TBEX 2011 Review (Part II): The Content

©Kirsten Alana Photography/Galavanting ©Kirsten Alana Photography/Galavanting
©Kirsten Alana Photography/Galavanting ©Kirsten Alana Photography/Galavanting
©Kirsten Alana Photography/Galavanting ©Kirsten Alana Photography/Galavanting

Last week, I published Part One of my review of the 2011 TBEX Travel Bloggers Conference, focusing on the organizational aspects of that event. A couple things before I move on to this post.

2011 tbex review travel blogging conference panel

©Kirsten Alana Photography/Galavanting

First, my thanks to everyone for an amazing amount of comments (around 210 or so) from the last post. More important than the volume was the quality. There were some amazing suggestions and ideas put forth in that post and each of you that took the time to comment contributed, I think, to the improvement of this conference going forward.

Second and related, thanks to Joey Hernandez and Kim Mance for taking the many and varied critiques and suggestions in stride. Their comments and contributions to the discussion were of the perfect temperament and from what I am hearing, I think they plan to take everything to heart and come back with a significantly improved 2012 TBEX, which would be great for them and for all of us.

Lastly, this hopefully will be my last post on the topic of travel blogging for a little while. While I really appreciate my travel blogging readership, I hope I don’t lose too many “normal readers” with these posts which only address topics that a slight few of my readers care about. I felt it necessary to post my thoughts here because so many people were privately talking about these topics while at TBEX, but saying they weren’t going to post about them, but I best get back to my travel writing soon, or people might forget this is actually a website about travel and not just blogging.

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The short summary is that the content was leaps and bounds better than the organization. There were some wonderful and amazing people that spoke at TBEX 2011 and I am going to leave some out by accident and because I didn’t get to see everyone, but I was particularly impressed by Robert Reid’s talk to the entire group, Gary Arndt’s keynote on the state of travel blogging, anything that came out of Chris Christensen’s mouth (he needs to be the MC of the entire TBEX 2012 event, in my opinion), Spud Hilton and David Farley and Jim Benning talking about narrative travel writing, Andrew Evans and Pam Mandel and Don George also talking about narrative travel writing, Jen Leo on relationships with PR people and more.

2011 tbex review spud hilton panel travel narrative

©Kirsten Alana Photography/Galavanting

A truly great weekend for meeting people, networking, and picking up some tips.

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I was going to write a post reviewing more of the content, but this post got way too long and I’m not breaking it out into yet another post, so I’ll try to avoid opening myself up to the “stupid and spiteful” tag tossed off in my general direction at least one other comment thread on another blogger’s TBEX review and go with….

What would I do to make the content of 2012 TBEX better on the content side?

* Multiple separate tracks. Obviously, TBEX 2012 really needs a beginner track at least, separate from the intermediates and experts. I asked a few complete newbie bloggers after TBEX what they got from the conference and they complained that they didn’t get any of the basics they were looking for: how to set up a website with plugins and such, how to get traffic to your site, effectively using social media (none of them even knew how to set up a Facebook Fan page yet, which isn’t odd, considering how young to the field they are). The basic travel blogging tips are a must for a large group that is going to be there every year. As a note on this, I think an entire panel of us talking to newbies about how we ‘found our voice,’ the process and time that took and failures on that path, would be one of the few ‘war story’ panels that would really communicate useful information, but regardless, they need two days of Travel Blogging 101 stuff.

But the separate tracks goes further than just a beginner track. For example, video blogging should be an entire day’s track, not just one hour. I completely adore Lisa Lubin, but she needed the opportunity to slow down the content stream that she had to pump out in her video overview hour. Make it a whole day’s track. An hour on what sort of equipment you should use. An hour on shooting basics. An hour on editing. An hour on maximizing traffic via YouTube and Vimeo tips or on how to make video look best on your website.

Similarly, those of us that have been blogging for a long time need content focused on some more “expert topics.”  SEO for intermediate and expert use, broken out entirely separate from the newbies. Some groups on how to pitch PR people, with example emails, mock phone calls and so forth. Beginners need to find a way to find their voice and get traffic and get to the point they can worry about this stuff — the rest of us need to focus on some specific goals and tips to refine our skills.

* Plan ahead for content. In one of the narrative travel writing sessions I attended, the panel gave out a little writing project on day one to go over at the follow-up session for day two. (By the way, I couldn’t attend the follow-up session, but I heard it was great, with the panel breaking into smaller groups to go over the homework with the people that did it.)  Those sort of projects — where you show some of your work to the experts and get feedback — is invaluable and exactly what a lot of people want, but…. why can’t that be organized beforehand and not after you get back from the fun after parties?

If you announce the sessions early enough and the speakers are organized, people can sign up for certain classes and email something to TBEX, who then gets it in the expert’s hands beforehand. So, in the travel narrative section, the speakers request a 300 word-max example of how you open one of your posts and then use those examples, some of their writing, and some other published content, as the fodder for a few hours on that topic in a slide show presentation and live teaching session. Similarly, you could do the same for the video track, with a pre-submitted 5 minute video you have done, or photos submitted for the photography break-outs and so forth.

