Last week Victoria and I, and several hundred other travel bloggers, descended upon Fort Lauderdale, Florida for TBEX North America 2015. Held annually in various locations around the world – Europe, Asia and North America – this travel bloggers conference is a big deal in the world of blogging and we were excited to attend. It was the first time for Victoria and the second TBEX for me, I previously went to the 2014 conference held in Cancun, Mexico.
TBEX stands for Travel Bloggers Exchange and it’s billed as the world’s largest gathering of travel bloggers, writers, new media content creators and social media savvy travel industry professionals. The idea is for like-minded travel bloggers to connect, for industry professionals and bloggers to meet and for bloggers and travel industry folk to learn a thing or two.
This year the conference was held at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Center and it was really well run. There was good food too – always a bonus!
However, before the conference began we had the chance to explore Fort Lauderdale. TBEX runs over two full days but there are “PreTBEX” tours that highlight all there is to see and do in the host destination. Victoria chose a Historical Walking Tour and I opted for a spot of kayaking.
Historical Fort Lauderdale
This three-hour docent-led tour took in several of Fort Lauderdale’s major sites and, according to Victoria, gave an interesting insight into life before the area became famous for its beaches. Archaeological evidence suggests that humans occupied this part of Florida as far back as 2000BC and that the Spanish also stopped here during their Age of Exploration. However, Fort Lauderdale’s modern history stretches back only 100 years.
The first stop on the tour, and Victoria’s favourite, was Bonnet House, home to one of the earliest settlers, Hugh Taylor Birch. The building houses an eclectic mix of art and curios and is home to wonderful stories as well – guaranteed to keep kids entertained too if you were to bring them along!
Part of the tour was in a water taxi along the New River, Fort Lauderdale’s first highway, which offered a peek at the extraordinary mansions and luxury yachts that now populate parts of the city. Later stops included Stranahan House, built in 1901, and then the Fort Lauderdale History Center, both of which are located along the Riverwalk.
Kayaking Through The Mangroves
While Victoria was learning about Fort Lauderdale’s history, I was practicing my nascent kayaking skills along the canals and waterways. This tour, run by the excellent Atlantic Coast Kayak, took us along Middle River accompanied by lively commentary detailing the city’s history.
There was a great group of bloggers on the tour and we spotted several iguanas as we paddled along. The highlight, however, was the very quick glimpse a baby manatee and his mum – although they were much too quick to get a photo!
The TBEX Conference
Not only do the PreTBEX tours introduce you to the host destination but they’re also an opportunity to meet fellow travel bloggers before the conference proper starts. And this, without doubt, is one of the best things about TBEX. Being surrounded by like-minded folk who live and breathe travel is a lot fun. It’s also very inspiring. Even better, however, at this TBEX there was a fantastic number of family travel bloggers who we finally got to meet after following them all on social media.
The conference itself runs over two days and is organised with three breakout sessions each day followed by a couple of hours each afternoon for “speed networking”. TBEX is topped and tailed by Opening and Closing Keynote Sessions and there are a couple of parties thrown in as well. It’s a busy few days!
The breakout sessions are held in areas such as content, commerce, community and business and focus on exploring and developing the skills needed to improve your blog. There were some great speakers this year and we enjoyed sessions by Ciao Bambino on Monetising Content Through Trip Planning Services and tips on how to Tweet Your Way to the Top by Rachelle Lucas as well as how to Embrace Visual Storytelling by Frederic Gonzalo.
I found that there was a lot of overlap with the sessions this year and I don’t feel that there was quite the same variety of topics as TBEX Cancun. However, this could be down to me choosing the wrong sessions or the fact that I know a bit more about blogging now than I did 12 months ago.
The afternoon speed networking sessions were both fun and exhausting. It’s always slightly manic but it’s a great chance to meet DMOs and PR representatives and to pitch your blog. We met with some really interesting Tourism Boards and we’re excited about the possibility of working with some of them.
There were a lot of highlights for us this year including…
- Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of TBEX Fort Lauderdale was spending time with a truly inspiring group of family travel bloggers. There must have been at least 20 of us who drag our kids around the world and it was fun to finally meet face-to-face having previously only ever communicated online.
- Carol Cain from Girl Gone Travel gave a really inspiring Opening Keynote. It was entertaining, it was moving, it tugged at your heart strings and it made you laugh. I loved it.
- Similarly, legendary travel writer Don George’s Closing Keynote was a wonderful way to end the conference.
- The opening party at MODS, the Museum of Discovery & Science in Fort Lauderdale was great. I want to bring my kids to this museum! There were snakes, there was a zombie ride, there was a simulated airboat ride through the everglades and there were otters. Although the otters were sadly asleep when we visited. Oh, and there were awesome #HelloSunny sunglasses.
- The Travel Massive party on Tuesday night kicked TBEX off with a “silent disco”, which was a little odd given we were all there to network but it was bizarrely a lot of fun!
- The Speed Networking Sessions; these are fairly exhausting, and I couldn’t help but feel for the DMOs and PR reps by the end of Friday. However, the short 10-minute sessions are a really good opportunity to make contacts. And it’s also quite fun!
We had a great time at TBEX Fort Lauderdale. The chance to see old friends, make new ones and create good contacts was invaluable. There’s lots to be learned and much fun to be had. Thank you TBEX for organising a great conference and to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau for looking after us all so well. Roll on TBEX 2016!
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