This post was written by Viator’s commissioning editor, Katie Hammel, who attended TBEX this year. All opinions are her own.
For the fourth year in a row, this June saw hundreds of travel bloggers come together to connect with one another, to network with sponsors and PR, to eat and drink, and to learn from some of the most successful people in the business at the annual Travel Blog Exchange.
This year’s event – held in Keystone, Colorado, and run for the first time by BlogWorld, was not only the biggest conference (with nearly 800 attendees), it was also far and away the best event in TBEX’s short history.
Gone were most of the minor, but nonetheless annoying logistical issues like poor signage and nonexistent wifi, as the vast majority of the event was executed without a hitch. Unfortunately, the focus on writing seemed diminished as well, with only one session on the craft of writing a blog post. The 10 Steps to Writing that Better Engages (and Keeps) Your Readers session, led by the inimitable Spud Hilton (editor of the San Francisco Chronicle travel section) and Viator contributor Stephanie Yoder (who runs the successful travel blog, Twenty-Something Travel) was both inspiring and informative, yet – in my opinion – sadly under-attended at a conference designed for people whose passion in life is writing a blog about travel. The lack of attention to writing in the sessions was the one thing that kept me from giving TBEX an A+, an issue I really hope will be corrected next year.
As I was representing Viator at our sponsor table, I spent most of the day meeting with bloggers and was unable to attend many of the sessions aside from the aforementioned excellent session on writing and one other. Thankfully, attendees kept the TBEX Twitter stream busy so I was able to follow along with session highlights. It seems that returning speakers Pam Mandel, Jennifer Miner, and Annemarie Dooling rocked the house with well-received presentations on press trips, SEO, and community building/social media, respectively. And new presenters including Spencer Spellman, Matt Long, Tim Leffel (all three also contribute to Viator), Jodi Ettenberg, and husband-wife team Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott, were equally inspiring to attendees hoping to find success without compromising a focus on quality content in any form. It was also nice to see a few experts from outside of the travel sphere – content creator C.C. Chapman and SEO expert Rand Fishkin – brought in to share their knowledge.
I did hear reports that some of the sessions were too basic; the session I attended on finding the right bloggers for your brand fit that description for me. Andy Hayes did a great job breaking down the process of qualifying bloggers based on metrics and other factors, but it felt more geared towards a beginner level.
I also agree with freelancer Jessica Spiegel that the addition of sessions on the business of blogging would be extremely beneficial. We’re not talking about how to make money with your blog, but rather how to run your blog like a business – how to track and report income, how to handle tax issues and deductible expenses, how to process invoices, and how to collect money from sponsors or advertisers.
For next year I’d love to see a one-day “blogger 101” bootcamp attached to the conference covering some of these basics for the newbie bloggers. Addressing issues like: tips for your first press trip; developing a media kit; the basics of accounting, WordPress and SEO for beginners; and intro to social media, would help newbies get up to speed so that the majority of the conference sessions can be taught at a more advanced level. In lieu of that, I’d love to see a shift to tracks based on level of experience.
Aside from the educational sessions, this year’s TBEX stood out for the exceptional networking opportunities. The addition of speed-dating was the number one improvement over past years. As a sponsor representative, I found the process easy and efficient (though I heard it was more confusing for those without assigned tables) and appreciated the opportunity to have so many sit-down meetings with potential freelancers and partners. In fact, Viator had so many requested appointments that we extended our time slots past the official times and added appointments on Saturday afternoon as well.
(A huge thank you to all who came out to meet with us, particularly those who had done their research beforehand and came prepared with ideas of how they could work with us. I was extremely impressed with the professionalism of many of the people with whom I met.)
As always, it wouldn’t be TBEX without some phenomenal parties, and in that respect, Keystone really went above and beyond. From the opening night party held at 11,000 feet, reached by two gondola rides complete with champagne and cookies to enjoy in transit, to the Saturday night Expedia hoedown held under the stars at the Soda Ridge Stables, attendees were shown the very best of Keystone and Colorado. The conference venue itself was excellent, even though I wished that it were closer to the airport and easier to get around the resort for the various meet-ups and like many, I also suffered a bit from the altitude. Still, overall I think Keystone was a near-perfect setting for this year’s event.
Post-TBEX and working with Viator
As with previous years, I’d like to thank Kim Mance for having the inspiration to gather a small group of travel bloggers together that first year in Chicago (even if she says it was kind of an accident) and the dedication to keep it going and growing each year. As the conference has progressed from that tiny spark of an idea into the massive event that it is today, there have been some pains along the way, but if it weren’t for her idea the travel industry would be a far less exciting place than it is today.
Every year I leave TBEX with new friends, great memories, more ideas than I can count, and a reignited passion for what I do – working with bloggers and writers to share travel guides, tips and stories that inspire people to explore the world around them and that help them to travel in the style that’s right for them.
To that end, Viator made it known at this year’s event that we’re looking to work with travel bloggers and writers in a variety of ways. We have an award-winning travel blog, for which we are always accepting freelance pitches for articles and we’re building our photo and video library, as well as looking to publish more articles about our tour offerings. If you’re a talented freelance writer or blogger interested in writing engaging and informative travel content for us, please contact us at email@example.com.
- Katie Hammel