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.