Want to know why I fled to Europe at the last-minute or a month?
Recently, I attended the travel blogging conference, TBEX Europe (aka Travel Bloggers Exchange) in Athens Greece. I met and mingled with fellow travel bloggers, learned eye-opening things about blogging and industry networking and the most fabulous part of it all… I got to do it while enjoying the exoticism of Greek culture!
What more could a female solo travel blogger ask for?
The historical city of Athens in exotic Greece
Arriving at Athens airport, I went directly to the tourism booth to pick up my TBEX Europe welcome packet. As the city hosting TBEX, Athens and its tourism agencies sponsored the activities around town like FAM tours and sightseeing pre-tours. We got a five-day unlimited metro card, discount days to see certain sights and a round trip airport transportation pass to help make navigating the city, easy and lighter on the wallet. It certainly helped loads, because travel blogging isn’t a cheap business– just the ticket from Hawaii to Greece was… okay, I don’t want to say. It will hurt to write that number again. Luckily, to further afford my stay, I was doing a shared AirBnB apartment stay with other travel bloggers (watch the video above).
Obviously, there’s a helluva lot to see in Athens. Arriving a day later than expected, due to a Lufthansa Airlines pilot strike, I quickly hopped the airport metro and shot straight to the Parthenon, luggage in hand!
Since starting my travel blog in 2008, I’ve joined Facebook travel blog groups, researched everything I didn’t know from how to use social media effectively to troubleshooting technical issues and charging advertisers. Basically, I read a crapload of How Tos to get me up to this point and nearly burnt myself out many times doing it. I also invested in ebook resources like Matt Kepnes How to Make Money with your Travel Blog and recently, online membership groups, like Travel Blog Success to help me form guidelines for my blogging and YouTube career. The first travel blog conference I attended was the Digital Innovation Asia Conference in 2013 (my experience here), allowing me to get my first feel of how companies in the travel market worked.
Sadly, all of this is and is not enough to be a business savvy blogger.
At TBEX Europe, workshops are for travel bloggers and travel industry people, who want to learn how to work with blogging tools, social media, and each other! The workshops offer great introductory knowledge and an overview to practices. But if you’ve blogged for a while, you might feel the workshops are better for beginners (something I’ve heard from others before I came). Still, there were a couple of speakers, who moved mountains for me, like Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel, who shed advanced insight into their successful business practices.
Peer-to-peer networking is the gold of TBEX
Meeting fellow travel bloggers and exchanging notes was an invaluable source for me. The fact we undergo the same obsessions with blogging and social media, makes the gathering special and uniting, as well as was fun, consoling and informational.
Being around your peers is a wakeup call to redefine your strategies towards stronger practices and business-minded goals. I learned heaps, chatting with other bloggers and learning about their tricks and strategies in growing a healthy blog. Whatever tool you think you’re sucking at, there’s other bloggers who are working it more effectively. I gained many “AHA!” moments and tricks through my fellow bloggers!
…It’s also like finally finding a good therapy group!
Speed networking is like speed dating. You have just enough time to give a company your elevator pitch and convince them why you’d be great to work with. Being in Greece, there were many Greek and European companies, looking for travel bloggers already living in Europe or who had plans to visit Europe as their 2015 destination. If you have no out-of-pocket budget to fly yourself to Europe, it might be wise to attend a TBEX in the region you’re most apt to spend money to travel.
My first day I was … deflated. I consider my blog, a small niche, but fairly healthy. I’ve blogged since 2008, engage my following by putting out consistent, quality content and I produce video both, on YouTube and professionally for big, sparkly U.S. television brands. Still, I didn’t get a FAM trip and my speed networking dance card …was not full. Barely a quarter!
Numbers don’t count… and they do. Educating the travel market and DMOs take time. Many companies still wanted to work with power blogs and the smaller bloggers , it seemed, stood outside of that action. Still, I was investing a lot to network at this event. Was this trip going to be a waste? Why the hell did I fly this far on my dime to be here?
Then I met super-friendly Noel Morata of Travel Photo Discovery, who inspired me to see that only we, travel bloggers, can define and defend our worth. An opportunity is something you create. Don’t wait for it, but get-the-hell-out-there and create it, GRRRL ! And he’s right.