* Realistic monetizing sessions. The monetizing session could have been subtitled “If you aren’t on stage, you likely aren’t going to make much money.” Look, I don’t think making good money travel blogging is a realistic goal for 96% of the people at TBEX, but while it is great hearing stories about how some huge travel bloggers got sponsorships, that seems more like good happy hour fodder than any true monetizing strategy. Monetizing talks need to be focused on what the average blogger can do, not what you can do when you are one of the top 4-5 in the field, rarefied air which most of us aren’t going to sniff in our lifetimes.

First, it needs to involve some talks about how to drive traffic to your site, so a session on using Stumble Upon, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Triberr, Google +1 and the like is part and parcel with monetizing — there was not a single person that talked about driving traffic that I heard of on any panel.

Secondly, the realistic way to monetize and talk about it is to discuss selling contextual links, affiliate sales, collaboration with local tour companies and things like that. Again, I don’t think any of that was discussed in any full sense at all. If you are willing to do all the grunt work, there is money to be made travel blogging and web designing: Kristy of Nerdy Nomad made $5,604 in the month of May. My good friend Dave, of Go Backpacking and other sites is making a full-time living. I love the titans in the field, but monetizing is the conversation for us grunts out there, grinding out the money a hundred dollars at a time.

* Live stream, and more importantly video record, the sessions and offer them to everyone for free. This isn’t entirely a content suggestion, but close enough. If I were running TBEX, I would be aiming almost for a TED-like feel from it. Be the information providers to everyone. Make money on the people that want to show up and network and see things live (TBEX will sell out every year, even giving the content away for free later on the web), but be a service to the community via free distribution of the content you are offering. The payback in goodwill, respect, and loyalty to your product will be worth it. It also eliminates the need to do the same repetitive topics on different days, like was done at TBEX 2011.

* Networking opportunities. One of my favorite PR/travel blogger stories of the weekend involves Keith Savage, who I am no convinced is my long-lost brother (though he might not be as happy with that designation). He was standing in line at a happy hour talking about his blog, which is exclusively about Scotland, when someone turned around and said she did PR for Visit Scotland. Total happenstance meeting that I hope brings great things to Keith.

While TBEX provided random chances for some of that, there are better ways.

If TBEX would have bloggers fill out a form specifying what niches they are in or what sort of PR people they want to meet — and likewise have the PR people fill out forms detailing who there clients are and what sort of travel bloggers they are trying to meet — weeks before the conference and then publish that list to everyone attending, there would have been scads of more effective meet-ups. In that instance, I’d bet the Visit Scotland PR person would have done their homework before the conference, seen Keith’s site, checked the content and the traffic, probably contacted him directly beforehand and said, “I want to take you to dinner to discuss what we can do for each other.”

The PR people I spoke with were frustrated they couldn’t find the bloggers they wanted. My name tag read “Michael Hodson, @mobilelawyer, www.GoSeeWrite.com.” It would have been completely random for any PR person to find me in the mass of humanity. Publish up a free directory of what we each do and there will be meet-ups like mad at TBEX 2012.

2011 tbex review travel blogging conference

©Kirsten Alana Photography/Galavanting

* Coffee with the Pros. Networking is a big part of TBEX, but I also realize that for the newer bloggers, it isn’t always the easiest thing to walk up and talk to some of the big dogs in the field. To the same extent though, this is an amazing community where I know that almost all of us, no matter our level of success, is willing to help newer bloggers out. So how about a morning coffee meet-up between newbies and some of the biggies? Set a room aside with some tables and chairs, TBEX organizes up a dozen successful bloggers to take one table each, and bloggers that have been at it for under 6 months can come in, grab a cup of coffee and sit down and talk to some of the veterans in a small group setting. Not only good for just casual picking the brain of the pros, but if the newbie seems on the ball, they are probably going to have a blogging mentor relationship come out of a couple of mugs of (free) coffee.

* Lunch with random seating. Similar to the above suggestion, but for everyone. It is great to get a chance to talk to people we already know and catch up with, but how about setting up a lunch with some semi-random seating to meet new people. Again, organization beforehand is the key. So a table might be a couple PR people, a big blogger, and 7 other random bloggers or some similar format. The meeting mash-up might not lead to anything concrete, but I’d love to sit at a table with some random folks over a rubber chicken lunch and talk about blogging and travel.

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So those are a few of my random musings on some possible ways to improve TBEX 2012, or for that matter, any other travel blogging conference in the future. I’ve got more, but this post is too long already.

Would love to hear your comments on the content of the 2011 TBEX conference (sorry I didn’t do more of that here) and your thoughts for TBEX 2012, though many of those ideas from you were on the last thread also. I think the organizers are listening…. and maybe hiring…. so take your opportunity to be heard.

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I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all. Read more by Michael Hodson and connect on Google Plus.

