In October I visited Ireland for the second time. I do love the Emerald Isle and can’t get enough of it, but this time the main purpose of my trip was to attend my first travel blogging conference. Pretty exciting, huh?
TBEX, short for Travel Bloggers Exchange, is the biggest event of its kind, bringing together travel media professionals, social influencers and brands, to learn, network, and have fun. Every year they organize a conference in North America and another one in Europe, as well as an international conference in Asia, Middle East or Africa.
This year TBEX Europe was held in Ireland (the first country to host TBEX for the second time), during the first week of October, in partnership with Fáilte Ireland, the Irish national tourism development authority.
The small town of Killarney, in county Kerry, received more than 600 travel bloggers, vloggers, writers, photographers and broadcasters, as well as travel companies and tourism board representatives from all over the world. For a newbie like me, this was a great opportunity to meet other travel bloggers, connect with brands and have a first real peek into the industry!
Travel blogging can feel lonely at times, especially when you are just starting out. You sit at your computer, day after day, trying to build a project and a life you are passionate about, some (many!) times with no idea of what you are doing, what the results will be, or how long it will take you to get there. Your friends and family may or may not understand it, and the only people that seem to get it are virtual friends you met in travel bloggers groups on social media. I swear, sometimes it feels you’re living in a parallel universe!
So events like this can help you devirtualize your dreams and ideas, and bring them to the real world, if that makes sense. This was my main goal for attending TBEX Ireland. I know many bloggers set ambitious goals, like connecting with 20 brands or getting 10 business opportunities, but I decided to keep things small and don’t put too much pressure on my first time at TBEX.
My goals were simple:
- Connect with as many people as possible, change experiences, and learn from everyone;
- Join my first press trip;
- Practice my elevator pitch and networking skills (this was something I was a bit nervous about, but more about it later);
- Assess the atmosphere and how an event like this looks like.
I arrived in Ireland on Monday, just in time for the pre-conference days, and the Killarney Welcomes TBEX to Town party.
The more than 600 travel social influencers visiting Ireland for TBEX Europe represented a combined reach of 370 million fans spread all over the world, and a huge promotion opportunity for the national and local tourism.
For our first night in town, Killarney’s businesses prepared a great entertainment program that included free tours and discounted activities, beer tasting, pouring the perfect pint demonstrations, traditional music, storytelling, and much more.
Next day, I woke up early for my pre-BEX tour. Bloggers attending TBEX can register for free in one of the several pre or post-BEX tours organized by Fáilte Ireland.
Mine started with a visit to Muckross Abbey, in Killarney National Park.
Our second stop was Muckross Traditional Farms, where we learnt about Hurling (a native Irish field sport played with a wooden stick), Irish music, and life in the rural Ireland of the 1930s and 1940s.
I also milked a cow with my own hands and learnt how to make butter – life isn’t easy for travel bloggers in the Ireland of the 2010s!
Luckily, after all this hard work, we were invited to try some delicious Irish food, including bread and butter made in the farm.
In the afternoon, we did a tour of Muckross House and Gardens, an impressive 19th century Victorian mansion set against the stunning beauty of Killarney National Park and Muckross Lake.
The day ended with a visit to Ross Castle and a boat tour of the Lower Lakes of Killarney with Gap of Dunloe Traditional Boat Tours, including a short stop on Innisfallen Island.
The pre-BEX tour was also a fun way to meet and hang out with other travel bloggers before the conference itself.
And after a busy day exploring the region, it was time for TBEX Opening Night Party. Hosted by Fáilte Ireland, the evening started with local food and drink tasting offered by Taste Kerry, followed by a buffet dinner, and a superb performance by Celtic Steps The Show. The party then continued outside with traditional Irish music and fire performances.
I ended up the night having a pint of Guinness with some of my new blogger friends at The Shire, a Lord of The Rings themed pub in the center of Killarney.
