Talent can literally be anywhere you look.
That’s the attitude behind a new venture in Barcelona that puts the city’s homeless in charge of historic walking tours.
“Who better to show you around the streets of Barcelona than someone who has lived on those very streets?” asks the program, headed by British entrepreneur Lisa Grace.
While tourists benefit from that intimate knowledge of "alternative" areas of the city, Grace is quick to point out that it’s “not a tour of misery and poverty." Instead, the focus is on history and its links to the present. On another uplifting note, 50 percent of the net income from ‘Hidden City Tours’ goes to the guides themselves, offering them an eventual boost into independence and an immediate distraction from the realities of homelessness.
It's essentially a partnership between the a Barcelona homeless charity who sources the candidates (in addition to housing them) and Grace's business, which trains them. Currently they employ two tour guides, with one of them in training so he can eventually provide English-speaking tours. The other has been jobless for 15 years.
Grace herself was in a precipitous position last year when she lost her marketing research job. When she saw homeless walking tours being offered in Bath, England, she knew it would be a hit in this tourist-driven city.
The groups are apparently small and intimate, "allowing tourists to connect with their guides."
The arrangement is interesting in that it puts homelessness front and center -- something many cities would undoubtedly be embarrassed to do. Maybe shame is simply a waste of time in Spain, where the jobless rate topped 26 percent this year (with experts saying it hasn't yet peaked) and with the homeless population hovering at 3,000.
What do you think? Genius idea, or are there unforeseen risks? Could it work in the States? Would there be an uncomfortable tension on the part of tourists -- an unspoken pressure to give more money? Would there be resentment on the part of the guides as they interact with wealthy tourists day in and day out?