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TBEX Trip Report

Posted on | July 27, 2009 | 18 Comments


I’m so glad I went to TBEX. I had wanted to attend from when I first heard about it, but with kids and work and various other familial responsibilities, it wasn’t clear that I was going to be able to get to do so. In the end everything worked out and I was super-excited a. to visit Chicago for the first time; b. to support Kim and Debbie in such a huge undertaking; and c. to be able to meet in person many of the people I “know” through blogging and twitter.

As with any new experience, there’s always a learning component and surprisingly, my first lesson was not about travel-blogging or writing or SEO, but about myself. Even though I’m pretty outgoing and fairly confident and even though I’d practiced an “elevator pitch” as recommended by Kim, when I walked into the conference room in which TBEX was held, I froze. I darted over to a corner to sit with a couple of familiar faces and pretty much hung out there for the duration of the event. That said, over the course of the weekend I did get to spend time with smaller groups and got to know some people much better (thanks for putting up with me Mara, Peter, Amie and Esther). My personal goal for TBEX next year: to be able to better use the networking opportunity offered by TBEX. I’m not sure how I’m going to do that yet, if you have any ideas, leave a comment.

Since Debbie repeatedly reminded everyone present (in her best mom-voice) that TBEX 2009 was “the start of a conversation” and urged everyone to write about their experience of the event, I’m going to add my 2 cents to this endeavor. Everything I say below is meant in the best sense of constructive criticism and I hope it helps grow and develop TBEX 2010 and beyond.

The conference location – the Chicago Cultural Center – was an excellent choice, but the room itself was much too small for the number of attendees. This was particularly apparent during “speed-dating”. Next year, I suggest having a room which has about a third more space than should be required for the number of participants, having everyone stand for speed-dating and actively moderating the switches between “dates”. Just like line dancing without the music.

The panel discussions were a perfect format for this initial event, however I’m a data geek who likes hard numbers and hands-on learning. Next year, I’d like to see at least some sessions where the format permits in-depth discussions and practical examples. With that in mind, here’s a few suggestions for topics for next year:

1. During the session on “Creating a Lively And Successful Travel Blog”, Jamie from TravelSavvyMom.com commented “there’s a big echo in this room” meaning that travel bloggers whose main audience is other travel bloggers are not in a healthy situation. This insularity is something I’ve pondered on frequently and I’m constantly looking for ways to grow my audience. Tips, tricks and strategies to do this would be a great in-depth session.

2. There was a question from the audience on monetization of blogs during this same session. Debbie, as moderator, rightly called this as a question which was too complicated to answer well at that point. Perhaps next year someone who has a greater level of expertise in this area (@nomadicmatt maybe?), could give a detailed presentation.

3. I found the session “Working With PR” frustrating due to the lack of specificity around the metrics mentioned. Every one of the PR professionals on the panel stated that traffic metrics are used in evaluating a blog before making a decision about whether or not to accept a pitch from a blogger or in some other way engage in a relationship with that blogger. Admittedly, traffic metrics were cited as “one of a number of factors”, but again, without knowing the relative weights of the factors involved, this is a useless data point. I’d like to hear actual data (ranges are fine) and real world examples of how large, medium and small PR or travel supplier companies use this data.

4. My favorite session of the day was session 3 “Travel Journalism vs. Blogging – Is It All Just Writing?” where the panel participants were all journalists. I care strongly about the existence of a free press but since I read my news online and have done so for many years, I feel I’m contributing to the demise of print journalism. Concurrently, it appears that many journalists are not yet comfortable with the technical tools for publishing online – as Chris Elliott said, “it’s like learning to use Word” – which has lead to a rise in citizen journalism through blogging, and some animosity between bloggers and journalists. There’s a similar dynamic at play between niche online travel websites – such as CiaoBambino.com – and traditional travel agents. As a stretch goal for 2010, I believe this is an area where TBEX could become a vehicle for shared discussion and education between these groups.

Once again, thanks to Debbie and Kim for organizing this event, I’m already looking forward to attending the next one.


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18 Responses to “TBEX Trip Report”

  1. Kara/MountainMama
    July 28th, 2009 @ 7:05 am

    Fabulous recap, Michelle, and great suggestions for future.

    I hadn’t heard Jamie’s comment reported before re: “echo” and it’s a brilliant point. We do get a bit insular, don’t we?

