Travel Blogger Conference TBEX Improves in Vancouver

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.

Vancouver TBEX Table  (@KirstenAlanaPhotography/Galavanting)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 Vancouver TBEX registration Table (©KirstenAlanaPhotography/Galavanting)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.

Travel Bloggers Conference in Vancouver Jen Leo, Crai Bower, Pam Mandel panel (©KirstenAlanaPhotography/Galavanting)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.

Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver YEW Best Family Travel Advice (Jennifer Miner)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), TBEX Speakers' Dinner with Annemarie Dooling (©KirstenAlanaPhotography/Galavanting).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.

Vancouver during TBEX Travel Blogger Conference (Melanie Renzulli)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 Travel Blog Mob Beth and Wil (©KirstenAlanaPhotography/Galavanting)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

25 Responses to “Travel Blogger Conference TBEX Improves in Vancouver”

  1. 1
    Steve says:

    At least this tbex review is reasonable.

  2. 2
    Linda says:

    Thanks for the honest assessment. I’m glad to hear things are improving, and may consider going to Colorado next year.

  3. 3
    Sandra Foyt says:

    Great review! This was my first TBEX, so I have no baseline for comparison, but I loved every crazy moment of this conference. Not only was it an excellent networking opportunity, but I learned plenty despite prior blog conference experience.

    I love the idea of creating a creative track; the non-narrative workshop was one of the best parts of the event, but I would have liked to be able to take both the photo and video workshops without choosing between them. Additionally, it seems like there may be room and interest in devoting an entire day to topics and discussions specifically related to the Family Travel niche, if not all the niches.

    I’m definitely looking forward to TBEX 2012!

  4. 4
    Sharlene says:

    I agree with Jen’s assessment. I think it was a vast improvement from TBEX in NYC and while I do think there is plenty of room for improvement, I was pleased with this year’s conference and really do look forward to next year. I think partnering with an event planner could be a difference maker. I would be willing to pay more to see that happen. I also feel like the parties with attendance caps should not be on the official agenda. I fully admit though that I had friends crash parties with me and I may have crashed one myself with no issue.

    I think Colorado is a great central locale to fly into and cheap flights to Denver are plentiful so I have a feeling people will feel less priced out this next go round.

  5. 5
    ColoradoGal says:

    Agree, agree.

    Colorado TBEX will be fabulous – I truly believe that, what with all of the constructive criticism and suggestions being offered after Vancouver (if the smartest ideas are indeed implemented, that is). Not to mention, Vail Resorts is a class act, and the Keystone Conference Center is well equipped to handle all of us. I think it will be a blast!

    And, Linda, I SO would love to meet you in Colorado!

  6. 6

    Great review–I feel like I was there. It definitely sounds like TBEX is on the upswing and continues to improve. Can’t wait to attend in Keystone!

  7. 7

    Jen, I love this post!!

    I agree with you that with all the reviews I have read it seems that they forgot how much improvement TBEX Vancouver is vs TBEX NYC. Yes, they all expect everything to be perfect but NOTHING is perfect in life. As a traveler, I learn that!

    I have sent similar suggestion for the conference sessions. But overall, I have to say the Vancouver Convention Center is the 100 times better than TBEX NYC last year.

    I hope TBEX organizers will take all these constructive reviews and work to improve them. One thing I forgot to add to them is that they should also open up volunteer tickets (like BlogHer or TypeA). For attendees who complain about cost and want to see improvement, they can be a part of the team to help volunteer during the days of the conference with discount or free tickets!

  8. 8
    Alex Berger says:

    Good info. Never easy managing an event like this and always major issues. Great to see the direction things are moving in. I hope to catch the next one!

  9. 9

    I wasn’t at TBEX NYC, but did get to attend in Vancouver this year. I agree that there were a few glitches here and there, but overall I was very pleased with the conference and plan to attend TBEX Colorado next year. If nothing else, it was invaluable to spend time with a friendly community of travelers/writers, something I don’t get in my regular, everyday life. Mahalo Jen! =)

  10. 10

    Great post.

