Co-founded by Justin Drape – who was also behind renowned creative advertising agency The Monkeys, which sold to Accenture in 2017 – and Michael Canning – one of the most internationally-awarded creative directors – Exceptional ALIEN has been quietly building a borderless community of celebrated creators for the past 18 months, who share their travel gems from places that inspire them. A community that now features world champion surfer Mick Fanning, award-winning screenwriter Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians, Raya the Last Dragon), Maurice Terzini (Bondi Icebergs), Paola Antonelli (MOMA) and Australian chef of the moment, Josh Niland (St Peter’s Fish Butchery, Charcoal Fish).
Interlinking two things that would naturally stand side by side - travel and creativity - Exceptional ALIEN aims to emerge from the mess of travel advice online as the one place where travellers and creatives can find a community and a great deal of inspiration. Putting together recommendations from creatives all over the world about places that are brimming with culture is only the beginning of the journey Exceptional ALIEN takes you on.
Co-founders Justin and Michael spoke to LBB’s Zoe Antonov about the meaning and inspiration behind the project, and how connecting the experiences of friends makes the best community.
LBB> Tell us more about Exceptional ALIEN: Its origin, culture, purpose, history and start.
Justin and Michael> Travel inspires creativity in so many ways. During our creative careers we have been lucky to travel for projects and live in different countries and cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, London, and Sydney. It’s an experience we are always super grateful for - and as creative people we all know how much travel sparks creativity and new ideas. But what we have always noticed is that while the most rewarding experiences of travel are imbued with creativity (design, hospitality, events, music, architecture, fashion and more), there is no single destination that curates travel through a creative lens. We’ve always wished that destination existed for ourselves, our friends and colleagues. The internet is a mess of travel articles, blogs, publishers and consumer reviews, and you invariably rely on friends for trusted travel or destination advice. Exceptional ALIEN began as a way to share the travels of creative friends through interviews and curating the unique gems of insight, advice and recommendations about a destination, and how to experience it through each person's creative lens. We are thrilled that the platform is growing as a global community, who are inspiring us everyday with their creative lens on the world, and the places they love.
LBB> Your mission is to "Inspire people to see the world through diverse perspectives." How do you make sure to do that and how does it translate into your work?
Justin and Michael> Exceptional ALIEN was inspired by the experience of having a US visa for an ‘alien of exceptional ability’ in the arts, science, business, sport and entrepreneurial ventures. It was quite noticeable as an official description on your passport! But bigger than any visa, Exceptional ALIEN is a celebration of diverse perspectives. The best travel experiences offer us different ways of seeing the world – diverse people, places and cultures. It’s like the travel experience of being somewhere entirely new for the first time. It’s thrilling, daunting, inspiring, illuminating and disorienting all at the same time. We believe that through cultural exchange and understanding, what may feel alien at first, can bring us all closer.
One example is a recent Exceptional ALIEN feature and Travel Playbook with inspiring screenwriter Adele Lim (screenwriter of Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon). Adele spoke in depth about how her different cultural perspective in Hollywood drove her creativity, and why she is such a passionate advocate for diverse perspectives in entertainment today – “I was told by another writer that being an outsider really does help: it gives you new eyes on everything. I leaned into that”. We hope that by sharing the travel stories of the global creative community, we can inspire people to see things in the different ways that travel offers.
LBB> Talk to us more about your Travel Playbooks - what are they and how do they work?
Justin and Michael> A Travel Playbook is a personal curation of recommendations from inspiring creators around the globe. From favourite places to be inspired, adventure, eat, drink, explore and spend time with friends, to once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Each Travel Playbook contains what we call ‘Travel Gems’ - personal recommendations, tips and insights from the creator. It’s a way to give back to the places and communities we value and appreciate by sharing them with others. Travel Playbooks have been live on the web and the feedback we’ve received about the personal context they provide has been amazing, so we are rolling out new software to make them more interactive and curatable this year.
LBB> How can clients benefit and/or take part in the Exceptional ALIEN project?
Justin and Michael> The clients we’re working with at the moment (tech, art galleries, airline, tourism groups, apparel company, beverages, hotels) are smart marketers and realise that the best way to get deeper engagement with a community and audience is by talking with them and through them, not at them. There has to be a clear value exchange between our audience, community and brand. Our audience is smart enough to know a brand has commercial goals but, ideally, they’re offering more than a sale when working with Exceptional ALIEN. This may be useful information and insights relating to travel and creativity, or once in a lifetime opportunities with the brand, or experience that an audience can’t get anywhere else.
The clients we’re working with now are establishing a partnership with a pioneering travel / creative / community platform that is going to grow substantially and have cultural impact and influence, so the benefits in becoming involved now will be tangible as we scale. We won’t forget who believed in Exceptional ALIEN at the start.
LBB> Let's talk about sustainability - travel is notoriously hard to make sustainable, so how do you make sure you tick the boxes when it comes to environmental issues?
Justin and Michael> Sustainable travel is a buzz phrase right now. Many people assume it means limiting your use of single use plastics, minimising how many times your hotel towels are washed and renting an electric car over a petrol one — and those things are of course, important — we also believe sustainable travel, at its very core, begins with understanding, empathy and respect of other cultures, customs and destinations; including respecting the traditional custodians of the lands of which you are travelling on. For travel, sustainability starts here, and it’s a message we try to convey through the diverse perspectives we share on our platform. We’re excited to help bring new creative thinking and sustainable actions to travel with some exciting initiatives and partnerships coming soon. We are proud to share that Exceptional ALIEN is now a Certified B Corporation.
The future of travel is our passion, and we are committed to championing inspiring, creative and actionable ways to make travel sustainable for the future of Earth. Our growing creative community includes global leaders in sustainable design, architecture, fashion, technology and hospitality, and we are looking forward to sharing more action on this subject soon.
LBB> What were the effects of the pandemic on Exceptional ALIEN and does it still have its effects now? Or is Exceptional ALIEN born exactly out of that need to re-embrace the world after a long time?
Justin and Michael> Trying to launch a global travel platform during a pandemic when nobody can travel poses some obvious challenges and we certainly had moments when we wondered ‘are we crazy for doing this’, but one thing that became immediately apparent is how much people we (the human race) cherish – and need – to travel. We focussed on the positive outcomes of travel, including increased cultural awareness, understanding, tolerance, experiencing new friendships and communities, the personal and professional growth that results from travel, connection to new opportunities and the inspiration and enrichment that occurs. This motivated us to create a smarter, more connected, way for people to experience travel, and that’s ultimately now what we’re doing.
LBB> How do you select your creators and how do you curate the stories?
Justin and Michael> Initially we shared inspiring stories of creators we know from our personal network - and the places around the world that inspire them. This then extended to friends of friends and colleagues, and now every creator featured on Exceptional ALIEN nominates somebody whose story they would like to share, which is taking us all around the world. So far we’ve featured 30 different countries and 22 nationalities and there’s a genuine effect of the community creating the community. There are at least 100 more counties to go, but it’s a good start.
LBB> Any final thoughts you'd like to share?
Justin and Michael> Now is the perfect time to change the world of travel. Efficient, connected, trusted and creatively borderless. Stay in touch by subscribing to our newsletter
‘Arrivals’ for all the latest updates from Exceptional ALIEN including our app launch and creative partnerships coming soon. You can also share inspiring creative people to feature, or Travel Gems that we’ll share with the global creative community. Creativity takes you places.