About TBEX Europe…

Time again, kids, for inside baseball. Not interested? I don’t blame you! Here’s a weird little post about a character I met in Alaska. You could read that instead or hey, just go outside.

I’ve found it rather difficult to summarize my experience at TBEX Girona. I was so glad to be there and I was almost pathologically cranky at the end of the last day. (I might have been tired.) I came home looking like I’d been in a bar fight. (No, I’m not going to explain, but it’s a big purple bruise and it’s on my face.) I was enormously grateful to get to say some things that are important to me on a big stage. I was deeply annoyed. It was, as expected, a mixed bag. Rather than try to neatly summarize my experience — I don’t think that can be done — I’m going to fall back on the bulleted list and give you the high/low lights.

  • An irony choked keynote: Peter Shankman seemed to not care that his talk emphasized the concept of knowing your audience. His speech, to a constituency that was only 30% North American, was littered with obscure references to US politics, weirdly misogynistic remarks, and a vague condescension about “kids these days.” I don’t think it’s okay to say, “She un-friended me, the bitch” in a keynote, no matter how important social media is to the room. It was painful.
  • Fun with statistics:  When the client for a destination tells me a project was a success, I’ll believe it. When a blogger tells me, I think they’re talking smack. Your blog is not the arbiter of success for a destination’s promotional project. Show me the data. No, not YOUR data. Show me the client’s data. What’s in your wallet, passport, or blog doesn’t indicate success for anyone but you. My traffic spiked when I went to Tanzania with Intrepid, but if their traffic didn’t do the same, it’s hardly appropriate for me to call the project a success.
  • Misplaced entitlement: Wow, some people really think they deserve to have their trips funded and that they should be paid for writing about it on their own blogs. Furthermore, tourism organizations seem to be buying this. I’m stunned by the unquestioning acceptance of advertorial as a legitimate content model. The degree to which people are willing to sell out their readership… oh, possibly, I am naive. But I tell you what, if I was going to engage in product placement, I would be particular about where I’d run it.  And on the “content creation” side, I’d be striking things right and left from contracts. Sidebar that apparently can’t be said too often: Your audience is not the PR company. They may be your customer, but they are not your audience. Understand the difference.
  • Outrageous gossip: I heard my fair share of tales about drunken hijinks and hookups. That’s cute. I’m old, I’m going back to my room, you kids take a cab and be safe, now. But the stuff that shocked me was more, um, professionally based. An almost violent unwillingness to share information. A blatant exploitation of the new kids for self-promotional purposes. Snake oil and pyramid schemes and oh, that’s some bad behavior, I tell you what. It’s gossip, so I really hope it’s simply not true, but if it is… knock that off, you’re making us all look bad. Really, really bad.
  • Shocking amounts of ham:  By the end of the weekend, I was joking that the real reason the Jews fled Spain had nothing to do with racism or the Spanish Inquisition. They just wanted something to eat that wasn’t pork. My primary motivation for skipping the big party at the beach? I wanted to find a salad.
  • Pink slime: On the last day, Chris Gray Faust asked me what my hangup was about bad content. “What’s your deal?” she said. “Why are you so bent out of shape when people create substandard work? You don’t have to read it.” “That shit,” I said, “is pink slime for our brains. It’s bad food and it makes us stupid. Yet we feed it to our friends and family, pollute our diets, degrade our intellects… and then we go vote.” I asked it in my talk, I’ll ask it again here: What do you want your friends to feed you?
  • Less talk, more walk: I can only spend so much time listening to people talk at me. And as a presenter, I want to work with attendees. As much as I enjoy spewing my opinions (I have a blog for that), I’d much rather spend time doing hands on workshops that help create a better web. (Yes, I’m vain enough to think I can shift the needle, even if it’s just a tiny bit.)
  • An absolute stunner of a location: I spent nearly all of my free time roaming the old city of Girona and you know what? It’s gorgeous. The old city walls, the stone plazas, the chic shop windows… I was admittedly crabby that the conference was not right in Barcelona and required a bit of transit time. But the transit was shockingly easy (if delayed, what the what, trains of Spain?) and it was worth the hassle. I was utterly won over not just by the city, but by the patience and charm of the people I dealt with at the post office, in the restaurants, everywhere. I loved being in Spain. Loved it.
  • A controversial co-presenter: “Uh, how do you feel about being paired with Will Peach?” I got this question repeatedly. It seems my reputation for crankiness is exceeded only by his for being inflammatory. How did I feel? Honestly, uncertain at first, but by the time I boarded my flight for Barcelona, I was prepared to say this: “I’m excited about it. He’s super smart.”  And I meant it.
  • A well oiled machine: Content issues aside, that was a flawlessly organized event. The hall was gorgeous, everything worked, information was readily available, the New Media Expo organizers were kind, professional, and good lord, so patient. Wow. Okay, the closing night event, that was…weird. But whatever. I just didn’t care and the unraveling of that evening allowed me to do something I really love: Walk back to my room, alone, through a strange city, at night. (Yes, I felt safe. Completely.) I hope the TBEX crew is psyched about how it all went down. Also, whoa, the coffee in at the convention center was really good.
  • Quality time with excellent humans: There are a handful of folks that I disagree with philosophically, yet I find that I enjoy their company tremendously because they are candid, transparent, respectful, and thoughtful, and that makes for good company and interesting conversation. I also got to spend time with people who make work I enjoy — what a pleasure to find yourself at the dinner table or on a sunny patio or wandering the ramparts of a medieval city with friends you rarely see or have just met.
  • A heartening emphasis on good writing: There was the usual stuff about “brand relationships” and ROI, but even the awful keynote included the words “Bad writing will destroy us all. Learn. To. Write.” And I loved, with my whole heart, Chris Guillebeau’s closing remarks. “The world doesn’t need more mediocre bloggers or writers who are really good at Twitter. What the world does need is storytellers.” I thought I might burst in to tears, I was so delighted. (I think I’ve mentioned that I might have been tired.) It was thrilling to end on such a high note.

