With a bit of time to digest everything, here are some random thoughts on this year’s TBEX conference in Toronto. I’ve been to every TBEX except for the event in Copenhagen, so I have something to compare it to.
- TBEX is all grown up. 1,300 people is a lot. The feel of the conference has definitely changed. Even last year in Colorado I could still at least say hello to most of the people I knew. This year there were many people who I know attended but I never once saw. This is just the new reality and is something everyone is going to have to live with. The number of people who want to be travel bloggers is swelling and I see the growth rates continuing for at least several years. How big can TBEX get? There are other blogging conferences which get 3,000-5,000 attendees, so I think that would be the upper limit. I don’t, however, think that travel blogging will be a popular as parenting blogs, so I think 2,000-2,500 might be the max. If it goes beyond that it will be because the conference evolves beyond blogging into a general new media conference for the travel industry.
- Increasing Pressure for Quality. There were 45 slots in the writing workshops and a waiting list of 91! There is clearly a demand for this level of education for writing (and to a lesser extent photography and videography). I would not be shocked if next year the writing workshops go a full day and have even more instructors to fill the demand. I could easily see 150 people attending the sessions. The preBEX workshops could very well become their own thing independent of the main conference.
- Many businesses are still clueless. A common thread I heard from bloggers is that a lot of businesses they spoke to still don’t know why they were there or what they want to do with bloggers. They were pretty open about admitting that they had no clue what they were doing. Everyone feels like they should do something, but they don’t know what. A few companies have figured it out (or at least have figured something out), but it is still a mystery to most companies.
- People expect too much from sessions. I never go to a conference expecting to learn anything. Anything you need to know can be better learned online. 50 minutes listening to someone with a PowerPoint presentation isn’t an optimal learning environment. You should hope to come out of a conference with ideas. The seed of something you didn’t think about before that you can expand after the conference is over. Most probably, you will get these ideas from talking to people in the hallways, which is the real value of any conference. That is the real danger of having such large conferences. The hallway time you spend talking to people get diluted and it is hard to find people. The parties this year were just so big, I couldn’t have as many meaningful conversations as I have had in the past.
- Have smaller events. Rather than one massive party each night, 2 or 3 smaller ones might be better. Last year they had breakfasts for bloggers in various niches to meet and talk. That was absent this year. It would be nice if they brought that back.
- I have no idea how productive this year was. I had 2 meetings all weekend. My manager Amy’s schedule was full. We talked afterwards and we might have a few things which could pan out business wise, but I won’t know for months. Oddly enough, several organizations who really wanted to talk to me didn’t bother to even notify me before the conference. None have followed up with me as of yet.
- Supply is still greater than demand for press trips. A sobering thought, but the reason why so many people are starting blogs to get free trips is because people are giving free trips to almost anyone. I’ve been amazed at some of the bloggers I’ve seen some PR companies and DMO’s sending on trips, but they don’t seem to care. Right now we are in a phase where just having “blog” attached to you is enough to get people excited. PR clients want to do “blogger trips” without really caring who the bloggers are. I’m not sure if this is a fad, or just the modern day equivalent of hack writers going on press trips, which has been happening for decades. The truth is, there are still more hotels and destinations than there are bloggers. So long as there are budgets, you probably wont see the end of this. I’ve noticed more veteran bloggers cutting back on sponsored travel because the trips are often not that fun and are tiring. That means more opportunities for newbies.
- New sessions for next year. I would like to see a session on how to pitch stories to traditional media. I would also like to see a session (or track) dedicated to traditional media people who are getting into blogging. Both would be useful and welcome.
While TBEX has changed, it is still the #1 conference on my schedule each year. It is the only place I can meet people like myself and companies who are looking to meet people like me. That alone makes it worth the trip.