Home » TBEX 2013: Less is So Much More

TBEX 2013: Less is So Much More

Here’s the truth: I attended only two sessions at TBEX this year: writer Mike Sowden’s storytelling talk and the live recording of Gary Arndt, Jen Leo, and Chris Christensen’s This Week in Travel featuring Spud Hilton, the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle as the guest. I regret missing two talks, Lola Akinamade’s photography talk (Lola recently signed with National Geographic) and Erik Lindbergh’s keynote, but my regrets are pretty minimal, less so since catching up with Lola in the Toronto airport on Monday morning at daybreak.

During the conference, I helped teach a writing class and participated in panels. I spent a good deal of time outside of the convention center visiting with friends. Often, there was bourbon involved, enough so that it was thematic, not so much that there were ugly hangovers. The rest of the time I spent hiding out in my hotel room wearing my hotel bathrobe drinking hotel coffee.  I attended the speaker reception, briefly, arriving late, and the opening night party, which I left early. I hear I missed the best possible dessert offering, but I’m okay with that.

Because of my avoidance strategy, it’s hard for me to answer the annual “How was TBEX?” question with any kind of authority.  I can tell you that I enjoyed my sessions, but that I need to learn to make a refined, stand alone presentation. I learned interesting things from my co-presenters. I did not have meetings, I did not work the room, I did not try to wring opportunities out of the event. I probably overlooked some potentially great connections, but I exist in a word of mouth economy and I naively believe that this stuff will work itself out.

The distilled version of my time at TBEX 13 looks like this: I went to do some work for the weekend, stayed in a nice hotel, hung out with some friends. How was TBEX? I honestly don’t know. It was too big for me to want to hang out, too noisy, and too focused on marketing and statistics for a lit snob like me, but I liked the work I did there, even while I’m aware of its flaws, and I enjoyed the people I worked with.

During the course of the weekend, several people asked me about another conference I’m involved with, Book Passage. I found myself fawning effusively about it; Don George (the conference is his baby) should put me on commission. But it’s not a fair comparison. TBEX is a large commercial and marketing focused event, over 1300 bloggers attend and the sponsorship dollars… I can’t imagine. It’s also relatively cheap for attendees; industry eats the cost of keeping ticket prices down. Book Passage is expensive and tiny — I think there were 80 students last year — and focuses on writing, the craft of writing, at its heart. Sponsors exist but they are not front and center like they are at TBEX. My workshop at Book Passage last year lasted three days with two instructors for ten students. At TBEX, we had three instructors for three hours with 45 students.

They are very different events. It boils down to the message on the shop floor. At TBEX, it’s “Bloggers are business.” At Book Passage it’s “Writers (and photographers) can make beautiful things, here’s how.” TBEX is a business conference that acknowledges the role “content” plays in business, Book Passage is a writer’s conference that acknowledges that writers need to eat too. TBEX increasingly has a lifestyle back-chatter component. “You can quit your job and live the life you’ve always dreamed of! Yay you!” — as though living life churning out marketing copy from a comped hotel is somehow superior to staying home and having a job. Book Passage takes (I think) a more circumspect back channel tone: “Since you’ve decided you have to be a travel writer, you ought to be the best at it you can. Don’t quit your day job, but love your writing, okay?”

I have left TBEX feeling frustrated, uninspired, and diminished, like I’m stupid for not focusing on the money making opportunities of blogging. I don’t sell out, I don’t even sell, and for that, I’m a fool. I’ve left thinking I should quit what I’m doing or seriously amend my tactics, because what kind of success isn’t backed up by endless “free” travel and lucrative sponsored “content” deals?  That previous feeling of despair is why I stayed away from so much this year. The result is that my experience has been heavily filtered to make TBEX appear like a place where good “content” matters, like it’s okay to “just” write.

I remain ambivalent; I want to be excited by the program, I want to feel like there are opportunities for me to learn things that are important to craft focused writers.   Given that I stayed away from so much this year, I’m obviously not in that place. I’m currently trying to decide what would make me feel that way and when I do, I’ll pass it along to the TBEX organizers. As a speaker, my travel expenses and accommodation at TBEX were covered, but I did not earn any money, in fact, the weekend cost me money. I’m not so foolish as to think that the pay off for these things should come overnight, but I do want to be a booster. I leave Book Passage totally spent and with less money in my wallet, but also, with the absolute certainty that you, person who wants to write well about travel, should go. I would like to say the same about TBEX and failing that, I would like to be able to describe what would make me feel that way at TBEX in 2014. In fairness, I think TBEX would like to know as well, and I’ll be sending my feedback along once I make sense of my thoughts.

You should send your ideas in too, that’s something I can say with absolute certainty.

 

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101 Responses to “TBEX 2013: Less is So Much More”

  1. Here’s how I see it; there’s an arc of perception about travel blogging, and we’ve only moved across about 1/3 to 1/2 of it. TBEX is simply reflecting that. Across time, very roughly:

    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.

    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 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.

    Also, I am crushed that I missed events related to bourbon.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      I think you’re right about the placement. But with that “somewhere between 3 and 4″ comes a bunch of folks who are thinking, “Hey, I can totally cash in on this phase.” I genuinely appreciate what TBEX has done for visibility. Perhaps the next phase is doing that for CREDIBILITY.

      Some people might have found out where the Ontario liquor clearing house was located on their second night in town. They might have.

    • Jody Halsted says:

      As usual, Sheila nails it. :)
      I missed TBEX this year due to actual travel. When I have attended in the past, I left feeling like I missed something.
      That said, I plan to be in Dublin. After all, Ireland is my travel focus- how can I miss it?

    • Great post and great answer, Sheila!
      Really interesting to see what you guys have to say about this! As newbies we are still trying to get it! Not having attended a travel blogging conference at all so far but planning to do it next fall! :)

  2. Katie says:

    I’ve been at every TBEX except Copenhagen, even though I only had a blog of my own for the first year. Since then, I’ve managed blogs and still identified tbex as a conference for people like me. While I went for my company and got a lot out of it professionally, it was a also a great place to meet up with old friends and make new ones, and on the whole, it was a worthwhile experience on a personal level as well.

    Something felt fundamentally different this year. I attended three sessions (yours, Mike Sowden’s, and Annemarie Dooling’s) and thought they were among the best I’d attended over the years. The conference, with a few minor hiccups, was run very smoothly and professionally. But still I left feeling disappointed, and a bit displaced, like for much of the event I was on the outside looking in (more accurately, I was at a table in the exhibit hall from 8am to 6pm each day).

    I will be at tbex next year because once again, I’ll be at a table in the exhibit hall. I’m sure that it’ll be another great event for the company. But I’ll go in with very different expectations as to what I’ll get from it personally.

    I also agree that for a writer, there’s no better conference than Book Passage. I probably wouldn’t spend my own money on tbex, but I’m saving up for Book Passage again this year because it’s worth it.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      Katie, do you know what WOULD make you spend your own money? Coz that’s what I’m asking myself. What would make me say, “OMG, you can’t miss this.” Because it’s not the sponsor hookups. Any resourceful blogger can get names and information and more than seven minutes with a contact by just doing a little homework. Big name keynote? Specific topics? I’m asking myself this — I’d have paid cash money to see Commander Hadfield, for example…

  3. Carlo Alcos says:

    Thanks for the candidness Pam. Very refreshing post to read. Sorry we didn’t get to connect in Toronto!