I’m increasingly at home with cognitive dissonance. TBEX made me crazy. Also, it was great. I’m really glad I was there.

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49 thoughts on “About TBEX Europe…

  1. I made it to TBEX in Keystone and couldn’t go to Girona. Keystone was my first TBEX and it felt overwhelming at times, exciting at others. Always fascinating to observe human behavior of all sorts of people… I hope to cross paths sometimes with you as I like the idea of the hands-on, let’s-make-this-better, Cheers.

    • You know me, MJ, so you know that the stuff I enjoyed, I FULLY enjoyed. I am so glad I ended up up going and I really appreciate the work you all did to make it happen. The local tourism folks too, talk about a great place to show off. Aces.

  2. Thanks for the TBEX recap Pam. I loved reading the slides from the talk you and Will gave. Without getting too deep, how was your experience with offering to critique/edit? Did many take you up on it and do you think it could become a regular item on the travel blogger conference agenda?

    *adds Girona to the ever-growing list of European destinations*

    • Not enough people took us up on it, which was a shame. I got one person who emailed me after the event and I’ve already sent her piece back — I told everyone that if we talked at TBEX about an edit pass, I’d hold to that. I would love it to become a regular thing — I’d suggest that you let TBEX know that it’s something you want. It takes a lot of time, though, so there’s some structural stuff that needs to happen to support it. And to be clear, it needn’t be ME, there are some great editors out there who would do an amazing job.

      I thought Susan Singer, who sent her story in advance, was a hero, and so awesome to work with, and Will’s comments on her piece were different than mine and really thoughtful. It was good.

      And Girona. SO pretty.

      • Cool. TBEX Toronto isn’t going to be on the cards for me next year, but depending on if/where they hold it in Europe I might be able to go then. (BookPassage would be my 1st choice but I don’t know if I can swing multiple US visits next summer).

