Thoughts on TBEX 2013

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.

10 Comments

  1. Long time follower, first time commenter? :)

    Many bloggers are still clueless: A common thread I heard from PR people was that bloggers would sit down, tell them three or four “facts” about their blogs, and then, say “What can you give me?” The PR folks I talked with were stunned silent by this. Bloggers need to come into to those meetings knowing who they’re meeting with, why it’s a good match for what they do, and why the PR/DMO/destination should want to work with them.

    Totally good point on the press trips, man, is that the flavor of the month and they are PLENTIFUL. Whew. Git ‘em while they’re hot!

  2. You are undoubtedly right about bloggers.

    I was sitting at the G Adventures table for a half an hour and one guy came by and asked me “who is this company and how can I pitch them?”

    I didn’t even know how to respond I was so flabbergasted. He had no clue who they were or what they did, but he wanted to “pitch” them.

  3. As usual, on point and excellent thoughts, Gary. Much better than most every wrap-up post I have subjected myself to.

    Thanks for showing up at the BlogHouse and talking to those folks. They got a lot out of it and really appreciated it. More indication there is a desire for more intense learning than is offered by normal conference talks.

    Will be hitting you up for conference thoughts before the first PTBA one in 2014, though I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what you think needs to be offered (and I agree with your thoughts).

  4. “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.”

    I agree with all your points, but especially the one above.

    As with Costa Brava, people didn’t seem to appreciate the keynote talks were more about inspiring/motivating people than education.

    I came away from Mike Sowden’s panel with the motivation to make some changes to my writing. He briefly mentioned being able newly available to work with bloggers, which was an offer I took him up on immediately.

    I expect the learning for me will happen one on one working with him, but the seed of change came from attending his talk.

  5. I was pretty disappointed Pam’s pre-workshop was booked up so quickly. I think she needs to do two! :) Learned a lot from Mike’s talk also. Definitely hope more writing sessions are around next year.

    Some industry people were still giving me handouts with “story ideas” that they hoped I’d write about… :p

  6. >>”You should hope to come out of a conference with ideas.”

    Absolutely this. This was my first TBEX and the number of people was overwhelming for me, but it seemed a bit of a wasted opportunity to have so many bright people in one place and not try to get them to improvise, make stuff on the spot. The closest thing to that seemed to be your This Week In Travel session on the Sunday…

    It’d be great if speed-dating was more like a Q & A. Line up experts and have people approach them with questions to be thrashed out into answers within a specific time period. I hear this was done at the Traverse conference in England in April, and it worked a treat. Or if the experts were tourist boards/sponsors and the blogger had to approach them with a formal idea, Dragon’s Den style, instead of just sitting down and having a networking-style chat…? I’ve done precious little of this kind of thing so I don’t know, but all the times I’ve done it, it felt like a job interview where the interviewee was at both sides of the table. Awkward.

    I’d also like to see stuff around the mechanics of travel journalism. How to approach editors. How to pitch a story to an A-list, formerly-print-now-online publication. That would be super-useful to lots of travel bloggers. Especially considering the likes of Dan Saltzstein (NYTimes Travel editor) turning up at this TBEX…

    (Cheers, Dave & Matthew – kind words, sirs).

  7. Well, you gave me a ‘seed’ here:
    “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.”

    Since that is me on both counts, and I have talked about pitching traditional media, I think this would be great. But, for the 2nd idea: a session (or track) dedicated to traditional media people who are getting into blogging — whom would this audience be? Who at a blogging conference would be interested to hear about transitioning from traditional media to blogging? Are there more traditional journos attending TBEX to learn about this? Just curious.

  8. Great write up! Thanks!

    I don’t know if you’ve ever made it to SXSW, but the Interactive portion often has some useful takeaways and is worth going to for the music and film (if you’re into those things). I was on the photo crew in 2013 and there was a great series of sessions on pitching. Granted, it was entrepreneurs who were developing pitches for VCs, but the same TYPE of thing could easily be done at TBEX. A workshop where an expert at pitching (hopefully someone from the business or industry world) could come in and help not only develop a core pitch, but how to pitch it. During the 4 days of interactive, people taking the SXSW workshop would have to develop their pitches and get up in front of the room and make their pitches. Then they’d get critiqued by the panel and one of the panel members would get up and re-pitch what they’d just heard how they would do it. The whole thing was incredibly interesting to watch.

    As far as learning things from TBEX, I absolutely go to the conference expecting to learn something. If nothing else, you get a pulse of what’s happening in the industry. One big blogger’s key takeaway, as she put it, is that she now feels she has to be on Google + as much as she’s resisted it until now. I doubt she got that from going to a session, but it was still something she picked up from the conference. Who’s doing what, what tools are being used and determining the state of the industry are all things you’ll pick up outside the sessions.

    When it comes to the session themselves, I always think I pick up a few things. Ian Cleary’s talk on social media tools may not have been a revelation, but it was nice to see specifics on what tools someone was using and how they were using them. Yes, I could have picked up this information online, but there’s so much noise online with regards to what you SHOULD be using and how you should be using it, this type of session is useful. Sessions like Mike Sowden’s are great as well for getting a different perspective on how you can improve or add a twist to your writing.

    SIGGRAPH always runs an event called “Birds of a feather” where they do a kind of breakout session that is basically like focused networking. Everyone involved in a certain subcategory of the conference can head to a group gathering they feel meets their niche. It’d be a great addition to TBEX, much like your thoughts on breakfast for bloggers.

    It will be interesting to see how this thing evolves over the next couple years, and if they stay primarily focused on new, incoming bloggers or start to offer tracks and sessions that cater to the more established community. Aside from panels on pitching, what are other sessions you would make an effort to attend?

Comments are closed.