Invisible Cities Opens Multiple Locations

Reading time:
2 minutes, 23 seconds

Each owner or operator has their own vision and goals when it comes to their business. You might be content working one or two days a week or perhaps you have visions of opening multiple locations across your country or even around the globe. Zakia Moulaoui Guery of Invisible Cities had neither of these ambitions in mind when she first stepped into the tourism industry, but as she sets her sights on 2023, ‘global’ is the only word that accurately describes her future.

In the early 2010’s, Zakia was working in a social enterprise which brought together people experiencing homelessness from across the globe to play football, the benefits of bringing people together were clear. Additionally the job had her traveling all over the world and this was a big part of her personal life as well. Traveling to different parts of the world had a huge value for her and it taught her how to approach different cultures and understand people. Her next thought? How can I bring these two passions together? There is work that needs to be done around the stereotypes of homelessness and unless you are a social worker, it is hard to get to know people’s stories in an authentic way.

Zakia (pictured second from left) and one of the Invisible Edinburgh guides Sonny (third from left).

At the same time she had experienced first hand that tourism has the power to bring people together. While volunteering at a refugee camp in Greece in 2015 so was in contact with a street magazine that acted as an opportunity for homeless people to act as a mini entrepreneur, this specific magazine was working on other opportunities and the idea was born. “The tours kind of made sense, and I thought, ‘This was it, it combines the tours, tourism and the story telling, let's do this in Scotland.’”

Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities works with people experiencing homelessness to provide skills and train them to work as a tour guide. Once guides have completed the training course, they are offered a job as a tour guide on the Invisible Cities team. Not all those who complete the training course are destined to become guides however, some opt for other employment with their newly honed skills. Those that do are asked to write their own stories and tour. Invisible Cities has found that this type of first person storytelling allows guides to bring their personal experiences into better focus for guests, and creates better guides.

Invisible Cities started in 2016 in Edinburgh and was operated and run solely by volunteers. This functioned well for the first two years and in 2018 they were able to secure social investment which allowed for expansion. That year Glasgow and Manchester both opened operations with the support of local organizations.

In 2019 with continued eyes on expansion, Invisible Cities instituted a franchise model. This allows for locations organizations to take the brand and name, while developing their own training program and guide management. These branches maintain strong ties to the head office, while being able to develop their own voice and character based on their location.

2020 obviously took a toll, however operations were able to continue and in 2022 Invisible Cities are working to open two new locations, Cardiff and Norwich.

Advice for those looking to expand

What advice does Zakia have for those looking to expand their operations?

  • You must be clear on what you want your model to be; franchise, HQ, etc. Having an HQ was not the right fit for Invisible Cities because of the level of support that our guides need in each location.
  • Be cautious about your brand and your name, you lose control of a lot of things. Trust your team because you can't be in all places, all the time

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