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Unique Walking Tours: Guides Add New Perspective To City Excursions

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HOMELESS WALKING TOUR GUIDES
Viv, an 'Unseen Tours' guide, leads a group of tourists through London on October 6, 2012. (JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images) | Getty Images

When it comes to the latest developments in walking tours, it's not a question of where the tours go, but rather, who's leading them.

In Australia, walking tours led by guides from the country's indigenous community are popping up in cities like Perth, Sydney and Brisbane. The tours are designed to add a fresh perspective to cities already well-known to locals and tourists by combining destinations with the customs of Australia's First Nations.

But for some potential tourists, not all tours will be the same. Some, like the Indigenous Heritage Tour in Kings Park, takes participants through a walkway treetop stroll. Others tours include exploring caves and native sites in an effort to get a better appreciation of the way of life, says Evan Yanna Muru, a tour guide with Blue Mountain Walkabout

"The 'old people' were healthy, wealthy and wise in mind, body and spirit because they were connected to the Dreamtime — "the natural, dynamic and creative spirit shared by everything in existence," said Murua in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.

Meanwhile, across the pond, guided tours in the United Kingdom are also taking on a new, albeit grittier, light. For the guides at Unseen Tours, the streets of London aren't just part of the daily tours; it's also where tour guides like Henri used to sleep.

"I worked as a painter and decorator for seven years, bought a house and got married… and then my relationship broke down and I ended up homeless. I’ve been homeless now for two years, living mainly on the streets in Old Street, the area in London I know best," according to his profile on Unseen Tours' website.

The homeless-led tours are part of Sock Mob, a local volunteer network, and allow for Henri and his five fellow guides to earn some money for leading tours that are intertwined with personal stories. Viv Askeland also works with Unseen Tours as a guide, and like Herni, she became homeless after her marriage fell apart.

"That used to be my bench," she says, pointing at a family eating sandwiches nearby. "You're very safe in a park, because they close the park at night. You don't get attacked by the public," she tells a group while stopping by a statue that overlooked a garden — her home for four summers according to an interview she did with AFP.

Walking tours led by the homeless can also be found in parts of the United States. In downtown San Francisco lies the Tenderloin District, a neighbourhood where former narcotic users take tourists around the area. For some, the tours are a means to pass the time. For others, it's a means of advocacy tourism, geared to understanding the issues the homeless in the Tenderloin District face on a daily basis.

Other organizations have tried to capitalize on the use of homeless, but have faced massive blowback from the public. Back in March, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, a marketing firm, recruited a number of homeless people to be human Wi-Fi spots during SXSW, a music and film festival in Austin, Texas. The company called it “charitable innovation initiative.” Other organizations had different thoughts on the practice.

According to Lidija Mavra, Sock Mob's co-founder, the use of homeless people is so that they can be viewed in a different light, as a human with a skill set trying to reclaim control of their lives as opposed to an inanimate object offering a service.

The tours "present [homeless people] in a very different light so that people can see them as having something to offer. We tend to have this very doom and gloom version of homeless people," said Mavra in an interview with the Guardian.

Photos Of A Tenderloin District Tour

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