It’s been interesting to participate in the annual Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) Conference since its infancy. From a small gathering in one room in Chicago in 2009, the first actual TBEX conference was the next year, in New York City. That one, frankly, was a disaster. It was as disorganized and messy — and noisy! — as a little kid. Last year, the TBEX Conference in Vancouver was a big improvement, though there were still many organizational issues and programming problems that left a lot of attendees grousing and unhappy (sort of like moody teenagers). This year, BlogWorld & New Media Expo purchased the TBEX Conference, and the improvement is impressive. Having an actual conference and event organizer company organize TBEX has raised the level of professionalism throughout the entire production. It is clear that, with BlogWorld on board, we’re watching as the Travel Blog Exchange Conference grows up and becomes the conference our wonderful community of travel bloggers deserves.
The positive change in the Travel Blog Conference was in evidence from the get-go. The Road Rally from Denver to Keystone, Colorado was a fun way for attendees to get to see more of the state than just the inside of the airport, the inside of the airport shuttle, and the inside of the conference center in Keystone, Colorado. Once in Keystone, the opening night welcoming party was designed to be pitch-perfect with our surroundings: This being the Keystone Resort in Colorado, TBEX attendees took gondola rides up to a Taste of Vail party, with the interior decked out in a sophisticated and enticing way. The food was incredible and the drinks were flowing. Many of us were blown away by the presentation (and did I mention the food and drinks?) as well as the high level of friendly service.
Of course, the Travel Blog Exchange Conference is about much, much more than parties and socializing. The next day, the TBEX 2012 conference sessions had a stronger emphasis on professional aspects of the business of travel blogging — a huge improvement over the more free-wheeling feeling at previous years’ TBEX conferences. The conference panels and presentations were categorized into Tourism, Tools of Travel Blogging, Art of Travel Blogging, Business of Travel Blogging, and Beyond the Blog: Business of Travel tracks.
Keynote speaker CC Chapman energized and motivated the crowd, and keynote speaker Rand Fishkin enabled travel bloggers to feel more comfortable with marketing themselves without losing their authentic voices. They were both positive, optimistic advocates for blogging, and engaging, entertaining speakers.
While I unfortunately missed the closing keynote and closing ceremonies (it was Father’s Day! I had to get home), there is no doubt that this was the best TBEX conference yet. While TBEX Vancouver was better organized than TBEX New York City, the growth in improvement in every respect this year is off the charts. This is not hyperbole.
Room for Improvement
No matter how impressive a conference may be, there is always room for improvement. Two issues that could use improvement in next year’s TBEX conference are the location and the general level of the panels.
Location: The Keystone Resort is at a higher elevation than most people are used to, and it’s two hours from Denver International Airport. Don’t get me wrong: I loved Keystone Resort. It is a gorgeous property in a stunning setting, and the staff could not have been better. They were also incredibly friendly and seemed genuinely happy to help. But we were at an elevation of over 9000 feet, and a lot of attendees felt altitude sickness. This ranged from slight dizziness to serious nausea and debilitating headaches. This is no small thing: a weekend conference is, obviously, only three days long, and it can take three or four days to fully acclimate to a higher altitude. The Colorado mountain resort area is absolutely beautiful and I don’t regret that TBEX was at Keystone Resort this year, however, having the conference at a lower elevation destination would be advisable for a higher degree of attendee enjoyment. It would also be nice to have the conference somewhat closer to an airport, for transportation and overall travel purposes.
Panel Level: I heard two complaints about the overall level of the presentations and panels. One was that they were too basic, and the other was that they were too advanced. Funny, right? Well, clearly this says less about the presentations and the panels than it does about the population of travel bloggers in attendance. Namely, that they are diverse. Young and old, backpackers to luxury travel specialists, and most importantly, beginners to experts. For the panels and solo presentations to better serve the needs of the attendees, it would be smart to offer professional training at differing levels. I would really, really have loved an Advanced WordPress presentation, for example, and some bloggers told me that they would have really wanted to hear a basic “how to get invited on your first press trip” type of panel.
Destination location selection and tweaking presentations for different levels of travel blogger experience would be easy adjustments for the Travel Blog Exchange Conference. BlogWorld bought TBEX after some plans for the 2012 conference were already in motion, and the conference organizers had a lot on their plate — some of which may have been unexpected. Any other issue that cropped up prior to the conference or along the way is understandable, and, in terms of the overall experience of TBEX Keystone, small potatoes.
Everyone that I spoke to had glowing things to say about the Travel Blog Exchange Conference in Keystone, Colorado. It gives the travel and tourism industry, travel bloggers, and travel PR specialists a sense of pride and a renewed sense of purpose to have such a useful, well-organized conference specific to our interests. As Rick Calvert, CEO of BlogWorld & New Media Expo told me, “we want to give travel bloggers the conference they deserve.” Thank you, Rick: BlogWorld and TBEX have done it. We finally have a professional, interesting, exciting and well-organized travel blog conference, and simply by having one, we can feel like we do deserve it. It’s a thrill to watch and be part of the process, as the Travel Blog Exchange Conference grows up.
Disclosure: ColoradoGal Kara Williams and I were speakers at the 2012 TBEX Conference in Keystone, Colorado, and had our expenses covered as a result.