  4. Katka says:

    You are my favorite. Sorry to have missed you as well, would have loved to say “YOU’RE MY TRAVEL WRITING HERO” in person

  5. ehalvey says:

    The only TBEX I’ve attended so far was in Vancouver, though I have a ticket for Dublin. I enjoyed meeting people face-to-face (living in Nashville without many travel bloggers around makes you feel disconnected), the story telling panel, and the better photography panel. But the rest was more marketing and press trips and sponsorships with a clique of cool people.

    I’d love to attend Book Passage. My writing style can skew towards concise, so I’d really appreciate ways to give more background information without sounding cliche or overly descriptive. I think if TBEX perhaps had two tracks, one for those who want to monetize their blog and one for those who genuinely enjoy sharing their travels and connecting with like-minded folks but don’t want to make money necessarily. My day job will never be travel blogging as I have other interests (hey, museums, please hire me), but I want to learn how to write better and connect with other travel bloggers who seek out local food or the art scene. That’s what I’d pay for.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      Vancouver was my favorite TBEX, no question about it. Full of my people I adore in a city I adore with a tight focus on writing. And half the size of Toronto’s TBEX. I keep striving to get that feeling back, and I’m not sure how that can happen.

      I think that the content focused tracks are meant to be for people like us by focusing on, um, the content rather than the money part, but I was amazed at how in every single content session, someone felt compelled to ask about SEO. Any effort TBEX might have made to redirect the focus on writing was returned to the land of SEO by the audience itself. Short of starting a session by saying, “No SEO questions,” I’m not sure how to prevent this.

      • Bruce Murray says:

        I was also peppered with questions about SEO. What they are really asking is how do they get audience. They are often frustrated by the fact that they are creating quality content but no one reads it. Suggest they read Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide PDF.

  6. Hi Pam. Always love how you break stuff down. I was in Vancouver for TBEX and loved it, but scheduling issues have kept me away for two years. I have been following TBEX closely on SM though.

    I had gone to quite a few Blogworld Conferences prior to TBEX and I believe that the Blogworld influence is strong. TBEX is now the conference of the Travel Blogging Industry – like Blogworld is the Conference for the Wider Blogging Industry.

    In New York TBEX, there was no travel blogging industry.
    In Vancouver TBEX, we suspected that there might be an industry.
    By Toronto, we know that this is an industry.

    Many travel bloggers have wanted the Travel Industry to respect them. Now it does. Much has been gained, but much has also been lost.

    Especially for the quality ‘amateur’ travel blogger.

    p.s. I use amateur to mean ‘not full time job.’ This isn’t a reflection on the quality of the writing, photography, or video.

    Cheers

    • Pam Mandel says:

      Your points are very well taken, and you’re right about the evolution of an industry approach.

      BUT.

      I write for a living. My blog is part of my own writing for a living ecosystem. And to dismiss or marginalize writers from the picture is to shift away from the thing that most blogs are made of, words. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there’s still plenty of disrespecting going on and some of it? Deserved.

      I lost count of how many times I heard, “I’m sick of it being all about getting a free trip.” FWIW, that’s not coming from the sessions, it’s a reaction I heard from people I like on the conference floor.

      I heard a PR guy say that he was not attending because he couldn’t tell who was a con artist and who was legit. He likes events where the media have been pre-screened, that way when he sits down to talk about what he’s got on offer, he knows the media person is the real deal. TBEX doesn’t screen, anyone who buys a ticket can show up and he was afraid he’d be inundated with bloggers on the take.

      Amateurs can become pros on their own, but a conference is a great place to learn how to do that. And TBEX seems like the kind of event that could offer just the support those folks need to become well rounded, skilled, trustworthy professionals.

  7. I’ve been to two travel blogger conferences. The first I went to because it was happening in Italy and because Mike was speaking and I hadn’t seen him for waaaaaay too long and it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. Catching up with him, that is. I had a really good time, but it had little to do with the actual conference, and more to do with the brilliant, fun, hard-partying crowd that I found there.

    The second conference that I went to, in Porto, I went because I was being employed by the organiser. (Well, I say that, but I still haven’t been paid, many, *many* months on. That’s a story for another time, though. Over bourbon.) Again, I had a really good time because of the people that were there, with whom I had a blast. The conference bit of it kind of passed me by, though. I’m not a travel blogger and – more to the point – have no wish to be. Or not the kind of travel blogger that the conferences tell us that we ought to be. I have no interest in trying to make money out of my blog. If people read it’s a bonus and yes, it’s got me some paid work, a fact which confuses and pleases me all at the same time, but the main purpose of it is totally selfish: I just like writing it.

    Something that did come out of my two forays, though, is that however much the bigger conferences might try to sell a certain model, what’s for damn sure is that a very high percentage of the bloggers there will in turn be trying to work it to suit their own purposes. And what was even more pleasing was that in Porto I met a lot of people whose purposes were based around good writing, rather than making a shedload of cash while sitting on a beach doing nothing on a desert island somewhere. So I think what I’m trying to say, in a very longwinded kind of a fashion, is that it’s fine not to want to be a square peg in a round hole and to go and drink bourbon with a load of other square pegs instead. Because if the square pegs all go off and do their square peg thing then they might well just end up slotting together and making something rather wonderful that’s nothing to do with round peg business models but is instead a thing all of their own. Or they might just carry on being a solitary square peg doing cool stuff without either square or round pegs. Either way, it’s cool.

  8. Erik says:

    I think I made it clear to you how I felt when we talked Sunday, but intimidated is the best word. I learned a lot at Lola’s session (it was amazing).

    And I got the best piece of advice from one of my favorite ‘writers’ to go out and invest in a writing course, like Book Passage, which I am taking to heart.

    Thanks so much for the conversation and advice.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      I’m delighted that we got to spend some time talking. I hope you keep working on your writing, even if you don’t work on it to publish, it’s clear that it means a lot to you.

  9. Ahh, TBEX. I broke my TBEX virginity this year, and I’ll probably go again. I might go to Dublin in October. How did I feel about it though…hmm….

    For an ‘industry’, and this may make me sound like a snob, I found a lot of bloggers unprofessional. Shouting out during seminars. Interrupting speakers. Basically just wanting a load of free shit and wanting to know how they can get free trips as quickly as possible.

    It’s taken me since 2010 to get to the point where I get replies from tourism boards and companies to work with, often favourable. But I’d say 90% of trips I do are 100% funded by me and my earnings. I found too many bloggers there with very little in the way of skills (writing, SEO) but basically wanting everything paid for.

    Screening…I guess it could work, but then how do you define it? By traffic? Amount of time you’ve had a blog? I know great bloggers, who are fantastic writers, but with small audiences. I know some big names who don’t even write their own stuff, that they then pass off as their own work and get a lot of traffic because they’re experts at SEO.

