It’s taken me a couple of weeks since I returned from Cancun to sit down and write my post-TBEX write-up. This is for several reasons; a return to real life and day-to-day routines, sick kids and an even sicker me. But what has really stopped me from writing is that general feeling of disappointment that comes when something big and exciting has finished. Like those first few weeks of January after Christmas has been and gone. As my Cancun blues start to fade, however, I feel it’s time to re-cap on what I did, what I learned and, in short, what was truly an excellent few days.
First Time TBEX
TBEX was my first ever travel bloggers conference. I have worked as a freelance travel writer for years but globetotting as an adventurous family travel blog is still relatively new and the world of travel conferences even more so. I had read the blurbs, digested the testimonials and believed that this would be a good event to attend. However, as the conference dates drew nearer, I started to get cold feet. What if it was all pom-poms and American cheer (no offence, I’m just a cynical Brit)? What if it was all really cliquey? What if, quite frankly, it was just a bit rubbish? Fortunately none of my fears came to pass and from the moment I boarded my Volaris flight from Mexico City, accompanied by a live Mariachi band who serenaded us down the aisle (yes, really), I was confident that I had made the right decision. So, what did I learn in three days? Quite a lot as it turns out and hopefully these tips will help other TBEX newbies who are heading to Athens in October.
What is TBEX?
The official answer is that it’s the “world’s largest gathering of travel bloggers, writers, new media content creators, and social media savvy travel industry professionals”. My answer is that it’s the meeting of a fantastic group of like-minded people, from all corners of the world (15 countries were represented in Cancun). I can’t tell you how inspiring it was to meet people working in the same field as you, all hugely passionate about travel, writing and social media.
How long should I go to TBEX for?
The conference itself is held over two complete days. The opening event and party was held on the Thursday night and Friday and Saturday were all-day conference days. I had read various posts pre-trip that all recommended arriving before the conference to make the most of the pre-TBEX tours and, if possible, to stay on afterwards and join a post-TBEX tour. So what did I do? Obviously I ignored any sage advice from experienced TBEX-goers and arrived the day before the conference started and left the night that it finished.
When I go to TBEX again, I will definitely arrive in time to take advantage of one of the many fantastic tours planned in advance of the conference. Not only do these tours introduce you to activities in the area (check out Pint Size Pilot’s experience of swimming with whale sharks here), but also it’s a great way to meet other bloggers prior to the conference starting.
Accommodation at TBEX
Despite the good deal that was being offered, I chose not to stay in the Moon Palace Resort where TBEX was being held. The plus side was that I saved money by staying at the Westin Resort & Spa instead and here I also met the lovely Kathy from Will Run For Miles and Debra of Traveling Well For Less, both seasoned TBEX goers.
Having not been to previous TBEXs I can’t compare the organisation with others but what I will say is that it was a bit of a pain not being closer to the conference venue. It was a 20-minute taxi ride from the Westin to the Moon Palace and although a shuttle was organised for conference days, this only picked up people from the hotel zone in town, nowhere near where I was staying. The Westin was located between the hotel zone and the venue, a kind of Cancun no-man’s land.
The other benefit to staying at the conference venue is that you naturally meet other bloggers when you’re lying by the pool sipping margaritas working really hard on that next blog post. That and the fact that all the hotel rooms came with a free bar and in-room Jacuzzi.
How TBEX works
TBEX Cancun ran from Thursday evening to Saturday night. I arrived on the Wednesday afternoon and enjoyed drinks courtesy of Travel Massive that evening in a little restaurant in Cancun’s hotel zone. This small gathering was a great way to meet some people initially including Erika from Travel Massive, David from Travel Blog Success and Carmen of Carmen’s Travel Tips.
Thursday was fairly quiet until the early evening when we were bussed out to the opening event at Xcaret, an “eco-archaeological park”. Xcaret was one of the conference sponsors and we were hosted for a dinner and cultural show. There are some great blog posts detailing the evening including this one by The Girl and Globe.
Post-show there was a quick networking margarita (I would have preferred much longer here than time allowed) where I finally got to meet the fantastic Tara Cannon, from Pint Size Pilot who had previously written an excellent (and very popular) guest post for globetotting on her family adventure to Panama.
The benefits to events such as this one held at Xcaret are the not-so-obvious ones; it’s the people you meet on the bus, the folk that you sit next to when watching the show or that you meet over a drink. On the journey to Xcaret I sat next to the wonderful Paige, a fellow family travel blogger who writes at All Over The Map. I had the very good fortune to steal a seat next to writer and fellow Mexico-resident Tim Leffel, author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations and Travel Writing 2.0 among others on the way back from Xcaret. In front of us sat travel blogging royalty Deb and Dave of The Planet D – I also saw these guys talk during the conference and now want them to adopt me and take me travelling with them.