71 Responses to “TBEX 2011 Review (Part II): The Content” Subscribe

  1. Jessica June 20, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    While I found your first post a little unnerving since I was about to buy my ticket to TBEX 12…… I hope that there are improvements, and more opportunities for connecting for 2012. I am still on the beginners side of blogging, even though I’ve been at it for a year. I feel like this year I would’ve been lost in the sea of bloggers. As far as TBEX 12 goes, I look forward to going, and meeting with people, networking, and hearing a few pointers that may relate to “relatively new” bloggers. Thanks for the honest review!

    • Michael Hodson June 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm #

      Thanks for finding my website Jessica. I think the organizational snafus are quite correctable, for sure. And on the content side, now that they have a pretty dedicated group of 500+ bloggers that are going to attend, I am sure they can spice up that side also. The networking and fun parts of it are wonderful.

  2. Kelly June 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    I think you just got yourself a job organizing the next TBEX.

    • Michael Hodson June 20, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

      LOL, I’m perfectly willing to offer my limited skills and knowledge to anyone that wants to ask, but I’m not sure I “play well enough with others” as my 4th grade teacher said, to pull off any job working for anyone at this point in my life ;)

  3. Katie June 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Great suggestions – I think you touched on pretty much everything that was missing this year that would be a huge added value next year. Separate tracks for beginner, intermediate and advanced bloggers are key. I’ve only been at this a year, but I found some sessions over my head, while others I felt like I already knew most of what was being covered.

    The networking suggestions you make are excellent too. I would have loved to have met more PR people but the ones I seemed to run in to were all US-focused and my focus is entirely international. I had no clue where to track down anyone who would’ve been good for me to meet (if they were even there, I don’t know). More small group settings for people to interact would also be great – at the large parties, it can be easy to gravitate toward the people you already know and intimidating to try to join in the conversations with those you don’t.

    • Michael Hodson June 20, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

      I think the next step is at least a separate beginner track. Not sure they can pull off intermediate and advanced, nor sure they need to. If there are some more specific offerings to people in those categories, they might be fine.

      And yea, I’d love the networking with PR people to get some structure. After hearing some feedback from them, I think they’d like it also.

  4. Steph June 20, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    I agree with so much of this!

    My biggest frustration was the lack of diversity among the speakers. I would have liked to see more independent bloggers and more bloggers at different levels and definitions of success speaking. I think that someone who has been blogging for two or three years and has moderate success may be able to give more useful advice to newbie bloggers than someone who is much further removed from that starting point. I for one was somewhat confounded at the monetization panel when it was announce that you can’t make good money off of ads and text links. Well, I do. I make a pretty good amount, and I know quite a few other bloggers who are getting by on these things. While it was really interesting to hear about the Lost Girl’s book and tv deals, I would really have liked to hear some more realistic monetization strategies for the rest of us. You are right that Dave would have been an excellent resource for this.

    I was glad that I got to connect with some of the PR people but at the same time I spent a lot of time running around trying to find them. I only located the DC Rep because she spoke up in one of the sessions and I spent all weekend asking around about the Virginia Rep only to find out once I got home she hadn’t been able to make it at all! Would have really appreciated a full and updated list of who was there as well as contact information so I could reach out beforehand.

    You have some really awesome ideas in here and I hope that the TBEX people take them into account- that would be a really enjoyable conference!

    • Michael Hodson June 20, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

      Agree with you on the speakers. They had some great ones, but most did seem to come from the same sort of background. I’ll tell you one guy that I bet is going to have some amazing tips on monetizing next year… Keith Savage. If bloggers want to make money, he is going about it the only good way to do so. Or the best way at least. Narrow focus.

    • Don Faust June 21, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

      Steph – I agree with you. While I found the monetization session interesting, it seems like it is still being presented as “this works, so do this – this doesn’t work, so don’t do that”. Just because something doesn’t work for someone, doesn’t mean it’s not working for others. Everyone is different and they appeal to widely different audiences – because of that, there is A LOT of ground being explored, which many of us don’t even know about.

      I would rather hear about all the ideas people are working on (if that’s possible) – and there is room for disagreement – I want the panel to challenge each other and debate pros and cons – why something works and why something doesn’t, and HOW they made it work. Then someone else can challenge that and say, “That didn’t work for me, and here’s why I think that is the case”.

  5. Christina June 20, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    I have never been to a TBEX event but I would love to go to a conference that implements the things you have outlined here.

    • Michael Hodson June 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

      Well I hope to meet you there or elsewhere!

  6. Ryan June 20, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    These are some really great ideas, Michael. I agree that the content should be settled on before hand, and there should be differentiation according to “tracks”, so people can find out what is interesting to them.

    It’s interesting you mention Lisa Lubin because I also wanted to hear more of her talk about video and photo. There could have been an active workshop on that where all of us bloggers go out and make a video using the things we learned and bring it in for feedback and editing from the experts. This kind of thing takes time, so it should be a whole-day sort of thing as you suggest.

    I also think that perhaps monetization is best thought of didactically as a step-wise process. Not that I have much experience in this, but we can’t have people thinking it is zero or hero, 5-6 digits or nothing. You make a little, then a little more, then a little more, with occasional leaps based on opportunities that come your way. Same thing with traffic. The TBEX survey even showed 70% of TBEX bloggers are making less than $300/mo from their blog, so there ought to be workshops on monetizing that reach a better a majority of those present. Not sure if Expedia will pay me $100k (yet), but I’m sure some company might pay me a few hundred bucks for something.