    Maybe TBEX 2014 will be better, but I personally left feeling deflated at the ‘me, me, me’ and ‘sell, sell, sell’ attitudes on display, although I did get to finally meet some really amazing people in person.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      What I’d screen for is whether or not bloggers exist off the blog in a meaningful way or if they are all their own blog all the time. I don’t buy the cult of the celebrity blogger; I want to see bloggers that are doing meaningful work elsewhere, too, three dimensional humans who aren’t just SEO gamers or vanity hacks. (I’ll see your snobbery and raise!) I also think bounce rate is a more interesting metric than page views, and that longevity wins over traffic. Those are my metrics for quality, and then, I’d read. I’d look for quality stories or useful service, I’d look for consistent good writing, and anyone who’s bending over backwards to integrate paid links (rather than just disclosing the sponsored nature of the content) gets sent to purgatory to await Google’s next re-ranking.

    • Bruce Murray says:

      I think solution is for TBEX to create a virtual online conference for beginners. Then raise the ticket price and present a conference for the content creators in the middle. With the high profile faces presenting at sessions.

      But my experience with published travel writers in the late 90s was that they want to protect their income streams. They had no problem helping beginners, but it was a different story when it comes to sharing info with writers who were moving up fast.

  10. Pam, You’re such a good writer that even though this may not have been your intention, you have captured the conflict, challenges and uncertainty of trying to be a travel writer in this age. When I started, I was primarily a print writer, but in a tiny market like Canada that has become impossible. A blog that started as a writing platform and portfolio has, through the magic of SEO, gathered some readers — much more than I ever thought possible. This is my third TBEX and my head always spins afterwards … should I monetize? go back to long form writing? write a book? give it up altogether? It is hard to know what do to, but even harder to make a living as a travel writer in Canada. Oye.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      I don’t suffer uncertainty about whether I should be a writer, I know I should. I’m aware of the scarcity of good markets, of stiff competition, plus, in travel writing, everyone wants your job. Whatever with that, I won’t compete on price and if you can make a living on 25 dollar per post paychecks, well, you were born to better family wealth than I. Lucky you. (Not YOU, specifically, Mariellen, I don’t know your personal backstory.) Making a good living as a writer is hard, and I accept that, it’s a choice. I could make a decent living blogging were I willing to sell my readers and my voice, willing to sign sponsorship contracts that make no sense for me personally, and engage in work that’s not true to the reasons I sat down at a keyboard in the first place, but I didn’t set out to be a for hire copywriter, and I can make much better money doing that for agencies at home. Peripherally, what one blogger thinks of as selling out could very well be miles away from what I think of as selling out, what one thinks of as unethical could be no problem for someone else. I know what I will not do and I need to remember that. Being at TBEX clouds my certainty — the focus on a type of success that has nothing to do with me or my goals is wildly distracting.

  11. Katie Aune says:

    As always, I love how you speak your mind, Pam, and tell it like it is. I wrote a post myself last night about how I left TBEX feeling deflated and discouraged. It was my 4th travel blogging conference and it just felt too big – it lost the community feeling of Vancouver and TBU in Umbria.

    I went to most of the content-focused sessions because those were what interested me the most, but aside from Lola’s, I didn’t feel like I learned much new (although I did get a few good reminders of things I should be doing). I wish I could’ve arrived early to attend your writing workshop – I heard very positive things about it.

    As someone who started blogging simply to share my experiences and encourage/inspire others to travel, with no thought of making any money or getting anything for free, I was also frustrated by how many newer bloggers seemed to be just all about getting the free stuff to “fund” their travels.

    On the flip side, the dozens of comments I’ve received on my post give me hope that there are others out there devoted to simply telling great travel stories – I just need to find more of them to connect with!

  12. [...] 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. [...]

  13. Sean says:

    Pam – you crack me up. This piece *feels* like you are talking to us, like across the table talking. Well done. Book Passage and all your years of refining your craft is working! (you know that though)

    A metric that we have been using at BootsnAll the past few years is trust. How do we build trust, cultivate in and build meaningful relationships with readers/travelers/humans?

    A tough thing to measure! – but perhaps the most valuable in both directions.

  14. Nomadic Matt says:

    I don’t think the problem is monetization/marketing. I think problem is that TBEX mostly focuses on the wrong kind of monetization/marketing.

    I didn’t go to TBEX this year but looking at the schedule and hearing the feedback, there was a lot of “drink the koolaid” talk and a strong focus on “working with brands for free trips.”

    Free trips are a perk of what we do but are not what we do. What TBEX has and still lacks, is anything related to business. I mean real business – marketing plans, product launches, e-mail marketing, design. TBEX never brings in business professionals to teach people that, especially at the advanced level.

    And while I know you dislike all that icky business stuff, for those who don’t have a day job like yourself, it’s an important part of blogging. I need to make money and to do so I need to be my own little media empire. (Sort of like how the Frommers and Rick Steves have done it. I don’t think you would fault them for doing that “business stuff.”)

    But there is a difference between that and the “how to score free trips stuff” that is too prevalent among travel bloggers as if that is some business. Free trips and sponsored posts aren’t a model of sustainability, an industry, and, if done all the time, ethically dubious.

    I do agree with you that there needs to be a MUCH, MUCH, MUCH larger focus on writing. There should be workshops everyday. There’s not enough great travel writing on blogs and a sad lack of people wanting to improve.

    I want to see a better focus on writing and real business skills.

    On another note, see you at Book Passage. My narrative writing needs improvement.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      (Eyes irony meter, thinks twice…)

      This nonsense of painting me as someone who thinks business is icky is bullshit. I’m self employed, have been for 15 years minus a nine month foray into the dot com economy.

      I make a solid living at my “day job” as a freelance writer where I Am My Own Boss in a Company of One. I pay for my health insurance (and everything else) and I do so without being an employee. I do not have a trust fund, an inheritance, a patron spouse, a dot com fortune (the dot com I worked for canceled my stock on acquisition), or even a solid corporate past working for the man for a decade. I run a modestly successful business and live off it. Anti-business? Really? Hardly.

      I think many common *business practices* deployed in this sector — content farming, SEO hacking, passing off advertorial as original content, stat gaming, selling email lists without reader consent, pyramid schemes, passing off press trips as payment to newbies, promotional groups — I can go on — are icky. I don’t think “business” is icky.

      That aside, I agree with some of what you say here. Much of the focus in this sector is on exactly these tactics. I won’t use them. “Business Plans for Travel Bloggers” — that’s something I might attend.

      • Nomadic Matt says:

        I’m not sure what is ironic about my comment.

        • Pam Mandel says:

          I suppose, not having been there, the irony wouldn’t be apparent to you. Let’s just say your name came up and leave it at that. The irony meter is on my side, not yours. Forgive the insider-y perspective, please.

          • Nomadic Matt says:

            Well it is always comforting to know that people are talking negatively behind my back.

          • Nomadic Matt says:

            One more thing though – I don’t know what was said and I’m sure you won’t ever tell me but those things I tell people not to do, I don’t do so if people are saying it’s ironic matt says X but does Y. No, I don’t.

          • Pam Mandel says:

            Wait, what? FYI, your “The World is Boring” post came up as an example of people churning out stuff in the midst of travel fatigue during a time when maybe they should take time off. Make what you will of that.

