Ever heard of an auto driver who has adspace inside his mean machine, a website dedicated to it and offers top-notch tuk-tastic trips? Meet Samson, Chennai’s first automan to go online!
Here in Bangalore, most of our interaction with auto drivers starts and ends with directions to wherever we want to go, with a few meter haakus thrown in. But it’s not uncommon to have autowalas who know the city like the back of their hand and take over the role of tour guides, especially in small tourist destinations. What really is unusual and completely unheard of is an auto driver, who is a tourist guide, offers adspace in his tuk-tuk and advertises his services on his own website!
We catch up with Samson to get a virtual Tuktastic tour of his life and times:
How did you start your tour service?
I have lived in Chennai all my life, and I became an auto driver over 20 years ago, in 1992. I worked near Taj Coromandel Hotel, ferrying tourists around Chennai. In 1997, a Japanese lady helped me set up an email ID. As my knowledge about technology and the internet improved, I was able to give my email address to foreign customers and bring in more customers. In 2006, a British Airways pilot helped me set up Tuktastic. I also hosts advertisements on my auto, and I have 5-6 friends who advertise in their auto’s too.
I now have so many customers, from countries all over the world. They hire me for day long trips, sometimes even longer. They even go on day trips to Pondicherry, Mammalapuram, Kanchipuram and Fort St George with me.
Where do you take these people?
Most tourists look for an Indian food experience, and I take them to Saravana Bhavan.
They also love shopping and I take them to Poompuhar, General Cottage Industries and other handicraft stores. Most of my clients are foreigners, which is why they are very interested in Indian handicraft items.
You must have seen the city virtually grow in front of your eyes.
Yes! Despite having a steady flow of customers, the number of tourists who visit Chennai is coming down, especially among the younger generations, because tourists now favour places like Kerala and Pondichery. The biggest complaint tourists have is about the severe restrictions on night life in Chennai. For those who can brave the tropical heat, I take them to visit Fort St George, Government Museum, Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Marina Beach and Mammalapuram. I have had some funny and memorable experiences with tourists. Some tourists came from Mauritius and Africa to Tamil Nadu to buy human hair. Once an American tourist unknowingly gave a beggar Rs 4000, and all the other beggars started following him!
Samson rues the fact that the business of driving autos itself has decreased substantially in the city, and he hasn’t seen a person under the age of 40 become an auto driver for a few years now. Whether this fact is really a bad thing is up for consideration. Till then, Samson seems to be doing a tuktastic job.