    One clarification. It was not technical issues that prevented the live podcast as the last session of TBEX ’10 in NYC. We actually did the live podcast, but what was supposed to be a 45 minute or so session got truncated to 15 minutes because the show ran late. We were running into a hard deadline of when we had to be out of the building. Trust me from where I sat it was excruciating.

    • 10.1
      Jennifer says:

      Oh — sorry, Chris! I do remember that you were as gallant and professional as possible during what had to be a very awkward time.

  11. 11
    Spot says:

    Agree with everything.

    It’s tough because the audience is so diverse, not only in the beginner v advanced sort of way but also in the types of blogs they have and what they want to get out of the conference.

    Vancouver really was a great host city. Most people think the riots there happened because their hockey team lost the Stanley Cup but I think it was a reaction to the TBEX bloggers leaving town.

  12. 12

    Thanks, Jen for the thorough and honest assessment. I had planned to go this year but my schedule prevented me from using my ticket. I didn’t feel too bad about that, since I’d been less than wowed with TBEX 2010, so ‘m really happy to hear things improved this year. Based on what you wrote, I’ll probably give it another try next year. On a side note, I really appreciated your comment about the cocktail parties last year being too loud to have a meaningful conversation. I attended two of them and left shortly after arriving both times because my throat was getting raw from yelling and I could barely hear the replies. Wasn’t my idea of a good time and, strangely, this one thing may have set the tone for my entire assessment of last year’s event. So, I’m really glad this problem was addressed.

  13. 13
    ayngelina says:

    Really love the suggestion for business vs. art sessions

    While I did appreciate the writing classes the business posts would have been much more valuable for me.

    I’m not sure if I’ll go again next year, I’ll likely wait to see the schedule first.

  14. 14

    Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts. I think it’s same with many conferences, it takes time to get it right and especially when you want to be unique and only focus on one niche. I sure hope I can make it next year!

  15. 15
    Theodora says:

    Useful suggestions, I think, and good to hear your feedback, especially as someone who is actually monetising, etcetera.

  16. 16
    Ciao Bambino says:

    Excellent post Jen! Thoughtful and honest feedback. As time goes on more diversification will be needed to meet the presentation needs of all the different participants who are at different stages of their blog development. I like the idea of beginning and advanced sessions.

    The networking is always invaluable — I’m amazed at how quickly this conference has grown!

  17. 17

    Good to read another side of the story. I look forward to other attendees sharing their TBEX 2011 experiences. We had to bail and I really wanted to be there. We are signed up for Keystone.

  18. 18

    Great, and more importantly, honest review of TBEX. Bummed we missed it, but maybe next year when it’s closer to home. I don’t even have a passport right now! Good thing there’s a great site like the Vacation Gals to kick me in the rear and get my travel to-dos in line! Great site, and hopefully we’ll see you in Colorado.

  19. 19
    Meg says:

    Thanks for the good report. I skipped Vancouver based on my experience at the 2010 TBEX. One big questions I have or you and the other attendees is: did you learn anything new? Was it largely networking event? The session topics didn’t change much from 2010, but was the context better? As experience bloggers and journalists did you learn anything new or change your business? Thanks.

    • 19.1
      ColoradoGal says:

      Hey Meg –

      To answer your questions, no, I didn’t learn much new (a couple of websites that I might use for tracking tools, a reminder that research/quotes in blog posts can add richness to a story). For me, TBEX has been largely a networking event, though many (like Jen above) are recommending “beginner” and “advanced” sessions for TBEX 2012, so maybe there will be more learning happening in Keystone!


  20. 20

    Thanks for your honest review of the TBEX conference. This is certainly food for thought as I determine which conferences to attend in the next year or two to beef up my knowledge of the blogging world.

  21. 21
    Omkari says:

    Writing is a cop-out. An excuse to live perpetually in fantasy land, where you can create, direct and watch the products of your own head. Very selfish.You made me to believe that it’s right. Your writing is interesting one.

  22. 22

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  23. 23
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