Given my misgivings about attending a travel blog conference (and really, I would have very similar feelings about any other networking event, especially one that stretches over several days), I attempted to calm my nerves by researching what to expect of TBEX. I was able to find quite a bit of information, which reassured me a bit that it wasn’t going to be completely terrible. And that is in fact what happened. All in all, I though TBEX was a great investment of time, energy, and money. So if you are feeling unsure about attending, read part one on why I thought travel conference ended up being great investment for me, and hopefully that will help you to decide whether you should attend. And if you do decide to go – here’s part two on what to expect from TBEX.
WHO: Goes to TBEX
Expect to find lots and lots of travel bloggers. Some will be aspiring bloggers – as in, never have written a single post, and maybe they don’t even have a name for their blog yet. Others will be rather senior – but, most big time bloggers will be there in speaker capacity. A vast majority will fall somewhere on the specter of beginner to just-turned-professional. There will be bloggers at TBEX from other industries thinking about making the switch to travel, or incorporating travel into their existing niche blog like lifestyle / cooking / digital technology. The vast majority will be eager to make connection with you, hear your story, and form a bond.
Travel bloggers, industry professionals and speakers all hang out and mingle through out the conference events — such as lunch. I was impressed with the food btw! TBEX conference, Convention Center, Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Another big segment of attendees will come from travel industry – these professionals attend the conference to get the scope of the land, make connections with other industry professionals, learn about working with travel bloggers, and of course, to meet with bloggers and establish beginnings of partnerships, sponsorships, and ambassadorships.
The speakers – they may be travel bloggers, maybe travel writes, SEO professionals, industry professionals. I was actually quite surprised by the diverse array of backgrounds. This was good and bad – good because I was exposed to quite a few new and cool people. Bad because I didn’t do my research and so I had no idea what to expect from speakers on the panels – some were excellent, some very poor. The list of speakers is on the TBEX website so look it up in advance!
Syed Balkhi talks about tactics to increase traffic flow. TBEX conference, Convention Center, Fort Lauderdale, FL.
WHAT: Happens at TBEX
TBEX is divided into several parts. The first part is familiarization (or FAM) trips. FAM trips stretch over several days, are fully comped, and take place a week or so out before the conference. The trips are by application only, and you will be notified if you are selected. I registered too late to apply (see HOW section), and really regret it. FAM trips would be an awesome way not only to experience a destination, but also to meet with other bloggers.
Next up are pre-TBEX tours. The tours are comped for attendees and include local attractions. In Fort Lauderdale the tours ranged from kayaking the Everglades to food walks through historic downtown. The pre-TBEX tours are open to everyone who is registered for the conference. Every attendee may register for one event via the TBEX site. However, in my experience almost every tour had open spots on the day of, and conference attendees were welcome to fill those open spots on first come, first serve basis. I ended up showing early, asking if I may join and getting on my favorite tour just like that. All in all I did 3 tours and had a blast trying local activities and meeting fellow bloggers and industry professionals. In fact, it was at these tours that I made some of my best connections.
The pre-TBEX tours are a great, fun way to connect with other conference attendees — the tours are open to both bloggers and industry professionals. Pre-TBEX tour boating the canals of Fort Lauderdale, FL.
The official TBEX conference takes place over two days. The conference days are split between talks on travel blogging – from how to write well to how to work with brands – and official speed networking – when bloggers and brand representatives meet for 10 minutes at a time. The talks are held in the morning and right after lunch, the speed networking is in the late afternoon.
With regard to speed networking – it’s completely optional. You can sign up to talk to brands via blogger bridge online platform ahead of the conference. However, the brands will have their tables set up throughout the 2 days of the conference, and I found that talking with brand representatives during one of the morning or afternoon sessions was much more pleasant – less loud, less hectic, and less tiring – and more productive.
And then there are the parties. The un-official welcome party, the welcome party, the closing party, and all sorts of informal get together and a few invitation only activities (like travel parent happy hour – doesn’t apply to us, so I didn’t feel left out!) The parties are another opportunity to talk and connect with other bloggers and industry professionals, just in louder format and fueled by a nice, stiff drink. Trust me, you will need one by the time the evening rolls around.
A note on food and drink: There will be lots, and I mean LOTS during the conference and parties. And it’s all included in your attendance fee (told you it’s a great value!) We ate three-four times a day, and ate well. Some – but not all – pre-TBEX tours will also wine and dine you.
