It takes in city tours, launch parties, workshops, networking dinners, an award lunch (including a best blog category) and the main crux of things: 2 days of what can best be described as intense, business ‘speed dating.’
But before you spit biley chunks of poutine in my general direction, do consider that I had to endure a Trans Canadian train trip from Toronto with Via Rail, 3 nights amid the spectacular fall foliage of Jasper National Park and a two day excursion on the Rocky Mountaineer, one of the world’s finest luxury train experiences, to earn my invite. ;-)
Before you go you’re prompted online to request appointments with around 25-40 organisations, which range from provincial tourist boards to museums and lodge resorts. You’re then matched with around 30 of them. You’ll get issued with a neat little ring binder with an overview of each appointee, where you can staple your partner’s business card and scribble notes. You have 15 minutes with each, before a shopping centre-like PA bell rings and you move on to the next one.
It is a pretty exhausting process but worthwhile for two reasons.
1.Canada’s a vast country, so you’ll get a unique opportunity to acquire handy snapshots of each destination you meet under one roof
But more to the point..
2. You get to meet the people with whom you can build relationships, people you’ll also socialise with informally over the course of the event.
Of course you’ll also meet other writers whose brains and contact books you can pick and a few travel editors (who keep a low profile for obvious reasons). Leading lights from the travel blogging community are represented too, those I’d be unlikely to meet otherwise included Matador co-founder Ross Borden (@rossborden) and Kim Mance (@KimMance) of TBEX fame.
The effectiveness of the tourism PR pitches you get varies, as you can imagine. The best came armed with pics and video clips on an ipad, maps they’ll scribble on and let you take away and USB drives loaded with story ideas, which you can use to pitch paying editors with.
As with ordinary speed dating, sometimes it’s obvious the chemistry just isn’t there.As with ordinary speed dating, sometimes it’s obvious the chemistry just isn’t there. Your folder will tellingly reflect this. Some pages of mine are almost entirely obscured by my messy scrawl, some are blank, one just cryptically states: ‘hiking boots tree.’
Most seemed more interested in print coverage opportunities, no surprise there really, and some when hearing the magic words ‘I have a blog about train travel’ gave me that look that says ‘That’s nice dear. It’s good to have a hobby’, but a few had done their homework and made an effort to suggest ideas tailored to Trains on the Brain, even when train travel options in their region were obviously limited.
I found it’s best to set your stall out early on and tell them the sort of travel you’re interested in and are likely to write about. Some were clearly flagging on the second day and had lost their voices, so they’ll appreciate you taking the wheel anyway. And some will flip the loonie cake and ask you what your interest in their resort/region is, so be prepared for that. So far only a handful of those I met have followed up by email, which I found surprising, but regular attenders told me that the value comes with repeat visits.
Now I am a ‘slashie’, in the parlance of Zoolander, but if you’re a pure blogger it should be easier to talk turkey, since there are no middle men in the publishing process. Keith Jenkins (@velvetescape) certainly found this to be true and even managed to turn the tables on a few, pitching them his blog as a sponsorship opportunity.
Although I appear to have been the only Brit invited who owns a blog, most of the international writers I met do blog and there was growing interest in the machinations of social media at the panel sessions which Keith and others spoke on.
So how can you jump on board this particular charabanc? If you’re European it should be pretty straight forward. UK PR Manager of the CTC Nim Singh (@canadanim) is very approachable and increasingly engaged with bloggers, since they sponsor events like TBEX and TBU. Make sure you tip your white Calgary cowboy hat in her direction and get on her radar.
The European market seems to be an important one to the CTC. I’d heard anecdotally that there were significantly fewer Canadians invited this year to make way for more international writers…
Next year’s event will be hosted by the Yukon, the wild Northern territory bordering Alaska, and if their closing party was anything to go by it promises to be entertaining, so long as you don’t mind supping on a sour toe cocktail or two.
Is there a tourism networking event you’d recommend for bloggers? Share it with a comment below.
Images: Canadian Tourism Commission