  15. [...] I actually didn’t do much of anything. I only made it to one the keynote speakers. But then I ran Pam Mandel’s post about how she barely attended any talks, and I grew some big balls. Honesty. She has [...]

  16. For a long time now, I’ve been a writer who travels for my travel writing is an art & a business. If TBEX taught me more about, as Pam said, business plans for travel bloggers, I’m all in. I write out of my passion, not for freebies. Last year’s TBEX left a bad taste in my mouth. Those I met there I greatly respect, others were all about that sense of entitlement. My true tribe exists at Book Passage where I get to sit at the Grownups table, not the kids’ table at TBEX. And I’m all the richer for it.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      I think it would be super helpful to be explicit about what caused said bad taste, or better still, what would make for a tastier TBEX. I really DO want to be in a place where I say, “YOU SHOULD TOTALLY GO.” And I think good feedback can help shape that, not just for me, but for people who feel like I do about blogging and travel.

  17. I also lost my TBEX virginity this year, and while I found some of the entrepreneurial spirit inspiring and the tactical info helpful, I was trying to read between the lines, too; the rah-rah factor seemed too strong to have real substance, so that made me suspicious. :-) I appreciate TBEX for connecting me to people in person, and I will probably go again next year. The event and the biz of travel blogging does have this interesting teenage-industry-growing-pains thing about it, and I’m now curious how it will turn out. I consider myself a print journalist with a blog as opposed to a blogger first and foremost, and found myself feeling surprised by the lack of journalistic ethics out there (“What? Fact check what I write before publishing? But it’s MY BLOG…IT’S ABOUT ME…”) I’m actually going to be in Cali during the Book Passage event and would love to hang with writerly geeks. I feel like TBEX was a fun first date in which things got a little hot and heavy in a fun, loud, obnoxious way, but I’m not sure these are people I want to be stuck on an island with…we’ll see.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      FWIW, I’m a writer with a blog. I don’t have a journalism background, but I did learn to write under brutal editors and my work was tested — literally, I’ve written a lot of how to stuff that gets walked through to make sure it’s right — so I apply those rules to the writing I do online, too.

      There are open to the public evenings at Book Passage during the conference, if you’re heading thataway, check the schedule and come hang out. I reckon we’d have more to talk about given the time.

      It was nice to meet you.

  18. Pam, I have to agree with you. TBEX was just too big this year. The conference was about making money and getting free trips and so we saw a lot more people at this conference who might not other wise be there.

    There were two reasons I looked forward to TBEX this year – reconnecting with people and building partnerships. I am not one who relies heavily on the monetization of my blog. However, I do believe in good, solid partnerships.

    For months, I have been trying to get together with Spud to talk writing. We were even exchanging emails during the conference to meet. However, it didn’t work out. And I want to get better. I love telling stories more than I do writing guides or travel tips. I also love photography. If I could get better at both of these, I would love travel blogging a lot. It’s all the other stuff from the conference that was a little disappointing. It felt too corporate and business like and lost a bit of the appeal from past conferences.

    I hope we can get back to that. And you already have me checking out the Book Passage conference.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      There is, undoubtedly, a call for a business focused conference for bloggers in travel. Obviously, 1350 people prove that out. I don’t think TBEX has to be everything to everyone, either, FWIW. They don’t have to please me, they don’t make the conference to please me. Again, kind of a no brainer. But I want it to please me because I’m not sure where else to go that I can get what I need as a creative writer who’s trying to mak a living without becoming a marketer. If it’s going to be a marketing conference, well, okay then. But I don’t want to be at a marketing conference. Not interested.

      • Honestly, this wasn’t really business focused. 1350 people was just too big. Why? Because too many of the wrong type of travel blogger were there. So we focused on marketing and trips.

        I feel bad because I missed out on the really good sessions. Why? Because, like you, I was focused more on the connections and conversations about the people and travel stuff that mattered. I loved the previous TBEX conferences because of the community. And I spent much of my time reconnecting with the community that mattered to me. I just want a conference that makes me feel good about being a travel blogger. And from the sessions I attended, I just didn’t feel good about it.

        I would have appreciated more sessions on the actual business of blogging. However, it was too much about trips, ROI, social media, and not enough about business or writing. If we could get a conference like that, you’ll find more bloggers who are doing this because they are passionate and love it rather than the ones in it for the free trips.

        Also, I need to state that while I will take a free trip, I hate group trips. Trips that I put together are unique and tend to be just me. Why? Because I want to find a story and perspective to share that isn’t shared by 20 other bloggers.

        • Pam Mandel says:

          It’s pretty rare I do a group trip these days, for exactly that reason. I don’t need to be writing the story everyone else is writing, what’s the point in that?

          It’s funny, I didn’t hear one word on scoring trips in the sessions I attended, but I did hear a lot of complaining about people being in it for the trips. This is attendees, not the org, which is an interesting problem.

        • Pam Mandel says:

          Also, hey, Jeremy? Katrina posted this below, but let me restate it here. What’s “the wrong type of blogger?”

          • I’ll define wrong type of travel blogger as those in it for the free trips. Can I say who those people were? No, not specifically. But with 1350 people in attendance and many of those new, I think TBEX became a way for bloggers to get their foot in the door and fund travels with free trips.

            Call me old fashioned but I started this because I wanted to write about travel, tell a story, and enjoyed the process. I never intended to get a free trip out of this. I still work full time, don’t sleep that much, and basically work two full time jobs. I fund most of my travels myself so I must do this because I like it. I just don’t want to see the industry watered down by new bloggers in this for the wrong reasons.

            I was even discussing the group press trip thing with Melvin yesterday (traveldudes) and how this is not what I am excited about. Trips are great but mine are very focused with a unique approach. I’ve turned down more trips than I’ve accepted. Over the years, writing has helped me discover who I am, what I want, and what I like to write about. I think doing this for a while we develop our voice and focus. I just think too many people jumping into this so early and all the stuff about trips, partnerships with brands and companies, is just too early for most people.

            How long should someone do this before getting a free trip? I don’t know. The same questions have been asked about monetization as well. Pay your dues, develop your voice, write, and get focused on what you want. Even with veteran bloggers, I think too many people accept trips that might not fit their blog. Just my two cents.

  19. I thought it was pretty heavy on social media, too. I’m curious, who are the wrong types of travel bloggers? Are there right types? I’m not passing judgment on this point; I’m just new to the sandbox.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      I’m not sure I understand the question. The wrong kind of travel blogger? In all cases, the things I like to read are those that are accurate and useful and/or interesting.

  20. Oops, I was referencing something Jeremy said:

    Honestly, this wasn’t really business focused. 1350 people was just too big. Why? Because too many of the wrong type of travel blogger were there.”

    I wanted to know who the wrong types were in case I’m one of them or one tries to steal my ideas. :-)

  21. Kim Mance says:

    Seems like this video is even more relevant now than when I showed it at the Vancouver conference … a lot of Travvies out there! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RsnbpFWTig

    • Kim Mance says:

      I should add (in addition to satirizing the problem of misguided travel bloggers) that I’ve always thought the solution is to have a very strong focus on quality content (I know you’re not a fan of that word, but it helps me summarize different mediums…writing, video, photography, etc.), BUT drive it home to the newbies and money-minded folks the fact that developing these skills is *very* important to their business. Advertisers, sponsors, and editors don’t want to associate their brands with shoddy work.