    Anyways, you’re doing a real stellar job with this write up. Looking forward to the remaining parts in the series.

    • Michael Hodson June 20, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

      NO more parts of the series!! Enough writing about travel blogging for me, for a while. I’ll just willingly sit back and get snipped at at bit from here on. Thanks for your thoughts on monetizing – I think you are right on the mark there.

  7. Leigh June 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Michael – What I like about you’ve done in this post is that you’ve offered solutions to the organizers that are easy to implement. There are no excuses for next year. I think if they are trying to keep ticket costs down then they should also ask for volunteers among the blogging community to help out with the organizing. It’s a big job but not if it’s spread around. I would have been more than happy to help in Vancouver- and in fact sent two emails but never heard boo.

    Discussed the conference with Jeannie of The Nomadic Chick last night and her friend had a great but simple idea for name tags – colour coding according to what category you’re in – PR gets blue, media gets red, family bloggers get green…

    • Michael Hodson June 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

      Love the name tag idea. I think they are going to add a number of volunteers to the organizing committee and sounds like adding some professional conference organizer to staff, I believe.

  8. Natalie T. June 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    I like the idea of having lunch with random seating to facilitate a casual networking setup. Lunch onsite also relieves attendees from the stress of finding people or places to grab a bite on a time line. That said, what I liked about this year was that lunch was an hour and a half which allowed for time in lineups and making more meaningful connections. I would gladly pay an extra $5 for that or get a caterer to do this and then have people pay upfront.

    I also like the idea of preparing for sessions in advance. While I learned a lot from the narrative session, it was stressful to do “homework” on a Saturday night when I had to be at certain parties. I ended up missing the morning to focus on preparing for this one session. That said, the exercise was to use the feedback given the day before to improve our writing, so it’s hard to say what would be best in this circumstance.

    I am hoping that the feedback given will continue to improve a conference that is a great meeting of the minds in the travel community.

    • Michael Hodson June 20, 2011 at 6:50 pm #

      An hour and a half for lunch was definitely a good idea and I’m not sure my lunch idea will work out at all, but just throwing ideas against the wall. Advance prep and materials are much more important in my eyes — hope they do some of that.

  9. Kirsty June 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    Hey there,

    Thought I’d chime in just to tell people that I don’t make $5000+ a month from travel blogging… I have a bunch of (mostly) travel related static HTML websites that are old and have content that doesn’t change much. While I have a blog, I don’t really make much money from it, nor do I really try.

    I’m surprised though that contextual link sales wasn’t discussed. That seems to be where a lot of companies (through SEO middlemen) are putting their budgets these days as they try to climb up Google’s rankings. Affiliate sales will generally only work for the bloggers with the biggest followings (who value their recommendations) of for people with sneaky tricks up their sleeves like me.

    There are lots of ways to make money from the internet… travel blogging isn’t really one of the best choices. I feel like an honest, realistic look at monetizing a travel blog would make a great session.

    I’m not saying money can’t be made from travel blogs, there are a bunch of people making money and I feel like earning on the internet is in its early stages. I’m just saying that there are much better ways to earn online. Once you get your passive income set up and can travel full time, that’s when you should be putting all of your efforts into a travel blog. I think.

    Great writeup on TBEX, by the way!

    Kirsty

    • Michael Hodson June 20, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

      Thanks for finding the post and after talking to you privately, I am glad you are OK with me citing you. I should have reached out privately, but you were the first person I thought of on monetizing, since you are so open on your income and expenses from all things internet. Thanks for your contributions to the dialog.

    • Don Faust June 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

      Kirsty – As far as I can recall, the monetization session did not cover contextual links, although the SEO session DID. There seems to be two camps of thought on whether that is a cool thing to do. I understand if some don’t care for that, but I want to hear about – argue the pros and cons.

      It’s refreshing that you list your income – I’m sure there are others I am not aware of, but you and Dave Lee are the only ones I know of that are listing their ups and downs.

      It would be great if someone like YOU could speak about your advertising income. That was generally dismissed as a lost cause.

  10. Stuart June 20, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    Think it would be a mistake to run sessions as an absolute beginner level. How to set up plug-ins? Set up a Facebook page? Google it. There’s a wealth of information out there already and this kind of “nuts and bolts” thing lends itself to a simple howto post that you read then do.

    Others are more conceptual and would depend on the type of site. How to generate traffic, How to find your voice, How to take/choose effective photos, are all more subjective/dependent on the site and could be beneficial in a group session.

    On the networking side it could be advantageous to have some kind of “online appointment book” where anyone (speakers and attendants) could say I’m going to be at Joe’s Deli at 9am, if you want to meet up leave your name and some info on what you’d like to discuss and we can take it from there. One need not meet with everyone, but it should lend a bit more structure than a 600 person melee. I’m sure some of this happened informally anyway, but providing some structure would help.

