Attending TBEX conference (Cant see it, click here)
Europe was nowhere in my travel plans, but wanna know why I fled there at the last-minute ?
Attending Travel Blog Exchange
Recently, I attended the travel blog exchange conference, TBEX Europe 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 romance Greek culture!
What more could a 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 hosting city hosting, Athens and its tourism agencies sponsored activities around town like FAM tours (familiarization tours which familiarize you with the city) and pre-tours. We got a five-day unlimited metro card, discount days for certain attractions and a round trip airport transportation pass to help make navigating the city, easy and lighter on the wallet. It helped loads, because travel blogging is not a cheap business– just the ticket from Hawaii to Greece was… $$$-$ .
Where bloggers stay during conferences
Attending a conference generally means spending money on accommodations. Let’s face it, many travel bloggers are cheap. We have to be. We know what we do appears to be a vacation to others, but for us, it is a job and an expense to remedy. Bloggers attending these conferences range: from newbies who are funding their blog from savings after leaving their 9-5 jobs to expats with jobs in inexpensive countries which affords them easy/cheap travel (this is how I propagated my blog) to experienced bloggers, already banking money from their blog.
Living the life of a travel blogger is not a get-rich-quick-scheme, but can keep you in the low income echelons for quite some time if you don’t learn to monetize quickly. You have to be smart in planning your travels.
Somewhere along the lines, a blogger will put up a secret Facebook conference group, where attendees can mingle and plan beforehand, to shoutouts for apartment/hotel shares or tour attractions together. Just Google the name of your conference in the Facebook search toolbar and you’ll see the groups that pop up. Or sometimes, they’ll post the name of the group on the conference page.
To further afford my stay, I did a shared AirBnB Athens apartment stay with Aussie-turned-Japan-expats travel bloggers, Hai and Jessica of Notes of Nomads. Jessica was phenomenal in orchestrating the apartment share and it was an ideal stay for me as a solo traveler. Hai and Jessica were such a smart traveling duo and brilliant in their own way of growing their blog.
Some bloggers stayed at hostels in central Athens, like City Circus Athens (very popular) and Athens Style (I stayed here after Jessica and Hai left). Meanwhile, other bloggers sent out pitch letters hoping to stay and write reviews for Athens hotels. These are all the ways travel bloggers stretch their dime to survive in this industry.
Is TBEX worthwhile for travel bloggers?
Yes and no. 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 SuperStar Blogging (formerly Travel Blog Success, review here) 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, 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.
Workshops and networking events
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.
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 others travel bloggers and exchanging notes is the gold of attending a TBEX conference. Travel bloggers are a different breed of human. It really feels that way, as our jobs are unique and creates different obsessions with blogging, getting traffic to our blogs, growing our following and getting good social media engagement.
It’s the smallest things like noticing other travel bloggers either sleeping with their smartphone or it being the first thing they check from their bed (this is pretty consistent with many of the bloggers I roomed with. Or trip tour events when bloggers like Gary Arndt of Everything Everwhere chimes out from the back seat, he just got 200 likes in the first 15 minutes of posting to Instagram…. You need a special psychiatrist for travel bloggers.
Thus, the networking between bloggers, matching real people to blogger handles (aka blog name) was fun, consoling and informational.
Being around your peers is a wakeup call to redefine your strategies, create stronger practices and business-minded goals. I learned heaps, chatting with 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 like finally finding your therapy group!
Speed Networking with Travel Companies
Ever wondered how travel bloggers meet and work with sponsors? This would be one way. Speed networking with travel companies is a speed dating session between blogger and potential sponsor. 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.
Tip: If you have no budget to fly yourself to Europe, it might be wise to attend a TBEX or travel conference in Europe, as many companies aren’t looking to fly a blogger out to their destination. They’re looking for bloggers who have their demographics of travelers, but who is already in the vicinity or has made plans to travel to their country (i.e. tour companies for instance). Being a blogger of mostly Asia and Southeast Asian destinations, at the moment, I’m better off looking at TBEX Asia or travel conferences in Asia.
If you’re attending a TBEX in country X that is not native to your blog region, not to worry~ if you book a little extra time in the country X, you’ll be able to meet sponsors to help your trip itinerary and ultimately that will be something you blog.
My first day of speed networking … 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 did not get an offer for a sponsored FAM trip and my speed networking dance card …was not full. Barely a quarter!
You see, numbers don’t count… and yet, they do. Would you let that stand in your way?
Educating the travel market and DMOs (destination marketing organization) take time. Companies still wanted to work with power blogs and the smaller bloggers , it seemed, stood outside of that action. I was investing a lot to network at this event, so it was starting to feel like a waste. Why the hell did I fly this far to be here?
Then I met fellow Hawaii boy and travel photographer, Noel Morata of Travel Photo Discovery, who inspired me to see that only 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 was absolutely right.
The next day, I pulled out all stops and mind filters. Armed with the “It-ain’t-over-til-it’s-over” attitude, I 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 my next conference, World Travel Market London ( FYI- this conference is only great for those with a UK audience or based in the UK/Europe. Yup, learned that the hard way) !
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.
(Keep your video two minutes or UNDER )
• 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.
• 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.