    Also appreciate your candor about being overwhelmed w/ new faces. Find me next year — I’ll likely be in same boat! 🙂

  2. katie Hammel
    July 28th, 2009 @ 7:15 am

    Great recap and excellent suggestions. I had the same moment of apprehensiion walking into the room, especially since I arrived a bit late and ended up in a chair by the wall. I met a few people but really regret not taking advantage of the networking opportunity. Can’t wait till next year!

  3. Mara
    July 28th, 2009 @ 7:16 am

    This is a great recap, and I completely agree with everything you say. I totally understand what you mean about feeling intimidated, although after being at BlogHer all weekend I actually walked into the room and though “ahh, a small group with some familiar faces!” 🙂

    If this event is repeated, I’d like to see a panel about the role of personal travel bloggers and how we can leverage our relationship with the bigger players. I am a professional writer but am not working for a major media outlet and although I’m contented to be who I am I sometimes feel like it’s tough to get taken seriously in this kind of context. And I do think we have something to bring to the table!

  4. Can Can
    July 28th, 2009 @ 7:18 am

    I agree with everything you said…and I think we needed more scheduled time just to talk/introduce ourselves to each other.

    And I was thinking the same thing along the lines of “status/prestige” vs. actually driving hard traffic to a travel blog.
    The purists seem to pooh-pooh things like product reviews and giveaways, which I do solely for traffic reasons. I’m a realist; the free stuff brings click throughs.
    I’m not traveling 365 days a year so that is what I use to keep tumble weeds from rolling through my site.

  5. Donna Hull
    July 28th, 2009 @ 7:26 am

    Hi Micelle, I enjoyed meeting you at TBEX and appreciate this thoughtful commentary. As a shy person who forces herself to negotiate networking events, I can relate to the overwhelming feelings when in this situation. I don’t have any tips for you except that as you work at networking, it becomes easier. Actually, I belong to a networking group in Tucson, unrelated to travel, that forces me to practice my elevator speech on a monthly basis.

    You are so right about “preaching to the choir.” While support of other travel bloggers is uplifting, they might not be your “target” readers. I routinely seek out forums and other web venues to introduce myself to potential new subscribers to my blog.

    Ah, the question of money. I would so appreciate a session on effective monetization.

    Once again, a great recap. Good luck with your book.

  6. Beth Whitman
    July 28th, 2009 @ 7:42 am

    Great recap, Michelle, particularly for those of use who couldn’t make it.

    With regards to PR and metrics used… folks might want to take a look at Tim Leffel’s recent post about this topic. The whole approach needs a rehaul. I think it’s a matter of time and some education on both sides of the fence. http://bit.ly/wGgkH

  7. Gudrun
    July 28th, 2009 @ 7:43 am

    I look forward to having a TBEX-only program, not co-located with a conference such as BlogHer. By the time I got to TBEX on Sunday, I was networking exhausted and did not “work” the room as well as I could have. That said, I thought TBEX was a fabulous conference and well worth sitting in the Chicago Cultural Center room for 6 hours.

    Great wrap-up!

  8. JessieV
    July 28th, 2009 @ 8:37 am

    great recap, michelle, and i enjoyed meeting you and so many other great travel bloggers! due to the small space and my own disabilities (can’t stand up or walk much), i too felt that i didn’t get to meet everyone. well, i KNOW i didn’t get to meet everyone!

    i agree with the PR and monetization points, and think that those are critical. maybe next year a 2 day conference? with lots of in-between time for networking – those were really important and i felt sad that i didn’t get to meet everyone!

    that said, i LOVED it all!

  9. Chris Clark
    July 28th, 2009 @ 8:47 am

    I sort of met you at the end of the day, sorry we didn’t get to actually connect better. I think your points are all good. I was bothered by the heat of the room some and some difficulty in getting our Chicago passports but other than that I definitely learned a lot. I agreed that learning a little more about monetization would have been really helpful and knowing the weight of different types of data for PR folks would have been really helpful.

    I just hope there is a TBEX 2010 and we can all make it again!

  10. jessiev
    July 28th, 2009 @ 10:33 am

    here’s our recap, at wandering educators:


    i am hoping for a TBEX 10, too!

  11. wandermom
    July 28th, 2009 @ 10:47 am

    Thanks for leaving such great feedback folks!
    I appreciate it. It’s great to know I wasn’t the only one struggling with networking 🙂
    Thanks for supplementing my suggestions on ideas for next year, I’m sure Debbie & Kim will be all over these thoughts!

    @Beth: That article by Tim is great and an excellent addition to this conversation. Thanks for including the link.