      • That’s why I think travel bloggers should spend time finding their voice, working on their writing, developing content, and finding their niche as a travel blogger before going after the free trips.

        I can’t say I am the best at what I do. However, I care about it and want to get better. Not once have I ever reached out to anyone for a trip. They’ve reached out to me. I’d like to think that’s because I’ve gotten better at this travel blogging/writing thing. It’s my hope that all those at TBEX were there for the same reasons.

        • Reading through all of your comments, Jeremy, it seems we had fairly similar experiences with TBEX. Like you, I spent far more time connecting with people than attending the official sessions, and I don’t regret it. That’s why I attended, and I left knowing I did just that.

          I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with reaching out for press trips, but using them as a means for free travel is extremely unprofessional and gives the whole industry a bad name. In the end, everything should be focused around, as you said, caring about what you do (whether its photography, writing, videography, or all of the above) and wanting to get better. I get the sense that not everyone out there is truly dedicated to improving their craft and are happier pumping out SEO-friendly articles that drive in legions of fleeting eyes.

          • Pam Mandel says:

            @Ryan: Keep in mind that the press trip model is a two way street. Clearly, someone thinks it’s valuable to send bloggers on press trips, that’s why it’s so dominant. Look at Navigate and iAmbassador, if I understand correctly, their business model is to be the middleman between bloggers and those providing press trips. Then they use their own handy math to calculate the ROI. They seem to have been somewhat successful, but I suppose in world where 1300 bloggers show up for a conference about travelblogging, it must be damned hard to pick 12 for your initiative. Why not believe some blogger founded agency that they’re the best men and women for the job?

            I’d like to hit fast-forward on some of these people and see how these career choices end up. On the PR side, that’s my guess, because that’s what they’re doing anyway, right? Self published motivational books, perhaps, because there’s a lot of that as a byproduct too. Or, you know, used car sales. Yeah, I went there.

  22. Interesting discussion and thanks Pam for kicking off the Algonquin Table chat. I had quality questions I brought to Pam prior to TBEX for I couldn’t understand why a number of people I read online had such huge followings yet their writing was very bland and repetitive. I’m not Hemingway, but I’m never been criticized of being bland or repetitive, and would like to build a larger readership. So I can technically I’m a new travel blogger to the scene despite having been blogging since 2005 and working as a writer since 1996. Both the travel coverage industry and blogging are going through growing pains, and quality often suffers when industries expand, but then things shake out. As Kim noted above, companies/brands aren’t going to associate themselves with shoddy work, and hopefully quality will always rise above the din. That said, I do hope my own work gains greater recognition, and perhaps TBEX will help nudge things along for me. Thanks for the two cents!

  23. Jenn Winter says:

    Pam, speaking as a first time TBEX attendee I am so relieved to read this post! The highlight of my weekend was the writing workshop, I only wish it had lasted longer and that there had been more emphasis on content quality throughout the weekend. There were exceptions, of course, and I loved Mike Sowden’s message of creating a “high quality, limited content” blog but I didn’t find this to mesh well with the overall TBEX message of “blog as business.” I found myself drawn to the writers and artists I admire rather than those with the best business tactics and strategies.

    Andy Murdoch recommended Book Passage to me but I’m worried that I will be in way over my head. What’s your thought on this – would it be appropriate for me to attend with only one byline to my name? Or is this a conference for the Big Dogs and one I should think about when I have a little more experience?

    Regardless, it was great meeting you at TBEX!
    Jenn Wintaaaa :-)

    • Pam Mandel says:

      Book Passage is expensive. So there’s that. Big dogs, however? Nope. Big dogs are there, sure, but they’re the big friendly kind of dogs, not the scary kind, the kind that walk up and lean on you sort of, not the kind that bark or try to herd you… enough. Enough. It is possible to overdo the metaphors.

      My friend Eva wrote this post about Book Passage — give it a read. And if you have any other questions, drop me a line, I can put you in touch with my students from previous years and maybe they will help you decide. Farley and Andy will be there teaching too, if that’s any incentive/disincentive. :)

  24. Robert Reid says:

    The funny thing about travel blogging is that when we write about travel blogging we get the most response. This isn’t a criticism. I LOVE this post, the comments, the honesty and the NEV tone in general. Isn’t it a little sad though, that it feels we speak to each other (travel bloggers) while the “travely travel” posts don’t really generate as much interest?

    I share many of Pam’s feelings about a conference of 1200 bloggers. I didn’t go, but followed along some interesting conversations at #TBEX and added to some. I didn’t pay anything, and I ended up with 130 additional followers for my efforts. Not sure what that’s worth.

    I played around with a #5minpanel idea on Twitter a couple weeks ago (on travel video), and floated around some comments during TBEX as a “virtual panel.”

    I wonder if there’s a way to play with that more?

    • Pam Mandel says:

      You know, I get sh!t sometimes for my industry navel gazing, but the flip side of that is that I also get a lot of conversation. Thing is, this is the kind of conversation we should be having AT TBEX. Then, I can go back to working on my post about how weird it is that Frankfurt’s traditional square was, wait, is that right, it was built in the 80s? Huh? No, not the 1680s, the *1980s*. WTF? I need a little bit of this self-indulgent nonsense to stay sane as a writer, but yeah, it would be nice to get this kind of spark around the other things I write about, not when I tackle the process of writing.

      I am SO up for the #5minpanel + virtual conference idea. SO up for it.

      • Robert Reid says:

        No, I think it’s useful having these industry sorts of conversations here. And my posts like “how to use a guidebook” has been one of the most successful, and half is directed to writers.

        Five minutes!

    • Gary Arndt says:

      Destination pieces never get as much feedback because most people have nothing to say.

      Most people have probably not been to the destination you are writing about, so they have nothing to contribute. I’ve noticed this 100’s of times, when I write about a place or even post a photo, the people who make a comment are people who have been there. If you haven’t been there, there isn’t anything to add.

      Also, content creators tend to comment more than non-content creators. Hence, posts about blogging tend to go nuts.

      That being said, posts about destinations DO get people who read them, just don’t interact as much. If they do interact, it will consist of a Facebook like.

      • Pam Mandel says:

        Mmmmaybe. I’ve written some stuff that sits at the intersection of history/destination or politics/destination that gets commentary, not just from folks who have been there. That said… yup. What you say makes sense. I’d disagree that most people have nothing to say, they just don’t feel okay saying it in the comments on a blog. I’d reckon they’d rather share their stories in some way that’s more natural to them.

  25. First TBEX for me and probably last. Maybe it’s because I’m middle aged. I only went to content breakouts and the writing workshop. Didn’t even go to the evening events/parties. I would have been a wallflower. (Did I mention that I’m old?)

    (I did connect with a couple of other global birders–who knew?–where we had lunch and nerded out together and discussed sharing content, so that was good.)

