coaching which benefits close to 200 children.

Trained youth from the slums make the best guides to show real India-RTT

Trained youth from the slums make the best guides to show real India

 

The Workforce That Has Helped In ‘Real’ising This Dream

The company has functions such as sales, marketing, accounts, bookings and reservations managers, besides a host of full-time caretakers and general managers. The guides working with RTT were formerly their students who have undergone vocational training with Reality.

With Templin overseeing and closely involved in operations, the company has over hundred employees as a part of its driven and dynamic workforce, Programs are also offered in the slums of Delhi that allow equal scope and ample opportunities for their employees to grow training and self-development activities.

 

Few from RTT team enjoying the charms of monsoon and Mumbai-RTT

Few from RTT team enjoying the charms of monsoon and Mumbai

 

In Mumbai, the Dharavi tour team comprises of 3-4 guides who live there, besides an additional 20 plus guides and 34 teachers. The guides, whether in Mumbai, Delhi or any other city, are required to undergo mandatory one-two months of training for specialised tours before they set out to give visitors and travellers a real experience.

 

Hitesh Vaidya, a 16-year-old who dropped out after class X and now works as a guide says “These tours inspire visitors because in Dharavi people are very hard working. I also get motivated to do better every day. I learn and grow and gain confidence because here we are entitled to a life of dignity and respect. Earlier, I hardly spoke to people, but my job itself requires me to communicate, so I improve. I have learnt a lot in two years.”

Recognitions And Product Offerings

RTT is a winner of Indian Responsible Tourism Awards, Best Urban/ Neighbourhood Tourism Operator Award in 2018, Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Award in 2012 and a recipient of the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for the past six years (2011-17).

 

Indian Responsible Tourism Award 2018 winner's smile - RTT

Indian Responsible Tourism Award 2018 winners’ smile

 

While the company specialises in offering slum tours, it also gives one the option of taking local food, bicycle, local transport, markets and temples, Colaba walking and night tours. The specialised tours (during festivals) in the city are subject to the time a visitor is coming in that year. The company allows you to create your own customised itinerary and undertake journeys in groups or as per your own tastes and preferences.

 

Guests being treated with mouthwatering pav bhaji during a food tour - RTT

Guests being treated with mouthwatering pav bhaji during a food tour

 

The capital, New Delhi, is anything but a disappointment that is set to keep travellers enthralled and their interest levels at an all-time high, courtesy the monuments, the culture and a host of other attraction in the city. The old Delhi, Agra, Agra overnight with Mathura, Sanjay Colony and sightseeing tours are worth the experience. The golden triangle tour (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur) is a must visit for those who have enjoyed sightseeing and have always been marvelled by the beauty of wonderfully-created monuments.

When Pujari is asked if he is bothered by competition from various travel start-ups that are mushrooming at a fast pace “We know what we do best and continue to improve ourselves in that sphere. We raise our own funds, do not depend on funding,” he says unfazed.Word of mouth has played a significant role in driving sales and bookings as he feels it induces intrigue and interest.     

The Labs that make vacationing less cumbersome

It is very important that companies in the business of travel realise the role technology has played in boosting bookings (including the rush and demand during the season), managing travel schedules, improved coordination between the guides and company, etc.  

After we began using Vacation Labs, bookings became less time-consuming, efforts to make bookings manually got reduced and so did the scope for margin of errors. Through the software (VL) not only does the management of tour bookings become smooth, but it straightaway goes into an online calendar. Our customers often request us to change timings or the day of the tours and when this has to be managed manually, errors are likely. With tech, we are able to keep a track and have a hands-on approach. We have been using it for about five years now and with automation things are well taken care of,

Evelyn D'Souza, Reservations Manager, RTT

RTT sees value in the technology Vacation Labs provides, which is reflective from the fact that they have been using it for a few years now. It offers convenience of booking online to international clients, leads the back office operations to become efficient and error free and coordination easy for tour guides with operations desk and tourists.

 

“Viator is directly linked to/ with Vacation Labs for bookings. Mistakes, time is reduced drastically and it also allows the company to become more efficient by focusing on its core functions,” says D’Souza who has been working with RTT for close to a decade now.

 

RTT has considerably evolved into a company that has achieved excellence after it embraced tech, gaining immensely through Vacation Labs’ travel software and hopes to continue giving back to the slums of Mumbai and Delhi via travel.

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