    Final suggestion, add something on the TBEX site now reading “Suggest a session” Run it for 3 months to collect suggestions then allow voting to select the sessions that people actually want. Once readers have determined the sessions you could even conduct the process again to determine the speakers ;-)

    • Michael Hodson June 20, 2011 at 6:54 pm #

      Just saying what I heard from a number of people there. Is it difficult to google some of the stuff? No, but I do recall back when I started and my abject fear of doing a self-hosted site verses blogspot, for instance (my biggest mistake in blogging being staying on blogspot far too long). What seems simple to you and me is not simple to 200 or so beginners that attend this conference. Hell, I have talked to some intermediate and advanced bloggers that could use a beginners course in Stumble Upon or SEO. I think a variety of skill level classes makes sense for TBEX, but its up to them.

  11. Meliha June 20, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    I agreed with SO much of what you wrote here, and I really appreciated the fact that the suggestions were really constructive. :)

    Loved the part about beginner-intermediate-advanced and completely agree. I’ve been blogging for 2+ years but still feel like I have a lot to learn. After seeing the early TBEX ’11 schedule, I was slightly disappointed there weren’t more sessions focused on the types of topics you mentioned and less on the writing end of things…it was (is), after all, called a “blogging” conference (not a writing conf). Still learned quite a bit and made some good contacts though…

    • Michael Hodson June 20, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

      thanks for commenting and for what it is worth, I agree with you. Loved the “write better” sessions, but hope they add more “blogging” sessions in future years. There are plenty of ways to get a popular blog and if you look at some that get a lot of traffic (not just in the travel field), good writing is not one the only way to get there.

  12. ayngelina June 20, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    If I could only change three things it would be

    1) Jen’s suggestion in her post today on the business of blogging and the art of blogging (writing) being covered. I found the business aspect, which is where I need help, wasn’t really there.
    2) More diversity in the speakers, a lot of were from traditional writing backgrounds, I want to hear from more bloggers not people who blog for a newspaper.
    3) Different tracks for beginners vs advanced. I am REALLY disappointed this wasn’t addressed as many people said it was an issue last year.

    I don’t know if I will return next year. It will really depend on the schedule. I’m starting to think I’d be better off at a traditional blogging or digital marketing conference.

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

      Love seeing you get out there and replying to a thread like this. Unlike you and… as always, I love your thoughts. Once again, you hit the nail on the head.

  13. adventureswithben June 20, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    I really like the pairing of PR people to Bloggers. Seems like a speed dating opportunity that could be easy to run and have great pay-offs. Great article.

    • Don Faust June 21, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

      There are at least two other travel conferences where that is a norm. That’s probably the biggest value-add for bloggers and PR.

      • Ryan June 21, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

        Don- Could you pass along the name of those 2 other travel conferences?

  14. Saadia June 20, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

    You have a LOT of ideas on that post, some I’ll need to take a moment to digest and give feedback on, however, I wanted to say how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE the idea of coffee with the pros. I’m a newbie, not so new that I need help with facebook page per se, but new enough that I didn’t know a LOT of the content discussed at TBEX till getting there. I would’ve loved a couple of hours just on wordpress! Even a hands on kind of classroom. So I think the coffee with the pros with the newbies would really help us feel comfortable, welcomed and at ease. It would take away the “omg they are so big, I don’t know what to say to them if I walk up to them” away and let us focus on the things we really want to ask/speak to them about.

    Great post. =O)

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

      Feel free to shoot me any questions you have about stuff. I may not be a pro or the most knowledgeable, but I am all for helping out the newer folks to the travel blogging field.

  15. Jeremy Branham June 20, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    I actually like these ideas – especially the ones about networking. I think it is good to connect and meet new people. I think some of the best conversations and learning from TBEX happened outside of sessions. It would be great to set up a format within TBEX to help that type of exchange happen. Like your ideas for this a lot and think this could be helpful going forward. Really like the idea about filling about information that PR people have access to so we can connect better with our brands, niche, etc.

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

      I’d love a way to connect with PR people more efficiently at conferences like that — and I think PR people would like it as well.

  16. Lorna - the roamantics June 21, 2011 at 1:11 am #

    holy crap michael!!! what thought you put into this!!! stellar suggestions- i would be SO EXCITED to attend this (your suggested) event. fantastic. i think they should hire you- seriously!

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

      Not looking for any job, but certainly hope there are some great changes coming in 2012

  17. Paul June 21, 2011 at 1:57 am #

    Great suggestions, I especially like the coffee with the pros idea.

    As someone who has been blogging for just over four months it’s difficult to get a grasp on what works and what doesn’t. I look at blogs that I consider well written and designed yet I feel as though I would be “stealing” ideas if I use their plus points.

    Sitting down with someone who has been doing this for over a year and is fairly successful (I don’t expect to make a living from this but to fund some travel would be nice) would be very advantageous and great to pick their brains.

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

      You should also feel free to email those bloggers you admire. The community is incredibly open and helpful. Pull up their contact info from their page and shoot them a note. Bet you get well over a 50% reply rate.