        I will try to contact some relevant powers that be since workshops/small group interaction seem to be something other commenters are also interested in seeing happen.

  3. Hey Pam, really enjoyed both your presentation with Will and your er.. “debate” with Gary at the live podcast thing. I agree on the interactivity thing. Workshops should involve a bit more, erm, workshopping. Lovely to hear people talking about how wonderful they are (ok, there was some good stuff too), but other than letting me know how they feel they should run their sites, it didn’t totally rock my world.

    Also, I have no idea what Peter was on about most of the time. I thought I’d been accidentally transplanted to America for a brief moment, possibly as a result of an accident involving a silver spoon and a plate of ham. Oh, ham. That was a lot of ham. Which was good, other than for the wild eyed vegetarians wandering around trying to find anything that wasn’t ham, which in Girona is quite tricky. I think even the lion is made of the stuff.

    Now, to try and write better. The endless goal…

  4. Awesome post Pam. I’m so glad somebody finally put up a good review of the conference. After Keystone I was really excited. I was pretty upset I couldn’t make it to Girona and have been waiting to read about it. Good stuff!

    Keep up the good fight for better writing! You’re not alone.

  5. Possibly one of the things that made me happiest was finding out that you’re also a tech writer (bleh) and your creativity and hasn’t been sucked right out of you. It gives me the slightest bit of hope.

    Great account of the conference, and I certainly agree with your assessment of Will Peach, too. He’s a superstar. 🙂

  6. Thanks for this recap, Pam! You echo what I’ve thought for a while as a professional pedagogy-er (er, teacher, but I wanted the alliteration): we need more HANDS-ON workshops. Humans crave time with our work out, sitting side by side in small packs of people, getting our digital hands dirty actually trying out new techniques, mentored by masters. It is the actual practice and DOING that will boost our game. How much can a craftsperson learn by staring at Power Point slides?

  7. I’m glad we have you, Pam, to cut through the rosy glow and give us a reality check. Agreed with you about Peter Shankman’s opener, American political & TV references went way over my head as a European and from a woman’s perspective there were a few too many lewd references but the lovely Chris Guillebeau restored my faith that not all American men are loud and macho. Thank God I’m not a vegetarian or I would have been like you, searching for something good to eat in a full larder. I think that we have a long way to go on working out whether bloggers offer some real bottom line results, I don’t think the sponsors know themselves, but then I’m not sure they really know whether all the offline media works either. Jaume seemed most impressed by Costa Brava being named as Top 10 destination by National Geographic and how can you measure that?

  8. Thank you for an honest review. It’s really hard to find something about these events that isn’t all puppy dogs, rainbows, and unicorns. It often seems that really the best part of these types of gatherings is the socialization factor. I don’t hear a lot from people about what they’ve learned, ideas and workshops that were valuable, etc. Because of that I haven’t gone. Not that I don’t enjoy socialization, but I don’t feel like paying a premium just to attend a blogger reunion. I want to walk away feeling like my time was valued and that I gained something besides more email addresses and more weight.

    • A couple of thoughts, Talon. TBEX is a bargain, though depending on where you’re coming from, getting there can set you back some bank. As for the benefits, something I should have said above but didn’t — it’s not often clear what they are right away with events like this. Some connection pays off in the long term. Who knows? If you’d asked me what I got out of TBEX in Denver a few days after it was over, I’d have said I didn’t know, but I’m just now, three months later, having some very interesting phone calls about a new project that can earn me some money. It’s a slow return. On the blogger reunion thing, yeah, I get that, but I have to say that I was so delighted to get to know people in person who make work I love. Almost every time I’ve met someone in person that I like online, they are nine thousand times better in 3D, and I love that. Plus, it’s just plain fun.

  9. Hi Pam, it was great to meet you briefly at the conference.

    Like you, I left feeling really drained. I think many of the people who blog or write for a living are used to being alone a lot, and there was no time for ‘alone’ in Tbex. I always find conferences a bit overwhelming. Luckily, I just had to ride the train back to Barcelona and collapse. However, it was an overall good experience for me. I agree with you 100% about the opening keynote – yikers – and about pink slime and ham. I live in Spain, and I am a vegetarian (ok, I eat fish), and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told my life is not complete because I don’t dig on swine. Oh well.

