As a walking tour guide in Manchester, it’s always been my aim to provide an alternative to the formal tours of a city, this was never a quirky thing to do, it was an honest thing to do. Of course, tourism champions our attributes, our best features, but I can’t say that I ever really cared for a city until I saw and understood its flaws.
I used to say that I took this approach as I wanted tourists to come along and think like planners, to want to go away and problem solve, or at least to spark something in them that might lead to their further engagement in our city, or theirs (as it happens more of the tourists on my tours are in fact, residents). I then started to refer to this approach as ‘honest tourism’: a style that isn’t afraid to point out our economical and social issues. Doing this broke a rule of formal tour guiding - I brought my opinions into the arena. “I loved how opinionated you were”, said a tourist recently. I don’t really aim to be opinionated, because I don’t want to impose my views on anyone, but my bringing my personal stance into the tour content makes it feel more socially responsible somehow, than saying everything is beautiful or noble, or our buildings are like palaces but not to talk about the people living in its doorways.
Having an opinion encourages others to have their own, and the alternative to me feels like preaching. I feel like it opens a discussion up.
It turns out there’s another phrase for this honest tourism I've been practising - anti-tours, or anti-tourism. I confess that I feel a bit unsure about that term, because I am not opposed to tourism or however tour guides choose to practice their trade, there’s great knowledge and entertainment in walking tours and I’m not anti those avenues in any way. However, I want to be the other option on the table to tourists - the counter-argument, the alternative for savvy tourists who want to probe a little deeper into the cities they explore. In these global anti-tours, I now feel part of a movement, part of a positive change, one of thought-provoking experiences, and it’s nice to finally identify my partners in this campaign for interrogation and integrity.
I was told by a travel influencer that mine was the best street art tour in the world, however the street art of Manchester in itself is not the best street art scene in the world. We have some amazing work but we’re not comparable to Miami’s Wyndwood area. What made my tour rank so highly was the complexity of the content - through probing the issues we are faced with in terms of gentrification, short-term lets, the lack of resources to tackle homelessness and addiction, our poor approaches to tackling them when we try, and the poor design or total neglect of public spaces, the street art itself serves as a springboard into these issues. People come away having had a positive experience, and are enthused to do more for their city, this shows that debate and honesty don’t discourage people from admiring a city. It provides them with layers and stories and case studies.
There’s some amazing guides at work on anti-tours, I’ve heard such enthusiastic reviews of the Lisbon We Hate Tourism tours, and whilst I’m certainly a part of that same movement I’ll be sticking to the term ‘honest tourism’.
The Modern History of the Nothern Quarter (street art tour), and Follow the Buddleia, a tour of decay, can be booked from my calendar below.