    TBEX felt to me like it was a sampler platter–I couldn’t dive deep into really anything, though I DID learn a few powerful things that I will put into action. I wasn’t lured at all by speed dating, nor did the commerce or business sessions interest me. It’s not where I am right now and not in my vision for the future.

    Sounds like Book Passage is more my speed and truly what I’m looking for. I’m a writer at heart–albeit, a writer who needs to practice at it more. I blog because writing for Corporate America and spending time building Powerpoint doesn’t stretch me as a writer. Blogging does. I’m the writer who travels and not the traveler who writes.

    Can’t make Book Passage this year (already have another commitment during that time), but it’s definitely in my plans for 2014.

    One thing not mentioned above in the comments (unless I missed it) is that I heard three times the following: “Watch out–journalists and seasoned writers in print will be entering the blog world in force in the coming years. They are great writers and so you will have new competition.”

    This might have fallen on deaf ears.

    I believe that while this new industry of travel bloggers has swelled, there will be a separation of the wheat from the chaff. It will be crowded for awhile, but those who can’t write a darn will not be able to sustain their audiences. It will be so crowded that readers will gravitate toward good writing.

    Natural selection.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      I’m old too, and a fellow Darwinist, but also, sometimes a planet has to get hit by a giant meteor or experience catastrophic flooding to change the nature of the inhabitants.

      I’m curious about where you heard the “Watch out for journalists,” remark. More, please?

      • Katrina captured the “Watch out for journalists…” message in her comments to this post. (I also heard it in two other sessions, but can’t recall exactly which ones, but the sentiment was the same.)

        Thank you for a thoughtful and honest dialogue here. I was feeling like a dork for not going gaga over TBEX. This was helpful and validated what I was thinking.

        Been there, done that, and yes, I got a red t-shirt. Now on to Book Passage in 2014.

        • Pam Mandel says:

          I never feel like journalists are the enemy or they’re on my turf, it’s really the other way around, and I think cranky journalists have been saying “watch out for what bloggers are dumping in our rivers” for a long time now, ten years, longer, even. Journalists aren’t new to the bloggy format at all, Slate has been online since when now? And Salon? What’s new in the travel space is that journalists are reporting on bloggers and bloggy tactics and I think this potentially spells trouble for black hat SEO folks, for undisclosed advertorial deals, for traffic inflation schemes… good writers who produce solid material have nothing to fear from journalists at all, and in my personal experience, they’ve been advocates for bloggers who they like and respect.

  26. A “watch out…journalists are coming remark” came during the PlanetD presentation. That caught my ear too for what’s happening here (I’m a journalist)? Caution to travel bloggers to step up their game, check their facts, be a little more circumspect, develop a voice, practice a craft as Jeremy noted? I’m a writer who travels, too, and, as Pam noted, I would’ve loved to have had this conversation in Toronto. I agree things will shake out…now I have to see how it shakes out. That said, print journalists can be a crabby bunch and constantly complain about new media taking over the universe. My husband and I met at the Associated Press…there was ONE computer with “Internet access” as it was known in 1997, and everyone else relied on a fax machine. We watched newspaper jobs disappear, but we evolved. The print folks are stronger with their fact-checking but could afford to drop the curmudgeonly us/them schtick and accept changing times.

  27. Ann says:

    I’ve said it before, please be in dublin.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      Two things:

      1) Thank you.
      2) The one thing you can do to stack the cards in that direction is to tell TBEX who you want to see there. And really, go nuts, tell ‘em everyone you want to see.

  28. Ann says:

    I’ll let them know. I’m still new to all of this, but do you think (from past experiences with tbex North America and tbex Europe) that the feel is the same in dublin? I can’t imagine it will be as crowded in dublin. I guess that could mean its the same stuff, just on a smaller scale.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      Girona was much smaller than Toronto, MUCH smaller, but there’s just no way to know. FWIW, the program in Toronto was more interesting to me than that in Girona. It’s evolving and demand helps that happen. They really do listen over there in the virtual TBEX HQ.

  29. I’ve been reading similar sentiment to yours about the TBEX on other blogs as well. We plan to attend the Dublin, and are excited since it will be our first.

    We’re new at this ourselves, and although we are blogging mainly to chronicle our adventures, it wouldn’t be all that terrible if maybe somewhere down the line it could be turned into a business opportunity as well.

    I could see how the scale and nature of the conference could diminish passion, as could the sight of a large group of people who are only there for the freebies, but at the end of the day, isn’t the intent of the conference to focus on the business end of travel blogging? Maybe it could be done better, but isn’t that, at least in part, what everyone is there for?

    The negativity surrounding the conference is discouraging to be sure, but I guess we’ll have to see for ourselves when we attend in Dublin. I’m sure it is justified in many respects. It’s hard to say without witnessing it myself.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      Okay, interesting points here, and hi, Dylan.

      I think that you are at the crux of the matter with this statement:”..at the end of the day, isn’t the intent of the conference to focus on the business end of travel blogging?” I don’t know the answer to that. If the answer is yes, than it’s as simple as my being in the wrong room. I don’t for a minute think this conference has to meet my needs, there are writer’s conferences I could attend for that. So if the answer is “Yes, it’s a business conference for bloggers,” my responsibility is to evaluate if I want to attend such an event. I don’t go to NMX, formerly Blog World Expo, I KNOW it’s not for me. This isn’t a value judgement, I hope that’s very clear. I’m not saying a business conference is bad, I’m saying that a well defined mission helps me decide if I’m in the right place.

      I hope I don’t come across as hugely negative, that’s not my intent. What I am is confused. At points in the past, I have been sure I’m in right room, and now, I don’t have that certainty. That’s my not so black and white commentary on the matter. I’m sure you can find “TBEX sux here’s why” posts, but you won’t get them from me. I have a more complicated point of view on the whole thing.

  30. I’ll start off by saying that compared to some of the other posts I read, it certainly does seem you have a conflicted view of the TBEX, rather than a flat out, almost biased or contrarian view of it. The initial reaction I was having when reading those posts was that people are disowning it because it’s become too popular; I can’t help but feel it’s a ‘it’s become too trendy for the trendsetters’ sort of scenario.

    At first I was ready to lump your post in with those, but by the end I could tell it was more complicated than that.

    The question that I was asking myself reading those other posts, which I think is what you are asking yourself here, is “If it wasn’t what you expected, what exactly was it you were expecting going in?” At least you’re trying to answer that. Others, I’m not so sure.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      I’m disinclined to just throw them under the bus just because it’s big and popular, see also, my favorite band that I started listening to that’s now playing stadium shows but I saw them at the Backstage which doesn’t even exist anymore blah blah blah blah. For me it’s a mix of expectations and what would make it work for me. But also, I’m very realistic that it doesn’t HAVE to work for, me, it doesn’t have to be a literary travel writing event. I’d just like to understand what it is so I can also effectively decide if it’s genuinely valuable for me to be part of it.

  31. Matt Gibson says:

    When were these writing workshops you speak of? I was not aware of them. I totally would have gone to that!

    Sorry I didn’t run into you this year, Pam. Next year you must sit with me to drink bourbon and talk writing! Few things go together as well.