So the next day, I pulled out all stops and mind filters. Armed with the “It-ain’t-over-til-it’s-over” attitude, I slipped in and pushed my way into meet with companies, who appeared to have openings during breaks or a lull in action. I kept doing that all the way to World Travel Market London !
Attending TBEX parties
I love meeting fellow travel bloggers! But “awkward” is the only word to explain how I feel when breaking the ice at parties.
Good news: TBEX groups only look like cliques until you introduce yourself to one! Travel bloggers are above all, travelers. We’ve all done treks, gotten sick in countries, slept in hostels, encountered language barriers, bore long layovers in airports or had small budgets to juggle… These experiences both, unify and humble us. I like to think it’s weathered us into flexible, open-minded human beings, excited to meet new people and situations. We’re also blogging geeks! Most bloggers, even the big ones, are friendly.
Tips for Travel Bloggers attending TBEX
New to this and feeling lost? Old to this but still feeling lost? Here’s my tips for (newbie) travel bloggers attending TBEX .
Tips for speed networking:
• Take a shitload of business cards and promise yourself that you’ll pass out at least half!
(Vistaprint sells it cheap in bulk. Visual folks like Moo cards and they’re nice – I used them for a while, but I don’t find they work as well as a straightforward card. Both still end up in the trash!)
• Approach a company during break time or when you see an open seat. No company representative at their table? Grab cards and followup later.
• Remember you’re selling yourself: Sculpt your elevator pitch. Know what you want, what you have to offer and how you’re different from others.
• Make it stupid-easy for people to find you. Don’t direct them to your website. Go that extra step and print out your web stats and give it to them! (But also followup later with your media kit)
• Work with video like me? Cut a demo reel with samples of your work and schlep it around on your laptop, iPhone or iPad.
(Damnit, now I just gave you my secret, so I’ll go a step further- keep it UNDER two minutes. … Hmmm, even that’s too long.)
• The goal is to meet as many as you can. You can decide if you want to court later. If you decide not, save the name for the future. A travel blogging friend may need that contact!
• Take a marker and jot down notes on their business card so you remember why you want to follow up with them.
• Remind yourself that you’re paying for this opportunity in flight expenses, accommodation and TBEX fee.
• Learn from your fellow travel bloggers and let them inspire you! (Thanks Noel!)
• Lastly, if your blog can’t be a Goliath, then you have to be a David. Make it happen.
Tips for making friends before attending TBEX:
• Interact online with travel bloggers, who you know will be attending.
• Look for Facebook groups for those attending the conference. It’s a great place to meet, share conference information, coordinate itineraries, meet beforehand and find accommodations. Yara Coelho of Heart of a Vagabond orchestrated a group called Travel Bloggers attending TBEX 2014 and another blogger created TBEX Travel Buddies. Both groups helped bloggers feel connected before arriving at the conference.
• Your Facebook icon should feature “your face” and your About section should list your blog’s name for recognition. It amazes me when bloggers don’t do this, because I’ll click to see what blog a person represents and behold… nothing! Blog name is how we recognize each other.
Tips on which TBEX to attend:
TBEX Europe, TBEX North America, TBEX Asia… which one to choose when they all sound exotic and fun. Well, I’ve only been to one, so my answer is a little tongue-in-cheek here. Most of us have to be strategic about where we spend our travel funds.
• Choose to the TBEX region you hope to work with in the near future. Unless you’re got a huge following (really, that’s what it boils down to, at the moment… sorry) not many tourism boards are willing to fly you to their destination, unless you’re already in their region. (In fact, WTM London companies were more targeted toward travel bloggers living in the UK or blogging for UK followers!)
• While it’s helpful to look at the TBEX website to see which companies are attending, know it is not an accurate reflection of who will be actually be there or cancel at the last-minute. It’s a gamble.
Mahalos to TBEX and Athens for hosting a great event for travel bloggers. Last but not least, thanks to all the travel bloggers I’ve met a at this conference, I’m grateful to have met you and admire you all immensely! Can’t wait to do it all again!
What are your tips or experiences of TBEX? Leave them below.
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