The TBEX conference
Friday and Saturday were the conference proper with three talks a day bookended by the opening and closing keynotes. I found the talks to be excellent – informative, entertaining, relevant and across a interesting range of topics. The only problem was choosing which one to attend – fortunately the talks have all be recorded, thank you TBEX!
I learned how to get my blog all over the media without paying a penny from Carol Margolis of Smart Women Travelers and was entertained and educated by Ian Cleary and his 15 tips to dramatically grow my website traffic. I was especially pleased to hear Ian talk as I’m a big fan of his RazorSocial newsletters chock full of social media tips. I also listened to Dave and Deb from The Planet D explain how they work with brands including Expedia and American Express Canada.
On day two Matt Villano (shoeless and in a sombrero) taught us how to ‘Shake It Off’, as well as how to make a six figure salary freelancing. Family travel pros Aime O’Shaughnessy of Ciao Bambino, Mara Gorman from The Mother of All Trips, and Jyl Johnson Pattee from Mom It Forward discussed creating compelling campaigns and in the afternoon we talked Blogging in Latin America with Erin de Santiago, Dorian Nunez, Kelly McLaughlin and David Lee.
Speed networking at TBEX
Every afternoon the speed networking sessions took place (exactly like speed dating but without any alcohol involved). Here you have 10 minutes to sit down and convince the DMO, PR firm, tour company, whoever that you are the one that they want to work with. In addition to meeting some great industry people, I loved how receptive – excited, even – these companies were about working with bloggers. Ten minutes is no time at all, make sure to prepare your pitch well and ensure that you research the company that you’re meeting with so that you sound knowledgeable (even if you don’t feel it). I definitely came away with some incredibly valuable contacts.
Speaking of contacts… one thing I hadn’t realised was just how many travel industry representatives would be at the conference in addition to those who had a table for speed networking. Thoroughly research who else is attending and who you may like to meet – this applies to fellow bloggers as much as industry insiders. I had a couple of valuable meetings with fellow bloggers that had been organised via Blogger Bridge and I would definitely look to set up more meetings next time.
What should I bring to TBEX?
Business cards: I brought around 200 which was too many but rather too many than not enough!
Sharpie marker: I read this piece of advice on one of the TBEX guides posted pre-Cancun and it was definitely something I would pass on. Bring a marker and write down notes on each business card you receive immediately after meeting the person. That way you’re not left wondering “who the…” when you get home and are faced with wading through a stack of faceless cards.
Creative Branding: I had stickers printed with the globetotting brand as well as a phone cover – both were subtle but effective. Other people had branded t-shirts and I saw one branded bag. Having something to distinguish yourself (other than your TBEX-issued nametag) is not a bad idea.
Media Pack: I’m a notebook and pen, paperback instead of Kindle, Moleskin diary over electronic calendar kind of girl so I was always going to go with a printed Media Pack. It also saves a lot trouble should the internet decided to play up mid-networking!
The following are just some of the highlights from the event:
Best Day Breakfast: I was fortunate enough to be invited to a breakfast hosted by Best Day where I met fellow Mexico travel bloggers and learned the story behind the company. This is a company that truly believes in the power of travel blogging and who are keen to work with Mexico-based travel bloggers. We are all later invited to say hello to the Best Day cameras.
Expedia “More Selfies in More Places” party: Held on the Friday night on one of the terraces at Moon Palace this was a great way to meet more people AND it was fun!
Networking: Not only do you make contacts during speed networking and organised events, you meet people throughout the conference – getting a coffee, standing in line for lunch, organising transport at the Best Day counter. I have also continued to connect with people who were at TBEX, but who I just didn’t get a chance to meet in person such as Amelia from The Everyday Journey who will shortly be moving her family to Cozumel.
Westin group: Although the Westin wasn’t the most conveniently located hotel, I did get to meet these great bloggers…
What did I learn
In addition to everything that I took away from the talks I took away the following:
- Events like this are important if you want to succeed as a blogger – they are a great way to meet people, to network and to get your brand out there.
- If you want to run a successful blog, you need to be prepared to put in the hours and spend some money. Tim Anderson of Marginal Boundaries sums it up here:
- Meeting other like-minded travel bloggers (in my case, family travel bloggers) was hugely inspiring.
You can get as much out of TBEX as you want (and as you are willing and prepared to put in). For some people, it’s enough to simply meet other bloggers and have a fun (and informative) few days in the sunshine. For others, it’s the chance to make some excellent industry contacts and to secure work and travel opportunities over the next year. It’s also the chance to learn from successful bloggers and writers and to take your work and your brand to that next level.
I would love to hear anyone else’s thoughts, please feel free to comment and tell me anything I missed!