  18. Nomadic Matt June 21, 2011 at 5:52 am #

    I like your ideas and it is why i have told Kim for many moons now I think TBEX needs to be 3 days. If you are going to do “tracks” at various levels of depth, it is simply too hard to pack everything in during 2 days. You don’t have enough time to go into everything, network properly, and hit all the sessions with only two days. The brisk pace will always be a problem with just two days.

    The random lunch seating and the coffee with the pro’s are AWESOME ideas. I hope they include that. That would be pretty damn cool.

    As for monetization, I would love to lead a speech called “How to monetize or how I make money not selling stupid fucking text links on my site.” You speak the truth about most people not making a lot of money from their sites and most people never will or maybe never even want to. But if you want your site to grow, don’t sell text links (at least on your main one….I have a few old sites from back in the day I sell links on). Monetization has always been lacking at TBEX. While hearing about success stories is great, what you need is ONE person giving people a simple how to guide to making money. Not speaking in general terms about the need to have a strong brand or a large following to get a book deal but basic x, y, z steps to making $. Stuart from Travelfish for example runs a static destination based site that does pretty well I hear and he has found success in iPhone apps. I have found great success in ebook marketing as well as affiliate sales now.

    Also, one thing I think is lacking (not just at TBEX but in general blogging discussion) is the important of goals. How do you define success? 100 readers? 1000 readers? 100 dollars a month? A free PR trip? 150k per year? What? The hobbyist and the businessman have different paths towards monetization (and success). I would really love to see a keynote speech on the importance of goals and defining success.

    Ok, rant over. Actually, reading back this rant has more to do with what I see in general blogging discussions than TBEX but TBEX would be a great forum to address these topics.

    Lastly, I would also like to see new speakers. A travel blogger doesn’t mean expert. I like the campaign to bring in Rand Fish for SEO but how about Chris G for product launches, Leo Babuta for time management, Adam Baker of ManvsDebt for designing and launching courses (or getting sponsorship). There are a host of people who are experts in something that can be applied to travel blogging.

    • Erik June 21, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

      It’s encouraging to see a ‘pro’ like you, Matt, supporting the idea of Coffee with a Pro or Random Lunch Seating. It makes the atmosphere seem less intimidating for true amateurs like myself.

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

      Well thought out and stuff we’ve talked about a bit in private. Agree with you on all of it, especially just more points of view on monetization. There are plenty of ways to make a little money off your blog. The give and take and pros and cons of stuff (even methods you may disagree with) are good topics for conversation, in my eyes.

  19. Roy | Cruisesurfingz June 21, 2011 at 7:13 am #

    Michael, sounds you should be organizing a travel blog conference. Seriously, I’ll come!

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

      LOL. Well thanks for the complement, but I have about zero desire to do that at any point in the near future.

  20. The Travel Chica June 21, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    I really like the suggestion of recording the sessions and making them available to everyone.

    I am also a huge fan of the networking aspect of conferences. I have seen events be successful with some easy-to-coordinate networking games to get people mingling.

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

      I thought I had seen some of the 2011 TBEX on YouTube last year, so was expecting more of that this year. But now that I have talked to people, I think most of that was done just by people attending.

  21. Theodora June 21, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    I’m slightly surprised that people who can’t yet set up an FB fan page are investing the money in coming to a blogging conference, I have to say. And I do wonder whether it’s because that they believe there’s some pot of gold at the end of the rainbow which for many of us is not yet there — despite the surveys that 70% of travel bloggers who take their blogging seriously enough to join things like TBEX (as opposed to the myriad who write for friends, family and pleasure) are making under $300 pcm. And, yes, as per Ayngelina, how does travel blogging differ from other areas of blogging?

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

      I’m not surprised at all. I remember back to the first year I started. I didn’t know anything. Hell, I was on blogger for 3 years, because I didn’t know much. There were tons of newbies there that needed some simple newbie advice. I answer half a dozen basic newbie questions a week via email… not surprised at all — nor do I think it is a good idea to ignore that market, but that is up to the organizers.

  22. Erick June 21, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    Very good points, Michael. I feel like TBEX has turned into a bragging session for a lot of the presenters. I go strictly to network now and I think you address that quite well. Let’s hope!

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

      I love the networking… and have nothing to brag about ;)

      • Erick June 24, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

        I wasn’t referring to any person in particular. Just the fact that many ‘breakout sessions’ tend to gravitate that way. Good post!

  23. Erin June 21, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Great suggestions Mike. I agree that all of these would greatly improve next year’s TBEX. I would also like to see more independent bloggers as speakers, rather than travel writers from traditional media (although Robert Reid did a good job at suggesting how bloggers can apply journalist skills).

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

      Robert Reid’s speech was fabulous. Maybe the best hour I attended all weekend, but yea, I agree with you, so different voices would be nice in 2012.

  24. Erik June 21, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    Thanks so much for this post.

    I’ve booked my ticket for my first TBEX next year. I love the idea of Coffee with the Pros and Lunch with Random Seating. I get nervous and intimidated in big crowds and I doubt I’m going to have the guts to walk up to people whose work I admire since I do not want to seem like a starry-eyed fan. Meeting people is the biggest reason I’m going, anything I take away that makes my blog better is an added bonus.

