Friday, February 15, 2013

Building the Human Brochure

Everywhere we went in Canberra had these signs - they really pulled out
the stops to make us feel welcome.

The first stop for everyone during the October
Human Brochure weekend - the Australian
War Memorial.
If you're reading this blog, it's likely because you have a love of travel, whether you're a digital nomad or pack all your explorations into two weeks per year. But what motivates you to look at a map, point to a spot and say "I want to go there!"? If you're anything like me, tourism board ads and brochures probably don't even cross your mind in response to that question. Often, what makes me want to visit a specific place is what I hear from other people - and what I do once I'm there draws heavily from suggestions from Twitter, blogs and travel forums. I may occasionally visit a tourism board's website looking for information, but I can't remember a time I've actually been prompted to stay or eat somewhere or take part in an activity based on one.

Australian Capital Tourism is out to change all that.

Canberra, Australia's capital and the capital city of the Australian Capital Territory, is celebrating its centenary this year, and ACTourism is determined to take advantage of the opportunity to change the city's staid reputation. (If you're not from Australia, you're probably wondering where Canberra is and why you've never heard of it - it's a few hours' drive southwest of Sydney and has an unfortunate reputation for being full of boring politicians, windy days and little else. If you're from Australia, quit sniggering!)

Getting some basic mountain biking instructions from former
professional mountain cyclist Jarrod Rando.
Photo credit: Australian Capital Tourism
I'd always planned to make it to Canberra before leaving Australia but assumed I'd just make a quick daytrip, visit Parliament and wander around a little, then head back to Sydney, tick Canberra off my list and never think about it again. Then, in early September, Brooke Schoenman of Brooke vs. the World and Her Packing List posted a link on Facebook to an application for something called "the Human Brochure." Intrigued by the name, I clicked through.

Fast-forward to the last weekend in October and I was shrieking as I flew (okay, half-flew, half-wobbled) over a series of "rollers" at the ACT's Stromlo Forest Park on a mountain bike, laughing with delight at the sound and feel of a cheetah's purr at the National Zoo & Aquarium, and chatting with a park ranger on the way up to Tidbinbilla's Gibraltar Peak. And, it must be said, making a complete glutton of myself at some of Canberra's best restaurants.

One of my favorite experiences of the weekend - petting Shassa,
a playful, middle-aged cheetah with a purr like a freight train,
at Canberra's National Zoo & Aquarium.
Not an altogether unusual itinerary for me (minus the being spoiled in a nice hotel part), but the premise behind it was: I was in Canberra for the weekend as one of "500 humans" brought to the city from all around Australia to experience the variety of activities it has to offer and share my experience via social media. ACTourism put together four activity streams - Food & Wine, Family Fun, Arts & Culture, and Adventure, which was the stream I took part in.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Canberra, given its rather dull reputation, but I had a blast and would love to go back. The one big takeaway of the weekend, for me, was that Canberra is actually teeming with fun, historical, delicious, and interesting things to do, depending on what you're looking for. One of my fellow Adventurers, Anthony (@bloodytourist), put it best when he tweeted halfway through the weekend, "So far, I can't comprehend for the life of me why #Canberra has a bad rep. I could fill weeks." The variety of available things to do in Australia's capital will be especially diverse this year, when each month is packed with centenary celebrations.

The Sloe Kid - sloe gin, reposado tequila, mandarin, & lime,
a delicious start to dinner at Canberra hot-spot Soju Girl.
Aside from the great activities put together for the Adventure stream, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I couldn't get over the sheer brilliance of the idea of the Human Brochure. Created and executed by the wonderful team at The Works, this is a tourism campaign that takes the whole concept to another level. They aren't advertising Canberra, they're giving 500 people a semi-personalized overview of what the city has to offer and asking each of those 500 people to share their activities, reactions, and opinions with their friends and networks, essentially creating 500 different - and again, personalized - mini ad-campaigns. Considering that each of the "500 humans" selected from more than 31,000 applicants has something like a 45% higher-than-average social media reach, that's both gutsy and smart.

I was thrilled to take part in building the Human Brochure, and I hope to see similar campaigns start to take place worldwide. I had a fabulous time, and I enjoyed sharing my experience as it happened - it's what I do anyway when I travel, but doing so with the idea of encouraging people to visit an underrated destination with a lot to offer added to the fun. I don't know what kind of impact Canberra tourism has seen or will see from this, but I know another campaign like this one would make me sit up and take notice of all the area had to offer and the experiences the people participating in it had.

On the way up to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve's Gibraltar Peak.
Photo credit: Australian Capital Tourism
And the Human Brochure is only half done! 250 of us tweeted, Instagrammed, foursquared, Facebooked, and blogged our way through the first weekend in October, and the remaining 250 humans are beginning to arrive in Canberra as we speak, preparing to do the same this weekend. Check out my #humanbrochure stream, then watch the full stream to follow along as this weekend's humans experience all that Canberra has to offer. You just might find a reason - or a handful! - to visit Australia's capital city yourself.

The trip written about in this post was paid for by Australian Capital Tourism, at no cost - other than the occasional latte and the risk of sore fingers from tweeting so much - to me. Accommodation, meals, activities, and transport within Canberra were provided; I received reimbursement for the cost of transport to and from Canberra. All opinions, however, are my own.

Gratuitous cute-Aussie-wildlife photo - I've never seen so many kangaroos
in one place in the wild as at Tidbinbilla. And who can resist a cute roo
and her little joey?
Photo credit: Australian Capital Tourism
During the (very few!) hours we weren't out adventuring,
the staff of Canberra's Mantra on Northbourne went above
and beyond to be sure the Adventure stream was comfortable,
supplying us with welcome snacks, a lovely breakfast spread,
and snacks, water, and hats for our trip to Tidbinbilla.