The bespoke tours business that’s won Marg Wade three major commendations in six months originated from those all-too-familiar conversations denigrating Canberra, between people who know very little about the city.
Except that this conversation was taking place on national television.
At the time, Marg was a teacher. “I was sitting at home watching Ray Martin interview then Queensland premier Wayne Goss about whether he would enter Federal politics,” Marg explains.
“When Ray posed the question, Wayne laughed and said what a dreary place Canberra was. And I thought ‘right, I really have to do something about this’.
“Then I went to a university reunion, told an old friend that I was living in Canberra and she replied that you can’t help bad luck. It all made me really cranky. I wouldn’t dream of insulting someone’s home city so glibly.”
Marg had been toying with the idea of writing a book about Canberra for some time. She took the plunge and left teaching, publishing the first edition of Canberra Secrets in 1999. That led to a second edition in 2003, a regular presence on television and radio and marketing for the National Archives.
The tours came next.
“I wanted to go for a promotion at work and talked to a life coach. The more we talked, out of the blue it came to me that I didn’t want a promotion at all. What I really wanted to do was to take people on tours of Canberra.”
She began with walking tours around the Parliamentary Triangle. Then she purchased an eight-seater bus. Her passion is the bespoke tours she develops for people to meet their specific interests, tapping into the very well-developed Canberra networks she has created during 20 years of research for her books (there was a third edition in 2018).
“I love to draw out quirky, interesting, unusual fun things behind the scenes,” she says of the personalised tours. “I’ve had some interesting requests that meet people’s particular passions, from foodie tours to funky city walking tours. We’ll look at a bit of history and street art, find great coffee and delicious treats.
“I really try to highlight Canberra’s heart and soul for our visitors.”
Domestic and international tourists will ask Marg to provide a tour of the major tourist attractions, but at their request, she’ll include opportunities that range from kangaroo spotting, food and wine, or even giving them the opportunity to watch some shearing or working sheepdogs.
The results have been impressive for a solo operator working on a small scale. Last financial year she took 550 people on tours.
“If you look at the formulas that Visit Canberra provides for calculating the spend on food and accommodation, that group of people generated around $300,000 for the local economy,” she says.
Still, a series of awards and commendations in the last six months have come as a surprise.
“It’s been an amazing year, I’ve been humbled by the recognition. I was at the Australian Tourism Export Council ACT branch awards, listening to them reading out the winner’s details for outstanding contribution by an individual to the Australian tourism industry.
“They said this person has written a book – I thought, I’ve done that. This person creates bespoke tours – and I thought, well I’ve done that, too. And then I was completely gobsmacked when they read out my name!”
Subsequently, Marg was commended in the tour and transport operators section of the 2019 Canberra Region Tourism Awards and won the Canberra Women in Business 2019 Micro Business of the Year.
And with every tour she leads, she strikes a blow for Canberra, which just happens to also be Australia’s most livable city.
To learn more, visit Canberra Secrets.