    Or, maybe I’ll see you at Book Passage. I’ve wanted to go for a while now.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      @Matt G: The writing workshop was the day before the official program. You had to register in advance — it was a 1/2 day with David Farley, Andy Murdock, and me. Next time you think we’ll be in the same place, hunt me down. I am so up for bourbon and writing talk.

  32. You know what I think would be really interesting? A blogging conference put together by people who actually make a full-time living via WRITING (as opposed to blogging). I’m not sure how many of us there are, but I’m guessing we’re a vast minority.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      @Bret: Vast minority. Heh. Point of clarification — do you mean travel writing, or just writing? FWIW, I make all my money as a writer. Not all travel, not all blogging, but as a writer.

      • I mean WRITING– the act of putting thoughts into words onto paper/screen and somehow tricking people into paying you for it (I say that facetiously, but still, I think you know what I mean).

        To me, writing is writing. And whether I’m interviewing Jimmy Carter on his global peace and health initiatives (my favorite assignment), or writing about the historic connection between gambling and the blues in the Mississippi Delta (my current assignment), or writing stories for Green Global Travel, I approach them all somewhat similarly.

        My site is not about writing, or blogging, so they’re subjects I write about very infrequently. But I’ve managed to support a family of 3 on a freelance writer’s income for 12 years now (our blog barely breaks even), and did it professionally 7 years before that. So I feel like there’s some wisdom there that people like you and I, and others who does this crazy job for a living, could offer to benefit the blogging community on the whole.

        Getting press trips is EASY. Writing for a living is hard.

        • Pam Mandel says:

          You’re articulating, or edging towards it, the difference between a marketing conference and a writing conference. I may have attitude about the current state of marketing, just a little (heh), but rather than unpack that here, my point is that TBEX might be becoming a marketing conference. Okay, that’s fine, and at least with that kind of clear definition, I’ll know it’s not the right room for me.

          Knotty sidebar: Marketers *do* need to know how to produce good “content.” They need to think about who their audience is, what the goal of that “content” is, what they want users on their sites/blogs to do as a result of consuming said “content.” I’d suggest that the current web is inundated with “content marketers” who are not serious about creating content that meets audience goals. Sponsor goals, maybe, but that’s not the audience.

          Which is why it’s knotty. Good solid “content” is what makes a successful marketing plan. Balancing what’s in it for the audience versus addressing the business goals of The Man who’s Writing the Checks remains simmering on a back burner, while the audience, the single most valuable thing any indy blogger has, gets thrown under the bus.

          • “I’d suggest that the current web is inundated with ‘content marketers’ who are not serious about creating content that meets audience goals.”

            I would agree. I think it’s because most bloggers do not start with a sense of purpose. Other than getting free stuff and not having to pay for travel. And if that’s their primary goal, then writing more to market themselves to sponsors/DMOs probably serves their business model (such as it is).

            As a professional, I already got free stuff and press trips before launching GGT. So my goals were very, very different, full of lofty idealism and perhaps more than a little hubris. But it worked for us, and it helped us attract interest from companies who’d never worked with bloggers before.

            I believe that time will sort the wheat from the chaff. Our goal is to help grow more wheat, albeit a gluten-free variety that won’t hurt your tummy…

  33. Cool group. Thx Pam for this virtual round table. @Bret, just discovered who you are and now following/reading you because I’m into green travel. Won’t be able to attend TBEX Dublin, but are the conferences so different from one another within one year? I also earn my living as a freelance writer, so will have to stuff away some cash for Book Passage 2014. Maybe I’ll be further along with my novel manuscript by then and we can all chat in person over decent coffee.

  34. Mikeachim says:

    That Mike Sowden character is a jackass. Sorry you wasted your time on his talk.

    Like you, I was selective and I regret missing a few things. I missed Lola’s talk because I was desperately mending my spectacles in my room after I snapped them in half upon waking up to a fire alarm at 6am. I missed a couple of other things I wanted to attend for far less dramatic reasons. I’m still annoyed at myself / at fickle fate for this.

    But I also didn’t attend anything that cast TBEX in a bad light. Yes, 1350 people under one roof is insane, and it would be really, really nice to have a strategy for diluting that overwhelmingness / herding people intelligently, so there’s time for everyone to chat. I didn’t go for the formal networking (I did a lot of informal networking, but I don’t like rushing through introductions so I prefer to do them outside of these kinds of stressful, constricted environments). I didn’t go out drinking, barring two glasses of wine (two? my mind is hazy) in Leif Pettersen’s room while a motley crew of travel writers & editors read stupid s**t out loud and laughed like drains. That was about as hedonistic as I got.

    I had a great time. But who cares what kind of a time I had? The issue is: is TBEX worth it? And the answer is, obviously, yes/perhaps/no.

    I was shocked at the number of new bloggers there. This is something I keep forgetting – these conferences are for folk with blogs for years & years, but they’re also not, to a significant degree. So that robs me even more of my ability to judge their usefulness. I know some bloggers, new and established, are happy to go from press trip to press trip, and I have no real opinion on that because I’ve never done that & never will, because I’d go bankrupt. I know major sponsors exert major influence in some cases, but I haven’t felt or acted on any, so again I can’t comment. In summary, I lack the experience to speak for anyone beyond myself, even if I do have a few ideas in that direction. On the day that a conference runs a session entitled, say, “Hashtags are the new Storytelling”, I will be galvanized into feats of great crankiness, but until then, live and let live.

    Also – here’s a joke by the late Tommy Cooper. “I went to the doctor, lifted my arm and said, Doctor, It Hurts When I Do This. And the doctor said, Well – Don’t Do It.” I feel this applies to a lot of travel blogging.

    I have some idealistic, possibly wildly unrealistic ideas about what conferences could be about. They go like this:

    1) Diversity. Wild diversity. As in, conflicting views offered in different sessions, at odds with each other out in the open, on the schedule. Because there is no one way to put together a business around travel and blogging, and that is a message that every new blogger needs to act on. Learn from everyone, but try to make your own thing *your* way.

    2) All those shiny minds under one roof – it’s a shame that there are few opportunities to formally throw ideas at a wall. To not just discuss, but to try to invent. If conferences become creation-spaces that lead to new business ventures, their credibility will surely go through the roof. I’d love to see that. I haven’t yet done so, except in small, on the fringe ways. But that would, for me, elevate conferences from things that are useful to things that are absolutely unmissable. And no, I don’t know how this creating would work – or even if it would. But it has to be worth a shot, with all those smart people in one room for maybe the only time that year? Too good a chance to miss.

    Both TBU (in Rotterdam, Europe) and TBEX were good to me this month, and also good for business. They’ve led to more work in each case. And in each case, I met people who cared about writing and storytelling and cared about creating good work that endures and tries to serve readers in a meaningful way. In each case, I’m profoundly grateful I got to meet these folk. Both TBU and TBEX were probably worth it if I’d paid my way in – but I was a speaker, so I didn’t. That said, I have nothing to compare travel blogging conferences to. If I’d attended Book Passage, or a new kind of storytelling conference, I might feel differently.

    OK, I’m writing my own TBEX/TBU summary post, so I’m giving away all the good stuff. This comment is now at an end.

