Is a Travel Blogging Conference Right For You? Takeaways and Tips From TBEX Ostrava 2018
This past weekend, I attended my first travel blogging conference, TBEX (also known as Travel Bloggers Exchange), in Ostrava, Czech Republic. I’ve been travel blogging intermittently for all of 2017 when I started my journey into becoming a digital nomad. But even before this blog, I had a Wordpress-hosted blog a few years back when I lived in Hong Kong which also focused on travel. That blog eventually died out, as most of my blogs have in the past. But for some reason, I really feel like Lost Girl On Earth is different and I’d like to make it work!
I started travel blogging as a hobby. It’s currently not a source of income for me, but more of a creative outlet and something I only ever saw as fun and sporadic. This perspective on travel blogging lead me to the following reasons as to why I never considered attending a travel conference before:
- I felt like I wasn’t good at networking
- I felt like an imposter
- I didn’t think it would be worth the money or time
Even though there were definitely things I was and still am pretty unsure of when it comes to the world of travel blogging, going to this conference really gave me a good introduction into the travel and tourism industry. I learned so much in only three days and felt like this was one of the best investments I’ve made towards my path as a travel blogger and online content creator. If you’re having difficulty deciding whether or not to attend a travel blogging conference but are skeptical of your networking skills, blogging experience, or the investment, then I’m about to help you quell your anxieties and/or doubts and hopefully provide you with tips, takeaways, and insights to determine whether or not it’s right for you.
If You're Not Great At Networking, Practice Getting Better
If you’re more of an introvert like me, you know how difficult it can be to just walk up to a complete stranger and start talking about yourself. It feels out-of-body and weird and forceful. You’d rather be standing in a corner talking to a dog than talking to a human. But networking and talking to new people is similar to running or learning how to play guitar or figuring out how to deseed a pomegranate. It’s kind painful or uncomfortable in the beginning, but it gets easier the more you do it i.e. it’s a skill. If networking is something you want to get better at, then you need to practice it! It’s so crucial if you attend conferences or similar events especially if it’s in an industry that you want to advance in. Small talk isn’t for everyone, but you learn to navigate conversations but finding common points of interest.
If you’re not into small talk, do what I like to call “big listening.” Many people just want to talk about themselves and their own experiences, so let them! Ask a lot of targeted questions that actually take into account what they have previously said. This shows that you are paying attention and not just sitting there waiting for the conversation to be over.
Another thing I learned is this: diversify who you are speaking to and hanging out with. It’s nice to make new friends, but if you’re there to learn a new skill talk to people that can offer you growth and guidance. Diversifying who you talk with is so important! Actively seek out those who you could potentially work with in the future or those who can give you a more experienced insight into the industry.
At TBEX, I met a lot of really knowledgeable people who were all good at different things: SEO, content creation, video production, photography, social media marketing, creating partnerships with brands and tourism boards, etc. Everyone had something unique and different to offer, and I would never have known that had I not started talking to different individuals each day.
My Tips for Networking at a Travel Conference are:
Tip #1: Be a good listener to be a good networker and ask a lot of targeted, meaningful questions!
Tip #2: Talk to a diverse range of people—try to meet someone new every day who does something different than you and someone who does the same thing to find out what you can learn and/or become better at.
If You Call Yourself a Travel Blogger, Then Act Like a Travel Blogger
As I mentioned, I was suffering from imposter syndrome before attention TBEX. Who was I to call myself a travel blogger when there were other attendees who had been blogging for five years or more? I even realized that when people asked me what I was doing there, I would hesitantly say, “…I’m…a travel blogger?” I tried to say it more confidently after the first day because I realized that people don’t really question it. They take your word and probably believe you more than you believe yourself. The key here is confidence.
When attending a travel blogging conference (or any industry-specific conference for that matter), you have to keep in mind that there are going to be people who are extreme pros and extreme beginners. And then, there’s everyone else in-between. This was very true of the conference I attended. I found there was a huge range of individuals who had been blogging for a few months as a hobby and some who had been blogging for several years and making six-figures. I went thinking that I am going to be the newest newbie there ever was, but I was wrong! There were people who had fewer followers than me on my social media channels, people who had 150x the amount of email subscribers, people who had never been on a comped tour, and people who were highly influential travel and tourism ambassadors.
The point is, we were all there in the same place at the same time for the same purpose—to connect and meet with people in the industry. It wasn’t about comparing ourselves to one another because everyone had their strengths and weaknesses. We often forget what we’re good at and focus waaayyyyy too much on the things that we’re bad at. This is a death trap! Don’t do this!
