I attended TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) Europe in Girona Spain a couple of weeks ago. It was my second TBEX that I attended, the first one being in Copenhagen, 2 years ago. I’ve also attended two TBU (Travel Bloggers Unite) Conferences, along with WTM (World Travel Market) and ITB (International Tourism Exchange). I’ve never written about any of these before. But a couple of weeks post TBEX, I feel compelled to write this.
So here’s what I REALLY learned at TBEX Europe:
Spanish bloggers are too modest:
TBEX Europe had a very heavy U.S. focus which I found odd and frankly a bit arrogant for a conference held in Europe. The three key note speakers, were all American. I strongly felt there should be at least one European keynote, ideally a Spanish one.
Surprisingly many of the Spanish bloggers I spoke with, shrugged it off saying “But Americans are better public speakers than we are, ” or “Americans are better at selling themselves.” Some of the most talented bloggers I know are Spanish bloggers. Isabel Romano of Diaro De a Bordo has her own radio show – something I know most bloggers from any country would kill for. Eduardo Perez of hombrelobo is Spain’s top video blogger with more than couple of hundred thousand hits on his blog and his YouTube Channel. Carlos Olmo Bosco of Vagamundos has more sponsorship than any other blogger I’ve ever met. Heck the guy probably even has his underwear sponsored. For the record, I’m just venturing a guess here, I don’t actually know this as fact.
I can’t imagine the same laissez-faire attitude if only Spanish keynotes (no matter how talented) where brought in as keynotes to a conference in the U.S. In my humble opinion many Spanish bloggers undervalue themselves. According to Wikipedia, there are 387 million native Spanish speakers, while only 365 million native English speakers. Spanish bloggers are a huge force to reckon with – and some of them need to give themselves more credit. Lesson Learned: Cultural differences can rear its head in the most surprising ways sometimes.
Networking is Scary for a Lot of People
I was fortunate to know quite a few people at TBEX this year, but I’ll never forget my first few blogger events. It’s terrifying to walk into a crowded room, where everyone seems deep in conversation and seems to know everyone – except for you. There is nothing worse than feeling alone while being in a room full of people. It seems that I am not alone, quite a few people I spoke with voiced similar fears, especially bloggers who were attending TBEX for the first time. I was relieved to learn that so many other bloggers felt the same way. I think it would be a great idea to hold smaller breakout rooms/sessions where it’s easier to meet people. Perhaps even a reception room for first time attendees or pairing up first time attendees with bloggers who have attended TBEX before. Basically, anything that would make first timers feel more comfortable. Lesson learned: Push through your fear and start a conversation. And if you’re the one who sees someone standing alone, looking uncomfortable, approach them and try to make them feel included, perhaps even introducing them to a few other people. I continue to push past my fears and start conversations with people, but small talk is not really my thing. I also find it hard to build a meaningful connection with someone when you only have a few minutes and then it’s on to the next person. Which leads me to my next point:
The Most Meaningful Learning Occurs in Small Groups (Not the Sessions Themselves)
Don’t get me wrong, I almost always pick up a few tips in the sessions and I generally enjoy them, but my most meaningful learning comes from conversations held one-one or in smaller groups with people that I’ve gotten to know better. One of the highlights for me was speaking to Debbra Corbeil of The Planet D. who I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know while on two blog trips. I have so much respect for her both as a blogger and a person, and our conversations have helped shape the strategies that I am pursuing with my blog and offshoot businesses of my blog.
Another one of my favorite highlights of TBEX was sharing incredible tapas with Barbara Weibel of Hole in the Donut, Heather Cowper of Heather on her Travels, (both ladies who along with Isabel, I had the pleasure of sharing a Wimdu apartment), Simon Falvo of Wild About Travel and Janice Waugh of Solo Traveler for an impromptu dinner in Girona. We talked shop – everything from our SEO strategies to our still (mostly) secret future plans. Well except for Janice whose not so secret exciting The Traveler’s Handbooks series is launching on October 10, 2012. We offered each other feedback and encouragement. I came away with further refinements for my own (still secret) plans. It may just have been the most empowering dinner I have ever had! I have the utmost respect for each of these ladies and appreciated their feedback, which will be valuable in the months to come. All I can say is that if even half of what we discussed comes to fruition there are some big things on the horizon for each of us.
Lesson learned: For me it’s better to get to know a few people really well, than a lot of people not so well. You will get more (both personally and professionally) by doing this. On a personal note, it’s also how Dalene and Pete Heck of Hektic Travels came to hang out in Munich and cat sit for us and how Laurence’s girlfriend Vera of Finding the Universe tried (unsuccessfully unfortunately) to perform voodoo on my cat (long story). Even more valuable and meaningful have been the bloggers I’ve met who I now consider to be good friends, which includes many of the aforementioned bloggers.
Travel Blogger Really Like to Enjoy Themselves
After attending several travel blogging events this comes as no surprise, but I am surprised at how many bloggers straggle into the conference ragged-looking and hungover at noon. Don’t get me wrong, I like having a good time too (although my days of staying out until 5:00 am are long over), but I do wonder how this reflects on the community of travel bloggers as a whole.
Sometimes it seems that one minute we’re complaining about not being taking seriously enough. Then the next we’re exhibiting behaviour that seems anything but professional – especially at a conference. I’ve heard more than one industry professional lament on this as well (the ones that weren’t out until 5:00 am). Lesson Learned: Obviously everyone is free to conduct themselves as they see fit. But for me, the focus on these conferences is the work. I represent myself best when I’ve had a reasonable amount of sleep the night before.
In sum, I learned that to make the most out of TBEX, you should define your objectives before you go.
Yours might be quite different from mine, but I got what I needed out of TBEX Europe because I came with clear objectives: 1)To focus on work (but still have fun) 2)Make a few strong connections and reconnect with bloggers/industry professionals by building relationships that will remain strong for months and hopefully for years to come. Two checks!
I would love to hear your thoughts on what you learned at TBEX Europe!
A special shout out to Jaume Marin and his team from Costa Brava Tourism for the AMAZING activities they put on to support TBEX!