My thoughts on the TBEX 2013 travel blogging conference

Sheila Scarborough speaking at TBEX Toronto 2013 (courtesy Leslie McLellan)
Talking about Twitter chats at TBEX Toronto 2013 (courtesy Leslie McLellan)

My relationship with the TBEX travel blogging conference dates from the second one in New York (kind of a pickup ball game with a little over 100 people in an NYU theater in Greenwich Village, where I spoke on a panel about SEO) to this year’s 1300+ attendee extravaganza in Toronto.

I liked both of them.

There’s room for a variety of events in today’s travel media industry: small, intimate, casual, not super-organized in addition to huge, well-sponsored, all-business.

I’ve already given a brief summary of my TBEX presentation on Twitter chats for professional development, branding and marketing, but here are my thoughts on the current state of travel blogging, based on a comment that I left on my friend Pam Mandel’s conference review post, Less is So Much More.

Here is how I see it:  there is an arc of perception about travel blogging, and we’ve only moved across about one-third to one-half of it. TBEX is simply reflecting that. Very roughly, the perceptions look like this….

1)  Travel bloggers are a bunch of cheapo backpacking poor writers who don’t bring much value to travel storytelling. They’re rank amateurs, not businesslike and not properly respectful of real journalism. Any clown can write a blog. They sure hug a lot, and eat strange food.

2)  Maybe some travel bloggers are legit and maybe some are VERY legit, but they’re not nearly as important as print writers, and they’re still kinda weird. Also, why do they always demand WiFi? Such a sense of entitlement!

3)  Hey, wow, there’s an internet and there’s this social media thing. Travel bloggers seem to understand it. Maybe they aren’t so weird. They’ll bring us free coverage. Yay! Smooches! Did we say “free?!”

4)  Hey, WTF? We’ve developed this whole list of “influencers” based on their Klout scores, and we send them eblasts and swag and freebies and Holy Smokes, now they want to be PAID to create content? None of this works with our current organizational silos of PR and marketing and paid media and earned media and press trips. Gaaah.

I think we’re sort of muddling around between #3 and #4 right now (heads up – that means working for free is falling off of the acceptability cliff for a lot of bloggers.)

TBEX has been instrumental in making the marketing communications world understand and appreciate travel blogging as a particular skill set; that we are not just writers who use a computer. For that I am very grateful.

I am also grateful that we’re now at the point where there is room enough, and demand enough, for a whole spectrum of conferences devoted to travel blogging: big, small, flashier, more low-key, etc.

Look, SXSWi (the enormous annual South by Southwest Interactive tech conference in Austin) isn’t for everyone, although if you’re a digital communicator, I think you need to go just once to see what everyone else will be doing in 3 years.

TBEX isn’t for everyone, either, and that’s OK. I’m going to start planning for it like I plan for the madhouse of any big conference (from which I still get plenty of value, but I leave very little to chance.) Your mileage may vary.

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5 Responses to My thoughts on the TBEX 2013 travel blogging conference

  1. pam says:

    There’s something broken on the working for free thing, that’s for sure, but there’s also something broken with the pay for play model too. I’m increasingly dropping reads of pay for play sites because they are so transparently that.

    “Hey, read my advertorial about my sponsored, fully organized trip to [Destination X] in which I only say things that will make my hosts happy and, whatever, I had a good time, plus, now I have money in my pocket, yay me!” Um, no. Also, unsubscribe.

    Right now, we’re in creeping advertorial mode, educated readers recognize the stuff, uneducated readers are getting a disservice. It’s not just “new” media, this is happening everywhere, but bloggers are especially susceptible to this, I think.

    I’m holding out for phase five, I wonder if that’s a paid subscription model (though paywalls are not doing very well for newspapers) or — and I see this more and more — bloggers actually go back to traditional media markets because the current “smooches, did we say free” slash advertorial model doesn’t work for them.

    I dunno. And I agree, strategizing (which i did this year) helps with those big events.
    pam´s last [post] ..TBEX 2013: Less is So Much More

  2. Sheila says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Pam. I’d go back to traditional markets if they’d pay me the same amount of money to write for their blog as they do for their print edition. They don’t, so I don’t do much print work anymore.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your insight Sheila – as a first time TBEX attendee, it was interesting to hear from someone who’s been a long time participant. I agree with what Pam said in the comments about how so many blogs are just recaps of someone’s amazing press trip experience and I want to read more than just what is essentially paid advertising (but I respect that blogger’s need/desire to be compensated for their work). I think this speaks to the importance of press trips incorporating more free time so bloggers can explore and investigate on their own without pressure or pre-arranged extras clouding their judgement.

  5. Sheila says:

    Hi Vanessa,

    There’s destination coverage, then there’s quality destination coverage. To get quality coverage you need quality content creators to visit, and that takes judgment calls and time to build relationships. You can’t throw money at it and it’s difficult if not impossible to hurry the process along.

    Also, it takes a lot of work to develop and publish good content across a variety of platforms. I like to be paid for my work, and the standard press trip model does not work for me (no money in it) so I rarely take press trips. I cover a destination as a bonus when I’m hired to go there and do training; that way, they get coverage AND knowledge, and I get paid in actual money that I can live on.

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