On Friday, April 22, 2022, the Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality’s Travel and Tourism Research Collaboratory hosted a discussion with Krishna Pujari, Founder of Reality Tours & Travel, founded in 2005, and Reality Gives NGO, founded in 2009. The event, “Responsible Tourism and Community Development in India and Beyond”, followed Pujari’s personal journey and his role in the creation of responsible tourism options throughout India and Nepal. Reality Tours and Travel is a socially responsible travel organization that operates tours throughout India and Nepal. 80% of the profits from Reality Tours & Travel go to Pujari’s NGO, Reality Gives, which provides access to quality education for children and youth from vulnerable communities - Pujari proudly stated that over 70% of the Reality Gives team is hired from the community, and over 90% of the team are women.
Pujari discussed the opportunity that responsible travel poses to underprivileged communities and noted that in 2019, 2.37 trillion USD was spent on luxury travel. However, of that total spending, only 181.1 billion USD was spent on responsible travel. The mission of Reality Tours & Travel is to go beyond sightseeing and instead, provide visitors with a deeper understanding of India, its culture, and the problems it’s facing.
At the age of 10, Pujari left his village and by the age of 13, he had arrived in Mumbai where he began working in cafeterias and restaurants, while also attending night school. Before working in a restaurant, Pujari had not interacted much with tourists. But since Pujari was the only employee with some knowledge of English, Pujari found himself being asked to take tourists’ orders and interacting with an array of foreigners. One day at the restaurant, Pujari met a traveler, Christopher Way, who had traveled to Mumbai to work as a volunteer. Over the course of Way’s stay, Way and Pujari became good friends. In 2005, the two serendipitously met again in Mumbai and Way detailed his recent travels to Brazil. Way mentioned that while in Brazil, he was invited on a tour to the favelas/slums – sparking the idea that such a travel concept could exist in the slums of Mumbai as well. Together they founded Reality Tours & Travel and started offering an educational walking tour of Dharavi, a slum in Mumbai that is known to be one of the world’s largest slums.
While most tour companies shut down during the pandemic, Pujari explained that Reality Tours & Travel was in a unique position where since they work with the community and for the community, they could not simply shut down operations. During the height of the pandemic, while no tours were running, Pujari and his team continued to work with the community, namely by offering online classes for students in the community and gathering essential supplies for families in the community such as food or sanitizing products. Later in the pandemic, Reality Gives launched a vaccination campaign to further help members of the community. Pujari noted that the pandemic reinforced the need for responsible travel and that people are starting to recognize these organizations and view them as genuine travel options.
When Reality Tours & Travel was first established, it was a small operation with a team of four people handing out flyers on the streets in popular tourist areas. Pujari said that their biggest challenge when first starting out was convincing people to sign up for the tour. Now, Reality Tours & Travel is composed of nearly one hundred employees and operates tours for roughly 20,000 people a year, 96% of which are non-Indian. Pujari believes that education is the root of development and hopes to expand its operations to smaller villages. When Reality Tours & Travel was first founded, it was the first travel organization of its kind; now, there are businesses around the globe that have followed this model and helped to positively impact underprivileged communities. It was an honor to host this discussion and the Tisch Center is grateful to Mr. Krishna Pujari for providing attendees with insights into his innovation and contributions to the travel and tourism industry.