Leading tourism experiences in Leeds builds understanding between local communities and people with refugee backgrounds
The two-year study, which was led by Leeds Beckett University, working with Nottingham Trent University, looked at a group of ten people with refugee or asylum-seeking status, who found themselves in Leeds after fleeing war and persecution in their home countries. In addition, discussions with 10 support workers in the industry and third sector were included in this project.
As part of the tourism venture, Tales of City Tours was set-up by former Responsible Tourism Management Masters student, Emily Stevenson. Refugees were involved as tour-guides in creating, designing and leading walking tours in the city. They chose the areas they would cover on their tours based on the meaning it had to them. For example, Leila, a social worker and community activist originally from South Africa, decided to include the main post-office building in her tour – this was where she went when she first arrived in Leeds to collect her asylum cash allowance once a week. She was able to show the building to her tour group and explain its significance to her.
Dr Elisa Burrai, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Event, Tourism and Hospitality Management, led the research: “Having been forcibly displaced from their homes, refugees and asylum seekers had to negotiate their identities and sense of purpose in new environments, so by asking them to be involved in leading tourism experiences and creating a narrative, it can help them integrate into society. It allows them to share their story and to overcome societal hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers by educating people as to what it’s like to be in their position.
“We also wanted to look at what the active participation of refugees and asylum seekers in tourism can bring to Leeds - how it can help forge societal changes and cross-cultural understanding. During the walking tours, the refugee tour-guide explained why certain parts of the city centre were chosen for their tour, and how those areas related to their personal economic and social-cultural background.”
For those taking part, there were many benefits:
Sajan, a person with refugee status from India, felt empowered and that he was valued as a human being because he was able to express his true identity unlike in his home country: “They did not respect me and my gender…that was my big problem, there, they put me down.”
Gaani, who is originally from Somalia, said being involved in the tours helped her feel part of a community: “Leeds is such a diverse city…walking side by side with other migrant communities helped me to feel at home.”
Marius, a person with asylum-seeking background from Guinea, highlighted how connections can be created using the tours: “We can talk about our differences, but I believe what we have in common is far larger. Music doesn’t have any boundaries…love is universal…nobody rejects love.”
Dr Burrai hopes this type of tourism experience can be replicated in other cities across the UK and Europe. She is working with a small group of tourism and events academics from the School of ETHM at Leeds Beckett on developing other ways tourism can facilitate integration of forcibly displaced people with a focus on gender and forced migration. This future project is planned in partnership with the industry and third sector organisations and with active involvement of people with a refugee/asylum seeker background. They plan to, specifically, look at these areas: employment; entrepreneurship; education and training; leadership and policy; community and civil society; Measurements for better policies.