    • Erik June 21, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

      I also agree on the Chris Christensen comment. He may bill himself as “The Amateur Traveler”, but he’s a pro, no doubt about it.

      • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

        He is so smooth on stage and in front of a microphone. Always impressed by him and his sense of humor and tone and such. Really good.

  25. Stuart June 21, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    Just another thought, while it’s no doubt useful to point out particular success stories, perhaps something that would be even more useful would be some kind of thematic case study approach (just talking about making money here).

    Meaning if you’ve got a destination focussed blog then hotel reservations will probably work better than ebooks and this is why. If you’ve got a howto site, DIY ebooks could work better than banner ads and this is why. If you’ve got a conversational blog, ebook nonfiction could work better than DIY ebooks and this is why.

    Just using those as examples, but, save a few outliers, both “travel blogs” could be categorised into about a half dozen thematic verticals, each of which would have it’s own potential earning stream. By approaching it this way, you’re able to satisfy more people with actionable information, and, with the right preparation, by the right people, beforehand, some pretty damn useful advice could be prepared.

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

      I think if you are on a monetization panel, you should be willing to talk specifics, like the Nerdy Nomad does each month. That is the helpful stuff in my eyes. The down and dirty to making money.

  26. Don Faust June 21, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

    Michael – I know we talked about some of this stuff last night, but this one is worth repeating.

    I hear a lot about who’s good at social media and engaging people, etc, only to find out that they spend a good portion of their day doing that. Is that sustainable, and more importantly, is it going to reach outside of the blogger circle for the long-term payoff?

    This is an area I think we need to think outside of the travel blogger popularity pool and source a social media consultant who can advise on how to set up a social media campaign, do inbound marketing, and how to measure the results. They’ve already done all the testing and should know generally what is the most effective. Should you advertise on the social media networks? Buy Stumbles?, etc. I don’t know – that’s what I want to hear.

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

      Yea, I didn’t even hit that part of it as possible content topics. The social media aspect of things is interesting to be sure and might need to be dealt with partly in some sort of talks about how to get eyeballs to your site.

  27. Lisa | LLWorldTour June 21, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    Love these ideas:

    –Tracks (for just a few topics): At least, beginner and intermediate.
    –Live Streaming: I had hoped this year’s was taped and thought it was, when I realized just some individuals (like Benny/Irish Polyglot) were just recording on their own.
    –Collated Directory: Makes great sense and should include more than just the quick name/twitter handle info that was on the TBEX site
    –Random seating/coffee w/ new people, etc–Yes! Even from last year i felt too many cliques forming and don’t want that for us. We talk about inclusiveness, but I sometimes don’t feel that. It’s great to catch up w/ friends…but we can do that at night. I LOVE this idea.

    Video and other panels –
    Thank you for my shout out. I did get great feedback from the Video Panel – mostly heard that people were very happy to get ‘real, concrete’ tips and advice they could start using today (not just stuff we’d done, but stuff YOU can do).
    You are right–I had to really make the hour (well, we really only got 45 min b/c things were behind) worth it and we crammed in a lot. But I could also talk for days about all I’ve learned about video and TV producing in the last 15 years. But, I don’t agree on making video (or photo, etc) an entire day session. If people really want that, they should sign up for a course or workshop strictly on video and not do that at TBEX – a travel blogging conference. We have 2 days to discuss all things blogging – I just don’t think it’s a place for day-long workshops. Those are already out there and done better on that particular topic.

    I do agree on the idea of a critiquing session. We were originally supposed to do that and some may recall that it was scheduled for Sunday. I didn’t even know it was taken off the schedule until Friday when my panelists and i first met.
    We were supposed to have people shoot vid Sat and we’d critique it Sunday. This just wouldn’t work…but I love the idea of people sending in video beforehand for us to critique. I think we could pick a handful of vids – good and those that need work, to show and discuss. Kind of they way Pam and Mike B selected and read great writing entries last year (i loved this and missed it this year) – we should do the same for video.

    Would like new speakers – some outside of the exact ‘travel blogging’ world. There are many entrepreneurs that make their living on the web that are hugely inspirational.

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

      You should have written an entire post — you nailed some great stuff in just a few paragraphs. On your particular topic, video, if not a day on it, then at least some multiple sessions. Like you said, you can’t do all of video in one hour, so perhaps just limiting the hour to “Video Editing Tips” or “How to Shoot the Best Video” would be more effective. A slightly more narrow focus might lead to more in-depth insight.

  28. pam June 22, 2011 at 5:27 am #

    I’ve always wanted to have blind date dinners with 4/6 people tops at these things. You sit in a place where you don’t have to shout and you have a real conversation with a handful of people you don’t know. I’d like that so much better than the big parties that happen. I stood at the museum SHOUTING at various people until I could shout no more, and then, I went to my room. Better? Maybe a cocktail in a non-shouting place with some new faces. Yes, please.