My Tips for Getting Over Imposter Syndrome:
Tip #1: Be confident! Declare what you are, say it with confidence, and believe it.
Tip #2: Don’t compare yourself! There will always be people who are more talented and less talented than you.
Are Travel Blogging Conferences Worth the Money?
If you are serious about turning your travel blog into a business, then I would say 100% yes. If you just like travel blogging as a hobby, then I would still say yes. Attending a travel blogging conference gives you the chance to show your face and helps people get more familiar with who you are and what you stand for. First impressions go a long way! You never know who you might want to work with in the future. (Again, this goes back to the networking thing.)
Aside from just showing up, there is a huge opportunity to learn new skills and explore your interests. Interested in photography? There’s a lecture on that. Want to turn your blog from a hobby into a business? You can learn about that, too. At TBEX specifically, we received a schedule in which we could choose to which lectures we wanted to attend each day. Sometimes it was really difficult to choose since there were five offered all at the same time slot usually covering vastly different topics. Here’s an example of the lecture topics we could choose from in one time slot:
- Practical travel writing tips
- Creative collaborations with tourism boards
- Social media hacks to boost your website
- Turning Facebook ads into $500,000 in revenue
- Visual storytelling through travel photography
These are all things I’m sure any success-hungry travel blogger wants to know how to do, so having to choose one was very difficult. On the first day, I made the mistake of going to a session which explored a topic that I was already pretty comfortable with, so I didn’t really feel like I learned anything new. I learned pretty quickly that it was more beneficial to attend lectures that had topics which I felt more uncertain about. Those were the ones I ended up learning the most!
In terms of cost, the price to attend TBEX for a travel blogger was USD $247. Compared to other conferences, I think that’s kind of a mid-range amount. However, I’m not entirely sure since I haven’t attended any other travel conferences before.
So was it worth it? For the most part, I would say yes. I felt like it would be beneficial to go and connect with other travel bloggers and learn some of their secrets to success. And I did learn a lot of good information and make some good connections while I was there. When you’re not certain about investing in something like a conference, it’s worth considering what your goals are or what you would like to achieve by attending.
If you’ve read this far, it means you’re seriously considering attending a travel blogging conference, so why not just try it? Sometimes it’s worth exploring your interests and hobbies because you never know where they could take you. In order to create a life that you are excited about living, you have to pursue things that you enjoy and truly believe in.
My Tips for Making a Conference Worth Your While:
Tip #1: Make the conference worth your time by seeking out lecture topics that you have no idea about or that you’ve been avoiding learning for your own blogging business. Those are the ones that you will learn the most from and will definitely be more interesting to you than something that you already have a level of comfortability with.
Tip #2: Think of paying for a conference as an investment in yourself and your blogging business. It’s an opportunity to learn new skills and connect with key industry leaders in a very short time frame.
Who Attends Travel Blogging Conferences?
Surprisingly, not just travel bloggers. There were vloggers, photographers, and social media influencers. Additionally, there were representatives from tourism boards, airlines, train lines, travel accommodation websites, and brands.
Each day of TBEX, travel industry leaders gave lectures that provided so much useful information and really opened my eyes to the importance of things that I hadn’t really thought about before or had severely underestimated the importance of blog post analytics, creating press kits, branded email templates, and selling your own products, just to name a few. There was also daily speed-networking sessions where you could meet big-name brand representatives from companies like booking.com and Trivago.
Along with the household names, there were also many representatives from tourism boards. I found out that TBEX specifically holds their conferences in lesser-known destinations in with the intention of increasing tourism to that specific area. As the Czech Republic’s third-largest city, Ostrava isn’t exactly a well-known place for tourists. But through TBEX and other Ostrava-specific events such as Colours of Ostrava (a music festival held week before the conference), the Czech Tourism board was clearly making a valiant effort to put Ostrava on the map and compete with more popular Czech cities like Prague. In general, there were also a ton of tourism board reps from different countries and cities, including Slovakia, Hamburg Tourism, and Sri Lanka. The majority, however, were from Central Europe. There are also trip-specific tour representatives that offer unique activities and tours. A notable one that I'd like to work with eventually was Northern Hikes, which provides hiking tours in the beautiful Czech region of Bohemian Switzerland.
