The Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) is the world’s leading conference for Travel Bloggers. It is held every year in North America, Europe, and now, also in Asia Pacific.
I was finally able to attend my first TBEX in Athens, Greece!
I’ve been a food and travel blogger for close to 10 years in the Philippines, ASEAN, and recently, Europe. I invested around $1,900 to attend TBEX Athens–Conference fee ($150), Manila-Athens flight via Qatar Airways ($1,360), Air BnB Accommodations ($250), and Pocket Money ($140).
Considering the cost, the reputation of TBEX as being only for newbies, and the “TBEX Mafia” that is supposedly racially discriminatory and not friendly to first timers, was attending this event really worth it?
Speaking with both newbie and top travel bloggers from all over the world and the conference organizers during my 12-day Athens trip helped me reach an informed conclusion about my first TBEX experience.
Here’s a review of what I liked and didn’t like about the Travel Blog Exchange…
1. AWESOME KEYNOTES! I learned a lot about insights & trends in the travel industry. Here are my key takeaways…
Opening Keynote: Jaume Marin @JaumeMarin, Best Destination Marketing Organization in the World in Costa Brava, Spain
- Tips for Tourism Organizations: “In an Economy of Attention, you need the best storytellers to tell your story. The good stories get memorized, but the best stories get shared.” – @JaumeMarin
- Tip for Bloggers: “People buy not what you do, they buy why you do it.” – @JaumeMarin
Day 2 Keynote: Chris Saudinger & Tawny Clark (half-Filipina), the lovely travel couple known as @CaptainandClark
- Authentic Story. “People are more interested with the love story than guide book type information, which is the edge of the blog format.” – @CaptainandClark
- Be Personable. “You have to be you! Embrace your expertise and adventurous travel spirit.” – @CaptainandClark
- Think Business. “Think about your Travel as a Business at the start. Think about what you can do for brands and not what they can do for you.” – @CaptainandClark
- Shoot Video. “Video is 360 experience that bring your experience to life. Average Travel video 1-minute 30s and recommend 2-3 minutes video length. But you have to catch the attention in 20s.” – @CaptainandClark
- Core Values. “Set your core values for your blog brand, which define the content you produce and the travel destination or brands you work with.” – @CaptainandClark
End Keynote: Robert Reid @ReidonTravel from National Geographic Traveler, and former Lonely Planet Editor.
- Tourist vs. Traveler Debate. “A Tourist is content to have someone to plan their trip. A Traveler is someone who plans their trip themselves. It’s a useful distinction, but there’s no right or wrong.” – @ReidonTravel
- Travel is Fun. “A rare opportunity for adults to play. Travel is planning fun for yourself.” – @ReidonTravel
- Travel is the Fountain of Youth. “If you travel to exotic places and do things outside your normal that are new to you, it is a sense of going back to childhood–it is a sense of when you have stretched time as kids.” – @ReidonTravel
- Travel Soul – What “Travel Life” are you leading? “If you challenge yourself, theoretically you are learning more. It’s the travel muscle that builds. When you made a mistake bargaining in Istanbul, you do it better in Bangkok. We learn, we get better through travel life, and as we develop our travel muscle.” – @ReidonTravel
Watch the video of Robert Reid on Saving the Travel Experts from the “Travel Experts!”
2. NOT ALL TALKS ARE CREATED EQUAL. Most of the talks were geared towards not alienating newbie Travel Bloggers, one of the core audiences of TBEX. But there were exceptions…
Bret Love of @GreenGlobalTrvl gave an outstanding presentation on How to Build a Better Blogging Brand:
- What Travel Brands look for in a Travel Blogger:
Quantitative: – Blog Statistics – Social Media Statistics – Audience Demographics
Qualitative: – 91% Content Quality – 73% Professionalism – 60%
Brand Alignment Key: 63% said well-defined brand vs. 5% broad audience reach
(Note: % is based on Travel Brands surveyed)
- Clearly Define your Brand:
Mission Statement: Define clearly what you stand for
Name: 20% creative 80% practical (roll off your tongue)
Logo: What is the face of your brand?
