December 13, 2019

TRAVEL CHANGEMAKERS: Krishna Pujari, Slum Tourism Advocate

Words by Travel to change the world
Travel Changemakers

Co-founder of Reality Tours & Travel, traveller and cricket lover, Krishna’s purpose is to raise awareness about life in the slums of India and beyond while giving back to local communities in the process.

Krishna was born in a small coastal village in the southwestern part of India, close to Mangalore.

He moved to Mumbai when he was 13 years old and worked in cafes and restaurants during the day while attending school at night.

After meeting fellow Reality Tours & Travel co-founder Chris after he ate at the restaurant Krishna was working in Mumbai, later, the two serendipitously ran into each other again at a cricket match the next day.

Their friendship and mutual respect for each other blossomed and Chris shared his idea of educational walking tours of Dharavi with Krishna.

Originally inspired by favela tours that Chris had seen in Brazil, the pair wanted to use walking tours of the infamous Dharavi slum in Mumbai to raise awareness about life there while simultaneously raise funds for local community projects.

Reality Tours & Travel was founded in 2005 by Chris Way and Krishna Pujari and has remarkably since become Trip Advisor India’s Number 1 tour.

We chatted to Krishna to find out more about Reality Tours, what makes him tick and hear some of his responsible travel tips.

What was it that inspired you to join the travel industry?

I never planned to get into the travel industry, I just got this opportunity and grabbed it. Co-founder Chris and I learnt about slum tourism in Brazil and we thought there was an opportunity to do it in India in a more organised and socially responsible way.

And so Reality Tours was born.

We now run tours all over India and Nepal and are considering expanding into other countries. Our vision is a world where all tourism promotes cross-cultural understanding and local development.

I’m proud to say that 80% of our profits support local development projects through our NGO, Reality Gives.

When we started this project, we were guided and supported by so many people who believed in our vision to provide quality education to the underprivileged community and connect them to the world of possibilities. 

Knowing that we had the support of so many people gave us the encouragement that we needed to keep moving forward. 

What concerns you about the long term impact of travel on people, animals and the planet?

As with so many things, there are many positive and negative aspects of tourism.

My concerns are the negative impact of over-tourism since it can have such a detrimental impact on the environment, wildlife and communities.

As we are seeing already in so many cities and towns, tourism can also push the original inhabitants out as living costs become more expensive. The increase in the cost of living affects local culture and customs and forever changes the fabric of the local community.

Do you think travel can change the world?

I think travel can definitely change the world, change the way we see the world and change the way the world sees each other.

If done responsibly, there can be a lot of positive changes. The younger generation is more aware of the negative aspects of travel and so things are changing.

While we still have to be more responsible about our carbon footprint, plastic waste, animal rights and the environment, people are beginning to care more about the bigger issues.

I feel that travel helps everyone to understand more about other cultures whether it is through language, food, beliefs or customs and this is especially important now more than ever.

At Reality Tours and Travel, we believe that this cross-cultural connection is one of the most positive aspects of travelling and we strive to show the real India. On our tours, we show the good and the bad and talk about the real issues a local community faces and strive to connect our guests with local people and the communities they live on.

We see ourselves as a bridge between the two worlds to help bring them closer to each other.  The world is becoming smaller and smaller and I think it is really important for people to be able to understand each other’s perspectives.

Are you seeing positive change happening in responsible and sustainable travel?

Nowadays, there is a lot of awareness about sustainable travel amongst travellers. In my experience, most people would like to contribute and give back to the community they are travelling to.

An example of this is on our Dharavi slum tour in Mumbai, which is an important tool for raising funds for our educational programs. Most of our guests are thrilled to be able to be part of the “bigger picture” and see where their tourism dollars are going. This tour has recently been awarded Tripadvisor’s Traveller’s Choice as the top activity in India.

Tourism companies are starting to include eco-friendly, nature-friendly, non-carbon footprint activities in their itineraries. Travellers now have easy access to information and are becoming more responsible with more awareness of the negative and positive impacts of tourism. Most people now avoid any activities including animals, visiting the zoo or riding an elephant.

There is a lot of awareness now in the tourism industry about water conservation, plastic reduction and travellers are happy to contribute to these initiatives, which is awesome.

On our multi-day tours, we provide a reusable recyclable bottle and request our guests to refill at hotels and restaurants where there is free filtered water which helps us reduce plastic waste. Our guests love this concept.

Is there a particular moment or milestone in your life, that changed your outlook on things and inspired you to want to make change?

Honestly, I am from a poor family and the only thing I had was the ability to dream big. I got this opportunity by chance and the only thing I did was work hard to achieve it. 

But if I had to name one moment in particular, it was the first time I visited Dharavi in 2005 when my mindset was changed towards the slum and its people.

Something clicked in my mind and we decided that yes we can show this part of the city to people, and the positive side of the slum to change the negative images people have towards the slum whilst also giving back to the community.

In terms of convincing both the local communities and tourists to take part in this project, I spent a lot of time in the community explaining the possibility and benefit this project could have.

Once we started this process, over the years, people (our guests and community we work with) have supported, encouraged and motivated us.

It’s also reminded us that we must always think twice before making any decisions. So we always ask ourselves “Is it sustainable? Responsible? and are we giving back to the community?”

What advice would you give to people wanting to travel more responsibly?

I think people should do a lot of research about the particular activities they are doing and the company which provides this activity.

They should also learn more about the positive and negative impact which are happening to the community and environment because of tourism.

Think about how you are making a change, being responsible, and giving back to the community. Choose tour operators carefully. Read positive and negative reviews about those activities and make your own decisions about taking those activities or visiting that destination.

Support the local economy by staying in locally-run accommodations, buy locally-produced food, souvenirs, treat shopkeepers fairly and don’t bargain too hard. While it feels like a game to some travellers, in reality, it is someone’s livelihood.

Once you are into a community please respect the local culture and customs, as once you are in that place, you are representing your own country as an ambassador.

Meet local people, spread a smile around, Try to learn some local language – I mean a few words go a long way!

Find out more:

Watch Krishna’s TEDx talk as he Challenges the perception of slums and how travel can play a part in achieving a tourism win-win.

How can you travel to change the world?

Congratulations! By reading this post and taking some of these insights on board, you’ve already made a difference.

Now you can easily create your own impact by sharing your new-found knowledge. Share this link to a friend who you think would be interested or post it on your own social media.

Ultimately, it all comes down to staying curious, keeping yourself up-to-date and making yourself accountable for your actions on your travels.