TBEX Europe (the Travel Blog EXchange conference) just wrapped up last night (Saturday, May 2nd) — my head’s still spinning from meeting a bunch of folks in real life after having chatted with them in Facebook groups or on their blogs for months (and sometimes years)…

10 takeaways from TBEX Europe 2015 - Blogging -

Beginners, it’s OK to go.

The ‘big-name-bloggers’ that are speaking have often been blogging for years, but they’re far from the main demographic. The largest percentage of attendees by far had been blogging for less than two years. I met at least four people that hadn’t even started their blog yet — but were already thinking about the focus of their blog and learning about what matters to potential businesses they might choose to work with.

Casual dress, by the way, is considered totally acceptable at TBEX. I felt rather overdressed in black slacks and a short-sleeved collared / polo shirt. Many were in jeans and some dared to wear some belly-baring shirts — not sure how professional that was perceived, but you definitely aren’t being held to a dress code like at ITB Asia.

You get out of the conference what you put in.

More than a few folks were heard complaining about how they hadn’t received any sponsorships or didn’t feel like they had received a good value. This was typically followed by ‘I didn’t sign up for any speed networking sessions’ or ‘I didn’t attend any of the sessions’ and some lame excuse about nothing sounding interesting… For better or worse, events like this are fine ways of meeting the folks that make the decisions — but they’re rarely made on the spot.

At a minimum, you should be doing the following to prepare for a conference like TBEX:

  • Ensure you have enough business cards — I gave out around 80–90, and could’ve easily given away twice that.
  • Create a ‘one-sheet’ — a one-page media kit showing who you’ve worked with in the past, what sort of audience you have, and so on. Ensure it shows a link to a full media kit (which can be 8–10 pages or longer) for more information.
  • Research the companies that are coming, and make a short list of which ones you want to approach. If there’s a speed networking component to the conference, ensure you’ve registered for it and have made reservations.
  • Take a look at the sessions available, and pair up with others going to another session at the same time to compare notes or thoughts.
  • Connect with the Facebook groups that invariably spring up to connect people that are going. You’ll often find a faster response time or more up-to-date answer that way.

Spanish wine / sangria is great — but powerful.

While few were visibly suffering the after-effects of 12–13% ABV wine the next day, it being one euro (!!) per bottle in the mercato means it’s way too easy to get plastered or miss out on things the next morning. Take it easy unless you like hangovers.

The two days of sessions is a tiny part of what’s happening at the conference.

10 takeaways from TBEX Europe 2015 - Blogging -

By the time I leave Lloret de Mar, Spain, I’ll have participated in the following:

  • A Travel Massive sponsored opening party
  • The official TBEX opening party (the lit-up beach is pictured above)
  • A pre-conference tour of Barcelona, courtesy of Devour Barcelona (more on this excellent tour coming soon)
  • A pre-conference tour of Barcelona, courtesy of Barcelona Turisme
  • The actual two days worth of keynotes, sessions, and speed networking
  • An unofficial meet-up of folks in Lloret de Mar in the area of a food truck festival
  • The official TBEX closing party
  • A free day to explore the town on my own
  • A post-conference tour of Barcelona, courtesy of Barcelona Turisme

I missed out (e.g. didn’t participate) on:

  • A Eurail sponsored sangria party after the first day of the conference
  • Unofficial TBEX parties (the sort that happen in clubs or people’s hotel rooms)

Lest it sound like all we did was party, the aim here is to network, be social, and of course travel.

Blogging is a long-term game.

This was the exact focus of multiple sessions. The lesson from everyone that’s been blogging for more than a few years is clear: do it right from the start. The short-term game — one of link building and quick money for spammy sort of things — caught up with people eventually. It got them delisted, ranked further down, or cost the loyalty or goodwill of their readers.

Blogging long-term means making the sort of connections and things that your audience is looking for. It means listening to what they want, asking for ideas, and choosing to make something you’ll enjoy making that they’ll enjoy buying.

Even the ‘big names’ aren’t doing everything right.

One of the biggest names in the business admits to collecting people e-mails, then not doing a thing with them. Another has been too busy with other projects to update that book that’s sorely overdue for one. They’re not meant to be inspirational stories, but it’s a potent reminder that one doesn’t have to have millions of followers on every social network and perfectly formatted e-mail newsletters. Success is a relative term — whether you measure success by making six figures a year or paying off debts, it’s different for everyone.

Be yourself — open, honest, fun.

Blogging — especially travel blogging — is all about people. Forget that and the whole thing becomes far less fun.

Follow up with people.

Going back to that notion of long-term, you’ll have collected a bunch of cards, brochures, and stuff — use it to connect with people. If you’re ready to pitch some businesses, get them pitches out ASAP, especially if there’s some lead time required between now and your proposed trip.

Leave room in your bag for swag.

10 takeaways from TBEX Europe 2015 - Blogging -

It varies by year and sponsors, of course, along with what you actually want to collect. Everything in the picture above came from the conference — and that doesn’t include the stack of 150+ business cards sitting right next to me on the desk.

The final takeaway?

To simply say ‘I learned a lot’ sounds like a cop-out, but it’s definitely the case. What you learn is less about the technical side of things (though you’ll definitely learn about some new tools and tricks to make life easier) and more about the story-telling side of things. I saw what is working for folks (multimedia, emphasizing engagement over traffic, building an e-mail list), and what wasn’t (SEO tactics, Facebook / Google algorithm changes that can wipe out your hard work). I put real-life faces to Facebook friends I never thought I’d meet. I shook the hands of some folks that have inspired me.

Not bad for a few days at a conference.

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