Tag Line: Define Your Elevator Pitch
Website Design: Determine your Typography & Color Palette
Content: Focus on Impactful Stories and Diversify for the audience
Social Media: Engage Audience in Conversation
PR Outreach: Create a list of PR companies you align with, and send a Press Releases re: Major Milestones
Advertising: Focus on “Native Advertising” for Brands that are aligned with your mission. ~ $400-600 per sponsored post
Freelance Work: Reinforce branding through exterior outlets
Read the complete transcript here: Green Global Travel: Build A Better Blogging Brand (A Primer for Success in the Business of Blogging)
TBEX POWER TIP: Choose the TBEX Sessions to attend not based on the topic but based on the speaker. Talk to people and determine who are the most raved about speakers and most respected travel authorities.
3. TBEX PARTIES. TBEX is one big travel bloggers’ face-to-face party!
The Opening Night Party at the Technopolis sets the tone for the networking you’ll do for the entire TBEX. This is where you conquer your fear of being rejected by people and put yourself out there, introduce yourself, and get to know as many travel bloggers as possible.
The Friday Night Party at Skyfall sucks–bad location, no food, too small, and not blog worthy. But you have to remember that the party isn’t about the venue or who sponsored it, it’s about the travel bloggers who you continue to meet and can now exchange thoughts with regarding what happened on the first day.
4. IMMERSION IN LOCAL CUISINE. I love that TBEX showcases the best of local food from the host country.
5. Blog House. It’s best to share an Air BnB house with other travel bloggers to have better interactions.
We had a chance to meet with the Professional Travel Bloggers Association (PTBA) Board, led by President Craig Martin of Indie Travel Podcast and President-Elect Laurence Noah of Finding the Universe, with his partner Vera Wolters.
6. Speed Dating Opportunities. Take advantage of meeting all the Travel Brands during the speed dating sessions, where the bloggers set 10-minute appointments with the brands.
7. Chance to Give Back and Mentor. I wish there was a more structured approach on how the experienced travel bloggers could give back to the community and mentor the next generation.
Suggestion for TBEX: Create a Mentorship Structure where Newbies can set appointments with Experienced Travel Bloggers to start a mentoring relationship that they can continue even after the conference. TBEX can partner with PTBA to make this happen.
8. TBEX Post Trips Networking. The Most Awesome Opportunity in TBEX!
Follow their travel stories in their travel blogs here:
- Bret Love & Mary Gabbett @GreenGlobalTrvl of Green Global Travel
- Tawny Clark and Chris Staudinger @CaptainandClark of Captain & Clark
- Ciaran Blumenfeld @Momfluential of Momfluential
- Chris Gray Faust @CAroundtheWorld of Cruise Critic
- Angie Orth @AngieAway of Angie Away
- Kerwin Mckinzie @MSKonfa1990 of Cruisin Altitude
- Hai & Jessica @NotesofNomads of Notes of Nomads
Watch out for the Greek Islands feature in OAP…
Overall, TBEX is an awesome learning and networking opportunity, even for experienced travel bloggers. I love the inspiring keynotes, the party and the after parties, the speed dating sessions, the blog house sessions, and the pre/post trips opportunities.
You won’t really learn anything from the sessions because it’s either the content is diluted, outdated (circa 2008), or “sponsored” pitch sessions. Of course, there are a few exceptions, and finding those gems is the key to a fulfilling TBEX experience.
I feel strongly about creating opportunities for the experienced ones to give back to the travel blogging community via mentoring sessions for newbies. Even I need a mentor because I’m a newbie in Global Travel. I believe that a fresh perspective is the key to innovation and to taking the travel blogging industry to a whole new level.
The so-called “TBEX Mafia” was intimidating at first because they know each other already. But everybody was genuinely friendly, really helpful, and welcoming, especially to first timers. I felt at home in this virtual family of people who share the same passion for traveling and blogging.
I didn’t now anybody personally when I attended my first TBEX. I was simply driven by my passion to represent Philippines and ASEAN Travel Bloggers in the biggest travel blogging conference in the world. In the end, I left with priceless memories, an energized travel soul, and meaningful travel blogger friendships.
So, was attending TBEX worth it? A resounding YES! You just have to know how to maximize the experience. 🙂
Live an Awesome Life,
Disclosure: I paid for my trip to TBEX Athens Conference. I’m the Asia board member of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association. I’m not associated with the TBEX Organizers in any way. I wrote this article with my own biases, opinions, and insights. Read Our Awesome Planet Complete Disclosure Policy here.
P.S. TBEX is coming to Asia! Mark your calendars–October 15-17, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. 🙂
I’m hoping to create a Philippine delegation, so email me firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re going to TBEX Bangkok. Let’s campaign for TBEX Boracay next! 🙂
Register now for the TBEX Conference in Bangkok ($127).