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Lonely Planet Awards: Meet the UK tour company with a difference that’s been named best in the world

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or Zakia Moulaoui Guery, the founder of Invisible Cities, it was a momentous event in her own life that sparked the idea for her one-of-a-kind social enterprise. In 2014, at the age of just 27, she was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

“When I was diagnosed, I realised I wouldn’t be able to travel for a long time – and it made me realise how much I love travel, how important it is,” she says.

With a background working in the homeless sector, Zakia felt the stirrings of a new idea – to connect this disenfranchised community to tourism. Just two years later, Invisible Cities was born. 

The project’s concept is simple but revolutionary: people who have experienced homelessness are trained up as tour guides in their home towns, given comprehensive personal development workshops and on-the-ground support along the way to enhance their confidence and public speaking. They gain a slew of transferable skills and create their own tailor-made tour, while tourists get a unique insight into a city from an unexpected perspective.

“As a social enterprise, there’s sometimes this idea that tours will be charity-focused or wishy washy,” says Zakia. “But we and the guides worked really hard on building our tours and making them as professional as possible. It’s all about balancing the entertaining side of it, and giving interesting information about the city for first-time visitors, with the issues people are interested in.”

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