The walking tours are free and spontaneous. Lisbon Chill-Out Tours exists since 2007, with the aim of showing the capital city of Portugal in a more informal way to visitors.
By Luciana Leitão
“This is not a standard tour about sightseeing, but more about feeling and understanding the city and its people in details,” says Olesia Kaxnovkaia, a tourist in the city, in Lisbon Chill-Out Tours Facebook official page.
The project was founded in 2007 by Tânia Anselmo and is the first free walking tour project in Lisbon.“It was created by a group of teenage friends who wanted to show Lisbon in a more informal way. In 2007, there weren’t many tourism companies in the city and those which were operating here organised a more traditional type of tours,” the current leader of Lisbon Chill-Out Tours, José Guerreiro, tells mART.
Lisbon Chill-Out Tours started out with a big group of tour guides, so as to be able to cater the needs of visitors every day of the week. Yet, soon they realised tourists were not yet familiar with the “free tour concept”, and few people joined. “In one week, we only had three to four people showing up. It was not very sustainable,” he says. As a result, tour guides started not showing at the designated time. “It was something very informal, but many times the tour guides wouldn’t show up; on other occasions, there were several tour guides at the same time. There was no hierarchy, no one to coordinate,” he recalls.
Three years later, the first real competitor to Lisbon-Chill Out Tours appears in the capital city of Portugal, seriously affecting the project’s popularity. Tânia Anselmo chose to terminate it, but José Guerreiro then picked it up, re-organising it, while keeping its essence.
“I started by reshaping the team — I tried to maintain the friendship spirit, I wanted it to be relaxed, and we wanted to be free from anything which would limit us in any way,” he says. “At the beginning, there was a lot of work involved; I had to train new guides and by 2010 no one [visitor] was coming,” he says, adding: “Today, we’re number one at TripAdvisor [travel-related website] and we have more than 30 people per tour.”
No agreements nor commissions
Lisbon Chill-Out Tours has no commissions or agreements with hotels or other tourism establishments or operators. “Other companies are using the concept of free tour as a way to sell other things,” he highlights.
The idea is to “promote solidarity, justice, honesty and respect by other people’s work,” and freedom is the main concept behind it. “People are free to show up, free to leave if they don’t like it, free to ask questions; people do not need to book ahead,” he says. Yet, they do ask people to communicate with the tour guide, to present themselves, so as to also allow the tour guide to shape the route to the visitors interests.
Marketing wise, everything is very spontaneous. “We have a blog in which we do some promotion, and we have a lot of hostels recommending us” only because they like the services, without receiving anything in return.
Currently, Lisbon Chill-Out Tours operates with seven tour guides, three of which are doing it full-time. Tours can be in English and in Spanish and focus on the country, the city, history, culture and people.
The tour starts at the Luís de Camões Square and each guide is free to recommend what he likes. “If I go to a restaurant and I like it a lot, I start recommending it. If in the meantime I see the prices going up, I stop recommending it”, he explains.
Also, the team tries to bring something less formal to the tours. “We have the freedom to tell different things, which traditional tour guides won’t, because they’re not allowed to do so,” he says. They also avoid the big touristic attractions, to offer something different and avoid competition. “If someone shows up in the tour and asks us about a certain episode, time or artistic style, I may pass by a certain venue,” he highlights. The only limit is the time: usually it takes no longer than three hours.
Each tour guide, depending on his/her preferences, shares different things with the visitors. “For instance, I like History a lot, so my tours will focus on History.” Other guides from the team will show different things, in accordance with their own interests. “Nuno is a painter, so he will show more Art Museums; Rafael is studying Solidarity-based Economics, so he will focus ons Solidarity-based projects; Miguel likes to pass by the S. Carlos National Theatre to talk about Fernando Pessoa [the poet was born in front of the Theatre],” he mentions.
Even though the group upholds certain common values while organising the tours, each tour guide brings his personal touch to the walking tour. “There are people coming to eight different tours and saying it is worth it to go to more than just one.”
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