Last week another iteration of TBEX took place, as anyone remotely connected to the travel blogging world would already be aware – having had their Twitter streams flooded with the #tbex hashtag for the better part of two weeks pre and post conference. Travelllll.com was in attendance again as the event’s media partner, and we got the inside scoop on what happened.
The conference this time around was hosted in Girona, Spain in association with Costa Brava Tourism. A stunning location, without doubt – but could it possibly live up to the unparalleled success and wonder of TBEX in Colorado? The answer was a decided… not-quite.
The city of Girona is a stunning destination to play host to the conference, and nothing can be taken away from the chosen location – but while its bigger American brother felt like professional industry gathering and networking event, Europe seemed to lean more toward the side of drinking and fun. There’s nothing technically wrong with this, and perhaps European culture played a part, but it was an altogether different atmosphere.
Speakers and Subjects
The value of any conference, aside from networking, is steadfast in the quality of the speakers and the content which they choose to present. There were some impressive performances here from professionals who were really able to offer an insight into their skills and experience which were undoubtedly valuable to anyone who took the time to listen. JD Andrews on Video, and Kash Bhattacharya on his Luxury Hostels project were two notable instances of speakers who had something interesting and innovative to say. There was some repetition of topics which have been covered several times previously, at TBU… WTM… and previous instances of TBEX. Not just the same topics… but the same speakers presenting the same topics.
There has been a sense recently that TBEX chooses speakers based on how famous they are, rather than what they have to say – and this is a disservice to attendees. People should speak when they have something important to say, and they should listen when they don’t. Hashing together some shit about the value of Pinterest and Google Plus is not good enough.
I would love to see the next TBEX focus more on subjects rather names. What is TBEX about? What does it stand for? The biggest value of a conference isn’t an individual take-away from a single talk. It’s 5 different talks which all fit together as large parts of an even bigger picture and inspire you with new understanding. You don’t need 5 tracks and 34 speakers for a good event. A one day event with 6 speakers with amazing content and the entire audience in one room. This is where the audience will really place value on what’s being said and take something away from it.
Organisation and Infrastructure
While the content lacked clear focus for me, the organisation of the event cannot be faulted. If there’s one thing that’s clear (again), it’s that TBEX and BlogWorld (now known as NMX – New Media Exchange) know how to organise an event. There were no major glitches, everything ran on time, and the communication of what was happening next was very clear. TBEX deserve to be praised for this because it’s very easy to take for granted, even more so following the high bar set in Colorado, and these things do not just magically occur.
The parties hosted by Costa Brava, TBEX, and Expedia were all a lot of fun and provided the opportunity for attendees to chat and get to know each other in a relaxed setting. The food was exactly as you would expect from Costa Brava: incredible. It was obvious that the tourist board went over and above to try to please and impress attendees as much as possible. Occasionally this can be slightly overwhelming, but it’s hard to critiscise a group of people who work so hard here and, clearly, take digital travel journalism and its emerging genuine value incredibly seriously.
The Mystery of Will Peach
The community has been confused, offended, fascinated and occasionally aroused for the better part of a year by a gentleman named William Peach. He came out of nowhere and stamped his name firmly on the world of travel blogging with posts discussing how he’s going to have the biggest travel blog in the world, and 5 things he’d rather be doing than attending a travel blogging conference. I would love to tell you that Peach is a useless troll of the internet as we all suspected, but having had the chance to speak with him – he’s actually a very intelligent guy with a genuine interest in challenging perceptions, stereotypes and social norms. Read a little deeper into his posts and you might, might, just catch a sniff of real sentiment buried beneath swear words, innuendos and dreadfully graphic metaphors.
So What Next?
Overall TBEX Europe was a very good event, but we expected it to be great. The European market seems to be at this point a much less established industry than its North American counterpart. It is crying out for innovation, for forward thinking, for a few individuals who have motivation to do more than just write another list of Top [x] Things to do in [x] That No One Actually Cares About. As soon as there are more fresh ideas floating around and people acting on those ideas, collaborating on those ideas, finding new ways to make online travel journalism interesting… that’s when I think the conferences will in turn, step up a level.
The North American instance of TBEX moves to Toronto, Canada in 2013 – it will be interesting to see how much TBEX now steer the industry or, perhaps, how much the industry now steer TBEX. There is a lot of room at the moment for new travel bloggers to emerge who have very focused target demographics and talk about how to market to this audience. Travel blogs which are in effect a “travel diary” are becoming long in the tooth. Projects like The Traveler’s Handbook Series are very, very interesting to watch.
While in Barcelona, our accommodation was provided by Wimdu, one of the coolest accommodation-search-engine-startups we’ve seen. They offer apartments, bed and breakfasts, as well as other types of short and long term accommodation. Cheaper than hotels, and almost always with more style.