The Pros and Cons of TBEX Ostrava 2018
Attending this conference was overall one of the best decisions I’ve made towards investing in myself and my passion for travel blogging and creating content. I would attend again in the future, but I would also love to try going to different travel conferences that are a bit bigger in scale to network with a more varied pool. A few pros and cons from TBEX Ostrava specifically are as follows.
Pros of TBEX 2018
- Very knowledgeable travel industry leaders and tourism representatives, travel writers, and bloggers in attendance
- Keynote speakers were well-selected and usually very inspirational, motivational, and provided good tips
- A wide variety of travel-related topics
- Extremely practical and useful information for beginners and experts alike
- Opportunity to see a less-touristy destination
- The chance to attend FAM trips
- A great opportunity for networking
- Good first introduction to travel blogging conferences
- Varying levels of experience of attendees, making suitable for bloggers of all levels
Cons of TBEX 2018
- Disorganized, especially for first-timers; it was unclear where we had to register and check in
- Not enough food options for vegetarians/vegans and not enough food in general during the evening events
- Some lecturers provided older information that wasn’t always useful or relevant
- Registering on TBEX's partner site, BloggerBridge.com, was not user-friendly when it came to creating profiles and scheduling networking appointments
- Email communications for things such as comped travel were sent last-minute, so it was often hard to take advantage of the offers
- The party venues were hit or miss; the last night everyone was a bit scattered in the city
- Lack of definition when it came to glossary terms (I had no idea what “FAM” stood for, and thought that it was short for “Family” trips. More on this below.)
As I said previously, I am so glad that I decided to attend this conference, but I had no idea that I would be able to attend free trips and tours! Admittedly, I also didn’t read the emails too in-depth, but I also don’t think there was much information on how to sign up for trips and if it was even necessary to do so. But I do think that ultimately, the pros outweighed the cons.
For travel bloggers who are still somewhat unfamiliar with travel industry jargon, there wasn’t a lot of explanation when it came to defining certain phrases that were thrown around quite often. So for those who are interesting in attending a travel conference and need some things defined, here are a few glossary terms that are worth knowing:
Travel Blogging Terms You'll Likely Hear At A Travel Blogging Conference
FAM Trips: FAM = Familiarization. FAM trips are usually free or heavily reduced in price and allow travel writers, operators, and agents to experience new places that wish to bring more tourists and an increase in sales to a specific destination.
DMO: DMO = Destination Marketing Organization. These organizations represent different tourist destinations and help promote and develop that destination through long-term marketing strategies.
Affiliate Partnerships: An Affiliate Partnership is a relationship between an individual and a business in which the two parties leverage one another’s products, brand, or reach.
FIT: FIT = Frequent Independent Traveler. Trips are designed for these types of travelers whereby the trip is fully curated and comped depending on the needs of the individual.
Press Kit: A Press Kit (a.k.a. Media Kit) is information about a person or a brand that is distributed to companies that you want to work/collaborate with (kind of like a resume).
This list is obviously not too extensive, but these were just some terms that I came across at TBEX and had to Google. There are way more travel industry terms and abbreviations that I have yet to find out about, but these are just someones that I heard being thrown around pretty frequently at TBEX.
9 Practical Action Steps for TBEX First-Timers
1) Sign up for PreBEX and PostBEX trips (before and after the actual conference) to actually get a feel for the city it's being hosted in. (I didn't know this was possible, hence my lack of tourist photos in this post.)
2) Read the emails that TBEX sends out! This will help you when booking your tours and know who the speakers are before you arrive.
3) Join the Facebook group to find out about updates, scheduling, events, and other people who are attending. Each conference creates their own location-specific group!
4) Bring business cards! (I forgot to do this, but I ended up making a digital business card in 15 minutes using the mobile app, Canva.)
5) Set up your networking appointments and learn how to use BloggerBridge.com!
6) Check out this page from the TBEX site that has some more useful info and gives an overview of what first-timers should expect.
7) Practice your elevator pitch. What is the theme of your blog? Do you focus on a certain niche? Who is your audience? Know the answers to these questions before you go so you'll be able to give clear answers right when someone asks you.
8) Explore every opportunity. If you are thinking of collaborating with a brand by going on a press trip, creating content, or becoming a brand ambassador, just ask. It never hurts and the worst thing that can happen is you'll hear no.
9) Stay connected with people you meet! If you are a traveler, you never know who you might run into again and where.
I hope you found this post useful! Did I miss anything? If there’s anything else you’d like to ask me or know about attending TBEX Ostrava 2018, let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
xx - Steph
P.S. I AM A TRAVEL BLOGGER! There—I said it ;)