The Travel Blog Exchange Conference was held in Chicago (2009), New York City (2010) and, most recently, in Vancouver. I didn’t attend the first, almost ad hoc travel blogger conference in Chicago, but I did attend and participate in both NYC’s and Vancouver’s TBEX conferences. The learning curve from one to the other represents almost a sea change in the quality of the travel bloggers’ conferences.
As of this writing, the travel bloggers’ conference was a week ago. Now that the armchair quarterbacking sets in, both seasoned reasonings and a low level of vitriol from some invariably disappointed attendees commences. I’m not disappointed, though. Sure, there were aspects that absolutely, positively should have been better — but the good far outweighs the bad. To be honest, I’m not sure the same held true for the TBEX in New York City.
TBEX Organization: Organizationally, there were some TBEX problems. In New York City in 2010, the attendees were locked out of the building when there was some sort of delay, nametags were in an unalphabetized pile, the start times changed and there was a sense of mashed-up confusion throughout. In Vancouver in 2011, there were a few organizational issues, but comparing the overall logistics to NYC, well, it’s like night and day. Yes, the SEO room got moved twice and we got started late (and as this session’s presenter, this was kind of embarrassing for me). We didn’t know what wing of the convention center to go to until right before the travel conference started. But the SEO panel went fine, and everyone who read their morning email knew which wing to go and told other, lost bloggers to head upstairs. It all worked out. Not without a hitch, but inarguably, SO much better than in NYC.
TBEX Technology: Tech-wise, there were some delays, glitches, and temporary mishaps. I’ve never been to a conference where there weren’t tech problems, though. It would have been terrific to start the TBEX conference with a bang, and the opening video audio problem pretty much brought the excitement to a screeching halt. Still, the feeling in the room was palpable; we attendees wanted everything to be smooth and flawless and hilarious and exciting and great. Audio issues prevented that, but listen (no pun intended), in NYC, the TBEX conference was supposed to end with a live podcast. Technical issues actually prevented this from happening entirely. There was some off the cuff discussion about podcasting, to be sure, but it was not what was planned or expected. The intended guest for the podcast was left sitting on the stage with nothing to do. It was close to excruciating. So there were some tech glitches in Vancouver? Yeah. Still, TBEX tech in Vancouver was much better than the TBEX tech in New York City.
TBEX Festivities: There have been some complaints about parties and after-hour get-togethers during the travel bloggers conference. I do not condone any limited, invitation-only parties that are posted publicly on the TBEX schedule of events and make my fellow travel bloggers feel excluded. I’m also not an event planner yet sort of understand the need to satisfy sponsors (I’m looking at you, TripAdvisor). On the other hand, TBEX isn’t one big party. Thankfully, lots of smaller get-togethers provided professional networking opportunities in relaxed settings.
For example, the Best Family Travel Advice group organized a meet-up among owners and contributors, and we were so, so happy with the Four Seasons’ YEW Bar spread. This allowed us to both gameplan and appreciate what the Four Seasons has to offer for a luxury family vacation in Vancouver. Also, the speakers’ dinner Friday night, sponsored by Fairmont Hotels, Tourism Vancouver, Tourism British Columbia and the Canadian Tourism Commission, was extra fun, with Game 5 of the Stanley Cup hockey finals showing on the big screen. Getting to see friends like Pam Mandel (and somehow end up debating with her the merits of original Star Trek versus Next Generation), and meet new ones like AnneMarie Dooling may not have done anything to advance my career — just the opposite, I fear — but get togethers like those are by nature limited.
It’s the other parties-cum-networking opportunities that really stand out, such as the grassroots “tweet up” Thursday night on Granville Island that dozens of bloggers attended. Cupcakes with the Passports with Purpose crew at the Metropolitan Hotel was another highlight. I loved touching base with other members of the Travel Blog Mob — and other assorted bloggy friends — at these smaller events, as well as in the lobby of the convention center between sessions. (Never discount the value of conference hallway conversations!)
In NYC, the TBEX-sponsored parties were much too loud to be able to have a meaningful conversation. TBEX Vancouver had a wide enough variety of get togethers — mainly outside-the-official-schedule events organized by attendees — that it was a piece of cake to find old friends, meet new ones, and network in whatever environment best suits us all.
TBEX Vancouver: The location of the 2011 TBEX conference was Vancouver. What’s not to like? Vancouver is often cited as the most livable city in the world due to its diversity, fast and cheap rail system, huge variety of great restaurants, culture, shopping, outdoor soft adventure opportunities, and other line items that denote wonderful places to live and visit. Even better, the Canadians welcomed TBEX with open arms. The Vancouver Convention and Visitors Bureau actively courted Kim Mance (the founder of TBEX) and followed through with incredible generosity. It was clear that Vancouver relished showing travel bloggers all that makes their city a top travel destination.
It’s true that Vancouver is expensive and quite a few travel bloggers felt priced out of taking full advantage of the city. It’s true that most of us had to fly there — another cost. But you know where else is a top travel destination, yet expensive and not in drivable distance for everyone? You guessed it: New York City. New York City had the added distinction, in 2010, of not seeming to care much that 300 travel bloggers had descended upon it. There were a few fam trip types of activities, but by and large, TBEX was a small fish in the huge market of New York City in 2010. We weren’t exactly the car show at Jacob Javits, is all I’m saying. I’m sure I’m not the only travel blogger who felt like a special guest of Vancouver last week, and this was with a concurrent Canucks playoff game. Vancouver did a superior job in making travel bloggers feel great about the host city.
My final thoughts:
- I’d love to see TBEX split the conference into two clearly delineated sub-groups: The Business of Travel Blogging (monetization, pitching to PR, etc) and the Art of Travel Blogging (narrative, non-narrative).
- Even within this, a Beginners and Advanced track option would be very beneficial. This way more experienced bloggers can continue to enrich their knowledge, without the fresher-faced among us feeling left behind.
- Having the niche breakout groups be more organized wouldn’t detract from the sense of “kumbaya” therein, but would help those niches be more useful as well.
- A few more staffers would make the organization run more smoothly. Joey and Courtney (of Kim Mance’s Galavanting Productions) did admirably, but they’re just two people and were looking a bit peaked by the end of Sunday. I wanted to give both of them a glass of warm milk and tuck them in bed.
Beyond that, though, I can’t be too harsh regarding how TBEX Vancouver went. Despite some organizational mishaps and some directional confusion, the improvement from TBEX New York City was monumental. TBEX is still young and this was only the second “real” TBEX conference in North America. With the learning curve and improvement rate as steep as I’ve seen, next year’s TBEX in the Colorado Rockies should be phenomenal.
Here are related Travel Blog Mob posts about Vancouver, a wonderful city to visit.
Wanderlust and Lipstick: What to Do in Vancouver
Spot Cool Stuff: 3 Cool & Affordable Places to Stay in Vancouver
Sharing Travel Experiences: A Photo Tour of the Granville Market in Vancouver
Boots n All: 11 Lessons Bloggers can Learn from TBEX 2011