    Some of the people I met at Tbex seemed to have a little chip on the shoulder thing going on, but I guess that is to be expected. Most people though, we really interesting ‘quality humans’ as you put it. I left feeling inspired by other writers – their openess, their creativity. That’s a good feeling.

    I also agree that the conference was well organized (except for the bus issue) and that Girona is gorgeous. It’s one of my preferred day-trip destinations from Barcelona. I read on some other reviews that bloggers were not impressed by the city, but I think it’s totally charming and much easier (and safer) than Barcelona.

    Say Hi to the Northwest from me, I miss the fall-time apples!


  10. Nice work, Pam. Though I haven’t been to TBEX, your post sums up a LOT of the reservations we’ve had about these types of blogging conferences. We’d love to meet our friends and fellow bloggers, but the prices to get to these things (between airfare, hotels and conference tickets) is CRAZY expensive. And, as much as I’d like to hang out with folks, I’d also want to focus on refining my craft and building my business. We have tickets to TBEX Toronto for 2013, but we’ll see whether or not we actually end up making it there. Is there a video or slideshow of the presentation from you and Peachy floating around anywhere?

  11. Pam, If you ever throw a Nerds Eye View Conference, please let me know and I’ll be there. I really admire your candor, your passion, your work, your honesty, and your ability to stick it where it needs to be stuck without alienating everyone you are talking to or about. Yes, I’m definitely an admirer. If you make it to WTM or anywhere else I happen to be this year, I’d love to meet you and hear what a shitty job I’m doing. The reason is because you are one of those awesome people who don’t just come to the table with complaints but also with solutions. Please don’t ever go away. ~Vago

  12. @Pam, thank you, thank you, thank you (blah, blah, blah) for being at TBEX and telling (almost) all. Wish I’d heard more gossip (or that I’d started some). Do appreciate that important bit you shared at breakfast. Have already implemented your suggestion.

    Agree that Will Peach is super smart, indeed a force of nature with whom I’m pursuing a wildly Platonic online affair.

    @Regina, agree that pork alternatives would have been thoughtful… and healthier for all of us.

    I noticed your fatigue as we said goodbye at the hotel. Conferences do get easier the more you attend. I also need lots of “alone” time; it’s tough to find moments for quiet reflection amidst all the new people and activity.

    I’m sorry you ran into people carrying chips. I didn’t come into close contact with any chip-bearers, but maybe I managed to ignore them before they entered my protective bubble of introversion. (Or maybe that bubble appears to others as a chip on the shoulder. I’m socially inept, really.)

    @Heather, wish we’d had more chance to connect. To both you and @Laurence: Appreciate your reaction to Peter Shankman’s keynote. I recorded it and will make time to listen again with an ear for cultural and gender bias.

    @Talon Planning for Toronto with super early bird tickets. Hope you’re able to be there.


      • Imprecise language. Should have said “the more *I* attend.” Next week’s conference could change my opinion, especially if there are no unicorns, puppies, or rainbows as I’ve come to expect at TBEX.

  13. Love, love, love this post. You perfectly summarized nearly everything I felt as I was leaving TBEX. I also really enjoyed your interview with Chris & Gary – your frank honesty is refreshing.

    I wish I would’ve gone to your session – I didn’t read about the possibility to send something to be critiqued until it was too late and I think I probably would’ve gotten more out of your session that the one I went to instead. 🙁

  14. Thanks Pam for your post!! it was a great summary.

    I enjoyed talking to you, and welcoming you to our land after listening to you in Colorado.

    I thought it was good to share opinions with different bloggers and make a step ahed. (i hope)

    Thanks for enjoying the region, Girona and Costa Brava.

    Sorry about the ham in the Expedia party. we just couldn’t coordinate that. Sorry.

