Viv, our Covent Garden tour guide, smiles for the camera.

Transforming Prejudice Into Empathy: A Master’s Thesis on London’s Unseen Tours 

Hi, I am Irina a 24-year-old marketing student with a focus on tourism at the IMC University of Applied Sciences in Austria. The first time I heard about Unseen Tours was in our university course “Global Tourism Perspectives”, where our professor Dr. Claudia Dolezal talked about social entrepreneurship and her collaborations with Unseen Tours.

My professor Dr. Claudia Dolezal introduced us to Unseen Tours by explaining that it is a social enterprise that provides a source of income for those who have experienced homelessness. I was very impressed by the fact that every person, no matter what their background, can make a positive contribution to the tourism industry. I could really identify with Unseen Tours’ values that our professor transmitted here, i.e., that everyone is given the opportunity to make a contribution to tourism and that prejudices have no place here.

Moreover, I think that Unseen Tours is an interesting case study for tourism because you learn that tourism can be much more than just a conventional city tour. It can be seen that tourism can contribute to positive societal change, which mass tourism does not always do.

Already during the classes, I was very interested in the topic. Since I wanted to know more about the topic, the organisation and how tourists perceive the topic of homelessness during and after the tours, I decided to write my Master’s thesis about it. So, that’s how I came to London.

To be honest I didn’t have any specific expectations, it was just important to me that I learned something new from the tour guides and saw a different way of doing business in tourism. My expectations were positively exceeded as all four tour guides (Nic, Pete, Ben & David) I went on the tours with gave me such a great and positive feeling. In my opinion the combination of learning more about the topic of homelessness and the experience the tour guides have together with the history of London is just fantastic!
The tours taught me so much about the different parts of London (Soho & St Giles, Brick Lane, Kings Cross and London Bridge), its history and events. I also learned so much about the topic of homelessness in these areas and in London in general. Through the different stories that the tour guides shared, I learned a lot about how people experience homelessness in such a big city. I really appreciate it and feel very honoured to hear their stories – I think I’s not usual that people are so open and transparent with this highly stigmatised topic.

I think overall the tours really create an awareness of how present the issue of homelessness is in the city and how more people are affected by it than one might think at first sight when walking around as a tourist. It also made me realise that every single person can be affected by homelessness, no matter who they are or what their background is.

I particularly noticed that all four tour guides were very open and appeared authentic throughout the tour. I felt very honoured when the tour guides shared their personal stories with us, and the conversation was as if we had known each other for a long time. The tour guides were really communicative throughout the tour and sought contact with us, the participants. I also remembered some interesting information about the different parts of the city, for example information about street art and the artists in Brick Lane, immigration, or the different information about how they experience homelessness in the area.

Pete walks with his tour guests as he explains street art in Brick Lane.

Definitely, after the tour, one is more aware of the issues of homelessness and how stigmatised it is. I think overall, we definitely judge and create prejudices far too quickly. I was impressed by how warm, helpful and talented all four tour guides were. They radiated positive energy and gratitude throughout the whole tour, which lasted 2 hours each. I find it remarkable how all tour guides have mastered to become such great and entertaining guides, which is not easy, particularly when you find yourself in such a challenging position. I think it is extremely valuable and important to learn from someone who has an experience of homelessness when you are in London as the information you get goes far beyond a normal city tour. It’s all much more personal and you learn things that no one else would usually mention or talk about. I also think it is important in our society to learn about the issue of homelessness and to be able to overcome one’s own prejudices to realise that people who have experienced homelessness are no different from anyone else. We are all humans, no matter what we have experienced! I can warmly recommend these tours and encourage everyone who is thinking about booking a tour. It is 100% worth it.

David explains one of his stops on his London Bridge tour.

Therefore, in my opinion, Unseen Tours offers a more personal and authentic atmosphere than a normal/more conventional city tour. You have a much more personal contact with the tour guide, and you can ask as many questions as you like, which I really appreciate. You also see many parts of the city that you wouldn’t see on a normal city tour. Also, since it is a walking tour, you have the opportunity to get much closer to live in the city than on a bus tour, for example. Furthermore, I think you can learn a lot from the tour and take this experience and memory home with you. I also think the price is absolutely justified for a 2-hour walking tour, and the best part is that the money directly benefits the tour guide!

Talking to the other participants of the tour, it became clear that they also really enjoyed the tours and the time with the tour guides. They particularly emphasised that the tour guides were so authentic, funny and open throughout the tour. They also enjoyed the chats with the tour guides and that the groups were rather small. Participants really felt honoured that the tour guides were so open about their personal stories and shared them with us. After all, it was not a typical tour where you only get the standard London information, but a lot of details and specific information about the different parts of London. Moreover, the participants really loved the whole concept behind Unseen Tours and how the social enterprise contributes to society.