    I think people want the quick fix at conferences and they look for it in the content. Bad news, everyone, you’re not going to get it. Find the person that has the knowledge you’re seeking and connect. Then follow up. The conference menu is an appetizer, not the meal. If you want a meal, take a class, sign up for an online seminar, hire an expert, etc. amen. TBEX is a sandbox, it’s not college. There are entire conferences devoted to SEO only, or to better writing, or to business practices, and they’re not travel specific. TBEX is a community gathering, and if you want refined information on a specific focus, you’d best be prepared to pay for it.

    That’s not to say I don’t like some of these ideas. I rather do. Get to work on planning your conference, mister. G’wan, why are you still reading this comment?

    • Natalie T. June 22, 2011 at 7:05 am #

      Amen.

    • Michael Hodson June 22, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

      I sort of look at it like I’d look at submitting one of my written pieces to you for your editing expertise. I am looking for ways to improve on a daily basis — sometimes from feedback from people like you — I’m not sure why it is somehow outside the realm of reason to give the TBEX folks feedback on how to make a better conference.

      I don’t think most of this stuff is too difficult to implement. In fact, I have heard some of these content things are being done at other travel blogging conferences. The experts are in the room and most are willing to talk for free, just to get the exposure.

      Should you get the entire “meal” of travel blogging at one conference? Of course not. Nor should I have learned how to try an entire death penalty case from one legal conference on that topic, nor should I have learned everything I need to know about landscape photography at another conference. But the difference in those conferences verses TBEX is that I did take away a lot of content from the conferences, because they had a good scope of things to cover in a few hours. They were giving me more tools to work with, which I simply didn’t think was done at TBEX, at least as well as it could be.

      Maybe I am asking too much that the content and organization of the conference match up with the great networking and social side. Dunno. I just don’t think all of this stuff is that hard and will make for a vastly better experience for everyone. But up to the organizers to see if they want to do it and for the market to determine what they want also.

  29. bethany June 22, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    Great ideas Michael. Honestly if I hear that things are changing from the past 2 years then I’m sure we will go next year. I’ve always wanted to, just haven’t had the 2k+ to travel for a few days for a conference. I’d love to make it a travel priority and if they take some of your ideas and expand on it I’m sure we will. Good to hear honest reviews about this publicly!! :)

  30. Jen Leo June 23, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    I’m a bit late to the conversation – but when it comes to the “Art of Travel Writing” – might I suggest attending the Book Passage Travel, Food & Photographer’s Conference just north of San Francisco in mid August.

    http://www.bookpassage.com/travel-food-photography-conference

    I’ve been a student, fan and faculty member for several years – and while it’s expensive ($635) it has heaps of practical information that you use right away. It’s like taking an accelerated class on travel writing. The networking opportunities are plentiful (editors, agents and more) plus you can add on a one on one consultation with members of the faculty to have your work critiqued or brainstorm ideas for a new or current project.

    It’s their 20th anniversary this year (and I think the price has actually dropped)

    And there is an alumni camaraderie that can’t be replaced. It will open doors for you, emails will get returned, and it’s impossible to leave the conference without feeling inspired and invigorated to improve your work.

    I won’t be there this year, but do check out the itinerary and see if it’s for you:
    http://www.bookpassage.com/travel-food-photography-conference-schedule

    Jim Benning and Pam Mandel will be teaching the track on Travel Writing in the Digital Age.

    The list of accomplished faculty members is long.

    It’s a GREAT and rewarding conference. Check it out and have fun!

    Jen

  31. Leslie (Downtown Traveler) June 28, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    Great points! I especially agree with this suggestion: “Monetizing talks need to be focused on what the average blogger can do, not what you can do when you are one of the top 4-5 in the field, rarefied air which most of us aren’t going to sniff in our lifetimes.” I feel TBEX ’12 can be improved by offering more practical, hands-on advice, as you mention in this post. It would be very helpful to have an advanced workshop on StumbleUpon and other bookmarking tools, and a WordPress session; if those topics are covered in panels, questions should be submitted in advance so moderators and panelists can tailor the discussion.

  32. Chris (Amateur Traveler) June 30, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    Someone mentioned TBEX wrap-ups and I realized I have been remiss in not commenting and saying thanks for the kind remarks.

  33. Guylaine July 3, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    Agree with the great suggestions in original post. Am also wondering if some of this could be done online in a more formal way. yes, I know you can google topics like seo and partnerships with tourist promoters etc and spend hours and DAYS and WEEKS online following threads and stories looking for good advice. But is there a site (beyond tbex I mean, which honestly I don’t find that easy to use) where more focussed practical discussions are going on? Maybe even scheduled chat sessions led by experienced bloggers in “x” area? If this exists already can someone please post the link? If it doesn’t, then maybe this is an idea for a site with some monetizing potential?

  34. Leah Travels May 17, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    I’m about to attend my first TBEX conference, and I’d heard grumblings about the 2011 conference. I’m glad to have found your two-part series outlining last year’s issues. I’m curious to see how Blog World taking over will change things, hopefully for the better.
    Leah Travels recently posted..Flower Power

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