I just got back from Toronto where I attendedTBEX 2013, Travel Bloggers Exchange. Founded by Kim Mance of Go Galavanting, it’s the largest travel blogging conference of its kind. Mance was the commander at the TBEX conference I last attended in 2010, and I could tell it was all very over-whelming for her to organize back then. I was so impressed that she had brought all these cool people together from around the world to discuss travel writing. There were sponsors - not many, but she had them. Anyway, she sold TBEX to Blog World in 2012 (she needed more assistance and resources) and now the conference has virtually doubled its attendance, toppling 1300 bloggers at once. It moves from city to city annually, with the local tourist boards coming on in a very big way to promote the heck out of their destinations using all of the attending influencers (which is smart).
Three years ago I wrote this in a wrap-up: “What I found really interesting about this group was that everyone possesses such passion about travel blogging. They all love to travel and they love to write about it, and they certainly love to talk about it.” There must have been 250 of us, at most, squeezed into a tiny movie theater in downtown NYC. I remember the experience as kind of over-whelming. I was not only a novice in the blogging world, but I also had barely made a dent in the travel blogosphere. I remember leaving the conference early as a result of my insecurities and I vowed to start a sister travel site right here in this very post. However, the conference was small enough so that I could walk up to my favorite writers and spend real time with them. It was possible to find anyone, and I did, particularly my travel blogging legend, Journey Woman.
The 2013 conference was a completely different experience than in 2010 – both overwhelming yet empowering in its own rite.The sessions were led by true experts in the travel blogging and social media and the content was social at the core. Travel destinations and companies were there in full force to meet the bloggers in a much bigger way than I ever expected. There were tours galore before and after the conference set up for attendees to really experience not only Toronto, but all of Canada. I went on an incredible Instagram walking tour that was organized by TBEX as an offering to attendees and I was given a pass by the tourist board to explore the city with free entrance to a variety of sites and museums. And yes, there was still plenty of drinking – bloggers love to drink (including me).
Times have changed in this space, more than I had clearly realized. According to speaker Bruce Poontip, “Travel bloggers are currently the most powerful force (in tourism) at the moment.” I don’t think this was the case three years ago. It felt strange to hear it repeated over and over this time, but it was stated so often, it must be true! There are certainly travel bloggers who have risen to the top of the game and they were all speaking on various panels talking about monetization and building community, and TBEX also featured social media experts and PR pro’s as part of the conversations. Each had a power-point and came across as very polished, not so off cuff as a few years ago. Sponsors met with bloggers individually in what they called “speed dating” sessions and bloggers who had never come face to face with PR folks had their opportunity. I often heard that success is about quality, not hits, but I know from experience that sponsors do look at stats. I’ll keep believing it’s a combination of the two.
I kind of liked the rough around the edges feeling of the conference a few years ago and the fact that I was in on something that was on the verge. Travel blogging had not taken off and we all clearly had a lot to learn. Three years ago, it was clear that most in the field were not making money, but today it is very possible to not only make money, but to do well. There is a group of writers who have figured it out and are able to travel for a living and everyone at the conference was leaning on the edge of their seats to find out how they, too, can live following their passions. This prospect puts pressure on the people who aren’t doing as well, but it also gives them hope that they will.
Me? I never started that sister site but I did start a respectable freelance side career full of family travel writing jobs (mostly paid) for Ciao Bambino, CBS, Family Vacation Critic, Go Girlfrend and Savvy Source. I aim to set that site up in the next year, but I feel fully entrenched in the blogosphere now and am certainly no longer a fish out of water. I fit in just fine this time at TBEX, having established a firm place in the family travel space. Needless to say, I didn’t leave the conference early and stayed as long as I could.
And I sure loved seeing Toronto. Check out my Instagram feed and follow my footsteps through this great city.