When you think of city tours, you probably think of a red double-decker bus full of people flashing their cameras through the streets of Center City or someone detailing the infrastructure of the homes in Old City to a group of visitors. But, could you imagine your tour guide taking you on the Market-Frankford Line or taking you into the Papi Store for a cheesesteak or hoagie?
Well, Philly Experiences offers this and more. And the “Norf” Philly-born and bred founder and tour guide, Christian “Chrissy” Watts, does it all to help tourists better understand why the hood is the heart of this city.
Before spending her days as a tour guide, Chrissy was a freelance photographer and a nanny. She said neither felt like work. Chrissy expressed that a considerable part of her success as a nanny was being able to bring her whole self to the homes of the families. “I brought my culture to their home,” Chrissy said, recalling her experiences. “That child listened to Afrobeats, Reggae, and R&B. That child got soul food. If that child was vegan, it was vegan soul food.” As a nanny who worked with families of different races and backgrounds, it was a pleasurable experience for her and the families.
But how does one put their nannying shoes on the shelf and put on their tour guide hat? The answer was simple for Chrissy — a vacation to Barbados.
While she has paternal roots in the country, she had never been there. She said her first few days were great, but something came to mind while lying on the beach. She wanted to know more about the country, away from where she was staying. “I actually wish I had somebody that could take me to Rihanna’s old house,” she explained while laughing. “Like I wish I had somebody that can take me through neighborhoods and explain them to me.”
She related what she felt to what she had often experienced from visitors in her hometown. She says, “I remember going there’s probably somebody in a downtown hotel, a single female, wishing the exact same thing.” She says there have been plenty of times that someone asked where they could find a good cheesesteak or what clubs are the best, and she always thought about how she could get them there without a vehicle. A little while later, she got an email from Airbnb saying they were launching Airbnb Experiences, which allows locals to design and lead unique activities for travelers. From there, Chrissy’s vision for Philly Experiences was born and has continued to evolve.
Many of Chrissy’s first host experiences were bar crawls. She says she would take guests for a cheesesteak, usually at Max’s on Germantown and Erie, before they “drunk the night away.” She trial-and-errored over ten different experiences to find the ones that worked the best over the years. Some of those experiences she plans to bring back.
One experience was an X-rated game night, where she ordered pizza and wings for her guests. She says allowing folks into her Germantown apartment was one of her favorite and most successful experiences. Guests got to see the inside of a home they would probably only see from the outside and on their commute. The least successful was a Soul Food crawl, where she attempted a lineup of soul food restaurants. She says sufficient transportation was the problem.
Right now, Chrissy offers four different experiences. The first is the “Morals and Murals Hood Tour,” a three-hour public transportation experience exploring Philly’s Black experiences, ranging from art to mental health. In a Germantown Info Hub Hour interview, Chrissy shared that her move from North Philly to West Philly, due mainly to gentrification, helped her model those tours. “Once we get off at 52nd Street, we stand on the El, and I tell them a story because I want them to feel the effects of people in everyday life is still happening.” That story sets the tone for the problems she presents that Black Philadelphians face as she continues the tour.
The second tour, “Black Be Beautiful Art Walk,” is a more condensed version of the first. This is a 90-minute tour that takes visitors through North Philadelphia from 11th and Berks to Lehigh by foot. That tour is Chrissy’s way of reclaiming the Black experiences in what people now call “Templetown” because of the rapid university expansion pushing Black people out of the neighborhood. While she says she only covers that section’s last 30 years of history, she can share some of the stories her grandmother shared with her, enriching the tour’s content. She shares that there are 20+ murals that tourists can witness on that experience alone.
The third experience is the “Morning Healers Meditation” in Germantown’s Vernon Park. Chrissy created this experience in September 2020 to connect with individuals amid the COVID-19 pandemic and in the aftermath of the Black Uprisings. It allowed people to social distance while feeling connected to each other in a time when she says people were experiencing a lot of loneliness and depressive thoughts. During those sessions, guests experience guided breathing, full-body stretching to Afrobeats, and guided affirmation. Lastly, Chrissy hosts “Trap & Thrift Store Crawl,” where she takes guests to various thrift shops with snacks and Trap music.
Though fun is at the forefront of Philly Experiences, the founder clarifies that this is still a strategy to bring revenue to the hood and the businesses that need it the most. “[Philadelphia] received an average of $7 billion [in 2019] in tourist revenue,” Chrissy emphasizes. “When I saw that amount, I’m like, ‘our schools still look like this?’ $7 Billion pre-pandemic. I said, well, what could happen if just ten percent of that made it to the hood? You know how epic that would be?”
She isn’t exaggerating either. Reports say that while the city has generated less tourism revenue than before the pandemic, it’s rebounding. In 2021, visitors spent $5.2 billion, a 26 percent increase from 2020 but that is still a 19 percent decrease compared to 2019.
Moving forward, Chrissy wants Philly Experiences to be the number one, most reliable Black and LGBTQIA+ culture experienced brand in the city. She also wants to teach other cities how to build models like hers. She said she’s heard of white people trying to give hood tours in other cities, which she says is wrong. “I don’t think anyone else can tell Black stories like Black people,” she says, stating the significance of her tours. “They profit from our pain, and this is a correction to the fuck shit. And that’s basically what [Philly Experiences] is.”
Chrissy has received over 250 five-star reviews via Google and Airbnb. One review says, “It’s real, it’s raw, and it’s full of insights told by someone who is proud of who she is and where she came from.” Another says, “this experience was invaluable and is a MUST for any cultural anthropologists and history geeks visiting Philly AS WELL AS all Black people visiting Philly.”
Chrissy says that while many non-Philadelphians engage in her experiences, it’s great knowledge for Philadelphians, too. If interested, you can book a tour with Chrissy and Philly Experiences via her website at phillyexperiences.com.
She closes by saying, “I am here still nannying in a different way than I realized by I know we’re adult children. So I’m here welcoming all these adult children and families into Philly Experiences to understand that I got us. But with the growth of this, it shows we got us.”
Germantown Info Hub is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow at @brokeinphilly.