  35. Mikeachim says:

    His talk was like that too! On and on and on and on and on and on and
    [edited for length]

  36. Kim Rogers says:

    Oh, sweet, little bird known as Pam. Please stop flying into glass walls. It’ll kill you one day. But do keep singing your artistic song. We need your voice. We do, indeed.

    This TBEX surprised me. In a good way. As large as it was (and I do believe there’s good in that fact), I kept running into people I’d met at the previous two TBEX conferences I’d attended, and I meet new people. People I liked. People with whom I had good conversations. It made me glad I hadn’t canceled at the last minute, like I was considering when, the day before, I sat and realized my travel days equaled the number of conference days.

    That said, was TBEX perfect? No. And, honestly, I don’t expect it ever to be. (It’s the same realization I came to after a few years of marriage. No one person can complete me/fulfill all my needs/whatever. But a group of people can–enter girl friends!) Was TBEX better than the year before? Yes. Could there have been more storytelling content? Absolutely. But can we cover storytelling in a 45 minute breakout session? In an over-crowded room with a couple hundred people in attendance? I don’t think so. I don’t think we can do it in a keynote address. Or a two-hour workshop like you led, great start as it was, I am sure, although I wasn’t in attendance since it sold out in a nano-second. (That fact–the world-record sell-out time–in and of itself says something pretty darn dramatic: Travel bloggers want storytelling content.)

    But here’s the thing about storytelling: It’s hard. There is no magic bullet. There is no one conference that–ta-da–makes someone a storyteller. Even as glorious as Book Passage is, and I know, because I attended a dozen years ago. Met some really fine people. Heard from some really inspiring writers. But writing is a lifelong pursuit. A lifelong practice. I suppose that’s why I have a hard time finding travel bloggers with the kind of storytelling content that makes me want to follow them–their RSS feed or their actual footsteps.

    There are a few additions/improvements I’d like to see at TBEX, and these are entirely personal:

    1. A two- or three-day writing retreat preceding TBEX that’s focused on the craft of storytelling.
    2. A session on “How to Form a Writing Group” and opportunities to find/connect with like-minded writers who are interested in improving their writing and staying connected throughout the year between TBEX conferences.
    3. Storytelling opportunities at TBEX. I’d love to sit down and hear some good travel stories from my fellow travelers. Because, whoa, I know there were some good ones in Toronto. I only wish I had gotten to hear some.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      Splat. That’s me hitting the glass, again. Point taken. Invisible, (morale) damaging obstacles marked on the map.

      I guess my question is this: How do I make TBEX work for “someone like me” and what’s my role there? I guess it’s to fly the flag for writing as a passion (bleh, I said that, I don’t like to talk like that but…) And yeah, I love that it sold out too, plus, said it before, will say it again, my co-presenters were freaking’ aces. I can’t believe I got to work with those guys.

      Your commentary on the accelerated nature of things is on the nose — it is hard, and I’m constantly surprised by how many people just don’t get it. This isn’t me being my usual lit snob self, I swear, anyone can learn to tell a story, it’s in our DNA. But we somehow got hard coded to write “what I did on my summer vacation” posts as though a catalog of our activities equals a story. And breaking that habit takes time — I can see it in my own old work.

      I REALLY want to HEAR great stories at TBEX too. Please pitch that idea to the powers that be. I think a curated reading would be (here, I’ll do it again) INSPIRING. And stories, I SWEAR, they are why we travel.

  37. Laura says:

    I’m glad people are writing about less than stellar experiences at TBEX. I needed the validation that I’m not reacting from a bitter or discouraged place. Last year was my first–and probably my only–travel blogging conference. Not because I’m quitting but because I’m a little disheartened by the attitudes of a lot of bloggers. It’s all about scoring the trip, the perk, the comp, the SEO score, the rating, the hits. Where is the passion for the art of writing? I am a writer.

    When I started all this blogging, I slavishly read the “big hitters” with fancy scores. It was disheartening to read content with little or no imagination; slapped together with keywords and “readability” scores in mind.

    That’s not writing. That’s a smoke and mirror trick on the bots.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      On bleaker days I feel like we’ve lost the sound of independent voices on the web to spin marketers. And we’ve shifted the focus to sales, of product/services for others, of ourselves, and away from publishing great writing Because We Can.

      On other days, I remind myself that it’s just a reflection of How Things Are in the World. We get three NPR stations on the radio (you kids remember radio?) at my house and a whole lot of Clear Channel broadcasts. NPR asks me for money every year, Clear Channel buries me in ads. (I forget, sometimes, when I tune in to KMTT, our old “adult” rock station, that the changed hands, and I think, “Wait, WTF happened here?” because the tone is so different now.) But NPR equivalency is my goal, not some corporate broadcaster, even though the money is clearly better over there. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I like a little intellectual junk food. But if I consider that the market in blogging has grown SO much that its analogous to any other media, I get slightly more sane. At least I have context.

      But only slightly.

  38. Jess says:

    I did notice that there seemed to be a default assumption that ‘success’ for any travel blogger had to involve either funding indefinite RTW travel, or living on a beach somewhere running a social media empire. I don’t see that as a necessary part of being a professional, and I was kind of put off it.

    • Pam Mandel says:

      So, I think I agree with you, but I’m not sure why — if that sense of things is all in my head or if it really DOES play into the zeitgeist. Can you be more specific about how/when/where you got that sense of things?

      Related: I feel pretty good about my career as a writer, and I don’t live on a beach, and I’m not funding a travel lifestyle and I don’t have an empire. I do have some bylines I’m really proud of, though.

  39. davitydave says:

    I really liked the panel on content strategy! That Lytle guy was handsome, Vivek Wagle really knew his stuff, and Andy Murdoch sat really professionally. Also, the moderator was a brilliant and gentle cat herder.

  40. From Pam “I feel pretty good about my career as a writer, and I don’t live on a beach, and I’m not funding a travel lifestyle and I don’t have an empire. I do have some bylines I’m really proud of, though.”

    Pam, me, too. Live in the leafy Northeast burbs, writing about health, doing nonprofit communications, have paid for all my trips to date, no empire, a handful of readers who like what I write, some good bylines and fun assignments to my name. What’s not to love?

    Laura, I agree with you about irritating bloggers scoring trips. Prior to TBEX, I was following a lot of travel content I found pretty bland, yet had high traffic, and was trying to figure out what I was doing wrong (if someone knows, don’t be shy–please tell me). And I’ll go on record here and say I thought Trey Ratcliff’s TBEX keynote was God-awful; a disorganized family photo album linked with inspirational platitudes.

    Thankfully, after Trey’s dismal spiel, the content strategy panel was cool and joyfully in disagreement with one another.

  41. […] Mandel at Nerd’s Eye View has been writing some good thoughtful posts about this issue (a particularly good one after the North American version of this conference in June); I am still rolling around all this […]

  42. […] TBEX is an online community of travel bloggers worldwide, holding an annual conference. The witty blogger Pam Mandel of Nerds Eye View echoes my sentiments on the subject of travel blogging as a job: […]

  43. […] all post-conference blog posts focus on this topic. Here’s an excellent one from Pam Mandel (with a terrific and still-evolving comment thread). What people get from them is always, always […]

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