    Hope to see you and share opinions with you soon.


    • Jaume — Regarding all that ham… I figured the locals wanted to make sure we had their specialty, and indeed they did. I’ve spent enough time in places that don’t cater to my personal dietary needs, sometimes I’m hungry, sometimes, I just go find something else to eat, it’s just not a a big deal to me. I had amazing food in town; I’ve got no complaints.

      And I did love being back in Spain. It had been a very long time. I didn’t sign up for any of the group trips; I’m a much happier traveler alone, but I enjoyed my time in Girona.

  15. “The world doesn’t need more mediocre bloggers or writers who are really good at Twitter. What the world does need is storytellers.”

    If only Tourist Boards, DMOs, PR firms et al were on that same train.

    I mulled over going to TBEX, so many thanks for summarising it so candidly and giving an honest view of what I missed.

  16. Great recap! I’m sorry to have missed your presentation, it sounds like it was really good. Also, I’m glad to hear someone else was disgusted with the opening keynote. What was that? Too many sexist jokes and American pop culture references (and I’m an American). Definitely not someone I’m interested in hearing speak again.

  17. Thanks for a really interesting recap. Enjoyed your panel with Will as well. While I’ve attended my share of conferences for professional journalists, this was my first TBEX and I felt many of the same things you did. I came home stimulated, exhausted and all the rest of it. I agree that seeking sponsors and subsidized travel seems a strange content model but I do think these things have a way of sorting themselves out in the long term. Then again, as someone who has taken my share of press trips and written about what I experienced, I’m hardly in a position to judge. A little bit pregnant, I guess! Either way it’s an exciting time to be a travel blogger and it will be interesting to see how the industry evolves in the next few years. Thanks for taking the time to write this piece!

    • Ah, people keep making me explain this. I do NOT think the press trip model for bloggers is broken by default. It’s common and I take my fair share of press trips. I think, however, that promoting that model without a discussion of what the impact is on the resulting content is a mistake. And I think that the cycle of creating shiny content to make press trip sponsors happy so that oh, goody, we can get more press trips, is a disservice to everyone involved. Press trips should not be the goal. Good content should be the goal. Too often, the focus in on what we can GET not what we can MAKE.

  18. Thanks for the writeup! I wish I could have made it since it was in Spain this year, but I had just returned from Oxford and had a book deadline. Oh well.
    I totally agree about the world not needing more mediocre writing. There’s already far too much of it. The ease of the Internet and self publishing to get your words out there has led to a lot of sloppiness. Writing is hard work. It should be hard work.

  19. Hi Pam, It was a pleasure reading your thoughts on TBEX, many of which I relate to. I was really sorry not to get to meet you, apart from to very briefly say “I loved your talk with Will”. I hope to meet you properly next time. My heart also sang at Chris Guillebeau’s closing remarks on storytelling. It perfectly completed a small thread emphasizing quality content, which ran through a few of the sessions including yours. Those are the moments that stood out to me and made me scribble YES! in my notebook. Thanks for being one of them. Victoria

  20. Man oh man, I wish I could have made it to TBEX! Thanks so much for this summary. I’m totally 2 months behind on catching up on my favorite blogs.

  21. Hey, just reading this post now. (I had very bad internet after I left Spain, which both drove me nuts AND cleared my brain). I’m glad that I asked you to why you care so much about other peoples’ content (OPC? Yeah you know me). I loved your response, which was so clear and passionate.

    I don’t necessarily feel the same way – the hardest, and yet most necessary, thing for me to do in my own life is ignore what other people are doing and concentrate on my own path. But hearing your take is fast becoming one of my favorite things about these conferences. Gracias for the insight.

  22. Hi Pam,

    My first TBEX was this year’s event in Toronto. I made a lot of great connections and am strongly considering going to Dublin. In general, are the Europe conferences similar to the North American ones? I read that they’re expecting a much smaller crowd, which could be awesome or well, not.

    You say go?

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