    I look forward to seeing you all again next year.


  12. Corey T
    July 28th, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

    You captured several of my own thoughts.

    One big advantage to going to TBEX 09 is that I feel I will be more apt to utilize http://www.travleblogexchange.com a bit more, or just reach out to other bloggers. I’ve done that in the podcasting community, but haven’t done that as much with the blogging community.

    Future topics running through my head: Measuring Blog Success, Monetizing, Getting Readers to Participate, Anatomy of an “Expert,” Working with Traditional Media, and maybe some optional how-to sessions on photo, video, audio, social media and writing skills.

    The “echo” comment resonated with me as well. I was picking up a vibe that some folks are writing to get the attention of other travel bloggers rather than focusing on their own audience… that phrase summed up what I was sensing… and made me realize that I secretly crave the approval of other bloggers 😉

    Thanks for giving me a platform to share my thoughts… having a niche blog means my core audience is interested in Ireland, not travel blogging, so it doesn’t make sense for me to comment in depth about this stuff there.

  13. Happy Hotelier
    July 28th, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

    Thank you for your write up!
    Hated it not to be able to attend. Hopefully next year.
    Two days seems better than one.
    A little surprise maybe: You’re on place 22 of the http://www.invesp.com/blog-rank/General_Travel General Trave Blog ranking

  14. Madeline
    July 29th, 2009 @ 2:53 pm

    Great recap Michelle, I agree with most of it. Interesting to hear I’m not the only person who found the PR panel a bit confusing. That said, I learned a lot from it.

    I agree that next year it would be good to have more room for the speed dating, and more time. I got involved in so many interesting conversations with people, and then at the end of the event went on Twitter and realized there were people there I wanted to meet who I hadn’t met.

    Also it would be good to have a follow-up forum on TravelBlogExchange, since I have thought of several more questions for the panelists :o)

    Good luck with your book! (your question about why the print journalists couldn’t put the URL in the paper was v. interesting btw.)

  15. Maureen
    August 1st, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

    Thanks for such a thoughtful recap of last weekend’s TBEX conference! As a “newbie” travel blogger, the event was invaluable — especially the one-on-one chatting and informal networking. I was inspired to see that so many of you knew each other solely from online — how cool that folks finally got a chance to meet in person!

    I too am hoping for an annual TBEX — and hopefully, one that stretches two days to enable us to meet each other and to add more sessions that specifically address lots of the topics people have mentioned here. One that would likely be helpful, if TBEX grows to the point where we can “choose” between sessions at the same time: one focusing on the specific questions/concerns of newbie bloggers. Many of you have already worked through lots of the issues some of us are facing, and it would be great to ask those in a forum that doesn’t take time away from more experienced bloggers.

    Just a thought — but this year’s conference was FAB!


  16. Dominique
    August 2nd, 2009 @ 7:44 am

    I began working as a freelance business writer for local newspapers in the early 90s. I was always amazed at how narrowly some of my fellow journalists focused when it came to learning new skills…I was online and using the tools and resources available there long before other folks at the papers (leave it to the two non-journalism grads…me and the papers’ publisher to be the first online, the first with email, the first to use digital cameras…seriously!).
    Even now, I’m continually urging my print colleagues who I still meet with in a couple of writing groups to teach themselves how to use the technical tools for publishing online. They brushed me off until just recently when it became more and more apparent that they were losing all of their print clients and/or the few print clients they have left are moving more and more content online and expect their writers to write for the new platform.
    I am by no stretch of the imagination an online publishing expert, but now my email box is full of questions and I’m getting asked to do a Blogging 101 class for a writers’ conference.
    TBEX was a great boost for me, and I’m planning my own recap later (just got back early Friday…we ended up spending nearly a week in Chicago after Tim joined me there).

  17. Nancy D. Brown
    August 2nd, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

    Great recap, Michelle. My first time attending the Book Passage Travel Writers Conference I was too intimidated with the names in the room to network. Year two was much easier. It will be the same for you, I assure you!

    Here’s my recap of the conference, http://www.nancydbrown.com/journal/2009/8/2/travel-blog-exchange-tbex-conference-in-chicago-illinois.html

  18. Traci
    June 6th, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

    Hi Michelle;
    I’m just finding your site through Twitter, and I noticed the TBEX tab on the home page. Thanks for the insights as someone who attended for the first time last year. I’ll be in the same boat later this month when I attend my first. Will you be there this year?

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