WHEN: TBEX Schedule
To get the most out of TBEX plan on spending minimum 3 days, and as long as 10 days attending the various events. As detailed in the WHAT section, TBEX conference takes place over two days. In the two days prior, and possibly two days after, there are TBEX tours – arranged by TBEX sponsors. Then there’s also TBEX FAM trips. I felt like going on pre-TBEX tours allowed me to meet tons of people, which made the official conference and parties a lot less awkward.
The tour and conference days are looong. Most of the pre-TBEX tours departed from the convention center between 8 and 9 am. The conference itself starts around 9 am. The activities finish as late as 6, and the evening parties start around 6 pm. So yea – it’s pretty much all encompassing. Of course you can take breaks as needed, as long as you don’t suffer from FOMO (like me). So I just caught up on sleep after I got home.
WHERE: TBEX takes place
As of today, TBEX takes place across three continents: Asia, Europe and North America. The actual location switches from year to year on each continent. TBEX Norther America was in Fort Lauderdale in October 2015, and the next one will take place in Minnesota in May 2016.
The main TBEX event takes place at a convention center of the destination. However, pre-TBEX tours, TBEX parties – official and unofficial ones – are held at different locations. If the venues for official events are far apart, TBEX will arrange transportation to and from the convention center. For the unofficial parts you are on your own.
I was happy with my AirBnB location, but I regretted not being closer to the beach! Honeymoon Island near Fort Lauderdale, FL.
The location of TBEX conference is mostly important to determine where it is best to stay. Take into account the ease of access to public transport options, whether uber or other taxi services are available, and how far is too far to walk. Regardless of how you choose to get around, I would recommend having easy and quick access to the convention center. I found that I spent long days attending TBEX events – and sometimes even a 30 minute walk roundtrip back to my place, didn’t allow me enough time to rest / eat / shower to make it worth it. So consult some maps, area guides, and really think comfort.
Register early. As early as you can commit. I registered for the conference a month ahead of time, but missed the deadline to apply for FAM trips, and was late to register for many of the pre-TBEX tours. That didn’t end up being a big deal, but I certainly wished that I could have done the foodie tour. And, by the time I registered many of the spots on speed networking with popular industry brands were filled as well. Again, not a huge deal, but still the earlier you sign up, the better and more choices you will have.
Register for BloggerBridge. I did not use BloggerBridge for speed networking specifically. However, when I talked to brand representatives they were able to pull up my profile to have better context for our discussion. I was also able to glean insights on branding and descriptions from other bloggers who are on BloggerBridge. It takes a bit of time to set up, but it’s a handy tool.
Order photo business cards. Business cards are super handy way of remembering who you just met on that tour or at lunch or at a party. For that reason, put your photo on your business card.
Pack right. Take into consideration the pre-TBEX tours and parties – for me that meant swimsuit, sunhat, a dress and nice heels. I am always cold, and convention centers are notorious for over-conditioning. I was so, so glad for my uniform of toms, t-shirt and shawl.
Show up early. If you still want your spot on a pre-TBEX tour, or want the filler spot it pays to show up ahead of time. The same goes for some of the talks – don’t underestimate room sizes and popularity of certain panels.
Prepare to talk about your blog. Duh. Well, sort of. What makes your blog unique — there are 600+ other bloggers in attendance, so what makes you stand out? Here’s what I said about us:
House to Laos and everywhere in between is a couple’s travel blog. The name comes from the fact that our house finances our adventures. We’ve done both long term travel, with over a year long RTW and shorter trips with a home base. The house plays an integral part in both types of travel for us.
Prepare a media kit. Or not. Sergey pulled together a kick-ass media kit for us, and I had many hard copies in tow at TBEX. However, I didn’t give any out – business cards were enough for me. If you register at BlogerBridge the companies will have your profile. Plus you probably know your key message and stats. After the conversation, you can follow up with an emailed copy of your kit giving you another reason to connect and make an impact.
Skip the speed-networking. Or not. I can’t say what it’s like to participate in speed networking. I didn’t do it. As I mentioned I felt like I walked away from the conference having talked to every brand rep I wanted to – it was pretty easy to do outside of the official speed networking. In fact, I skipped the very first session on the very first day – because I wasn’t interested in any subject matter on offer – and talked to brands in a nearly deserted room. The additional plus of skipping the registration is that by the time 3 pm of a conference day hits – I was so tired!
Hanging out with Travelocity Gnome at the Citizen Relations table. TBEX conference, Convention Center, Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Have you been to TBEX or other travel blog conferences? Did you participate in the speed networking? Is it worth it? Any other tips I totally missed out on? (I am no expert on this!)