The conference itself started only on Wednesday, at the Killarney Convention Centre, with an opening keynote by award winning blogger and travel photographer Gary Arndt. Speaking for an audience of travel media professionals and influencers, Arndt talked about the importance of building authority instead of just traffic, and how your audience quality is more relevant than your audience quantity. He advised new bloggers to be successful amateurs before trying to be professionals, and ended repeating something I’ve been hearing a lot lately: the secret to success is showing up.
The day continued with the breakout sessions. With five sessions always happening at the same time, and so many interesting topics and speakers, the hard part was to choose which one to attend.
I started with “How to Create Engaging Instagram and Snapchat Stories” by Cailin O’Neil, travel and food blogger, vlogger, and Snapchat influencer, since I really want to grow my Instagram audience and think IG Stories are a great way to do that. O’Neil gave a lot of great tips that I immediately started putting into action.
Next, I listened to Ralph Velasco on “How to Organize and Lead your Own Tours for Profit Around the World”. Velasco is a travel photographer who has led more than 70 international tours around the world, and his was one of my favorite sessions of all TBEX Ireland. He really explained all the steps and secrets to successfully organize and lead tours, and made it seem so much easier than I thought something like this would be.
Compared with the two morning sessions, my last talk of the day was a bit of a letdown. I attended Nathan Sado and Sean Boyle’s session on “Monetizing Social Media” with great expectations. Sado and Boyle are both travel bloggers, online entrepreneurs and social media managers, so I was expecting to learn a lot from them. Unfortunately, I felt their session was geared towards absolute beginners and too generic, with few practical takeaways.
This is something I’ve heard about TBEX before – the fact that is primarily attended and catered towards beginners. But with so many sessions taking place at the same time, I think it would be possible, and helpful, to have at least one or two talks directed to a more seasoned audience. I mean, I’m a beginner myself and even I thought some sessions were a little too basic.
On Wednesday night, there was no official event, so delegates could explore, network, party, or simply relax. There was however a TravelMassive party at the Brehon Hotel, after which I headed to The Laurels Pub for a Superstar Blogging meetup, hosted by award winning travel blogger and photographer Laurence Norah.
Thursday started with a great opening keynote by Ciaran Blumenfeld, social media and marketing expert, and founder of Hashtracking.com. Blumenfeld addressed the big elephant in the room: fake followers and engagement on social media. According to her, we are living in an “Ice Age for influence and exposure”, because of the climate we created with false likes, comments and followers. This “false economy” is creating mistrust and hurting bloggers and influencers, she said, giving the example of two travel bloggers who were recently bashed on social media after pitching to a Michelin Restaurant in Ireland.
My morning continued with two very interesting and useful breakout sessions: “From Billboard to Brand – How to Successfully Pitch Brands”, by brand manager expert Archana Singh, and travel bloggers Victoria Yore and Terrence Drysdale, and “How to Increase your Traffic Today with SEO”, by travel bloggers and SEO experts Laura Lynch and Gemma Armit.
On the afternoon, again, I was a little disappointed by my chosen talk: “Scaling your Travel Blog into a Multimedia Platform”, by Ernest White II, founder of Fly Brother, a travel online magazine, radio and tv show. Although inspiring, I personally didn’t learn as much from him as from other sessions and speakers. So I decided to skip the Q&A, and listen to blogger and hotelier Lydia Yang on “How to create win-win partnerships with hotels in this digital age”.
A good thing about the conference is that all the slides from all the breakout sessions are available on TBEX site after the event.
Every day after the sessions, there was speed networking. Basically, speed networking consists of 10-minute meetings between businesses and bloggers/influencers, where bloggers get to introduce themselves and their work and discuss possible partnerships with brands and tourism boards. These meetings are pre-arranged in advance through BloggerBridge, a site that connects content creators with businesses worldwide.
About one month before TBEX, I created my profile on BloggerBridge and invited some of the companies attending the conference to meet with me. I got one appointment, with a local tour operator, on Thursday. As I said before, I was a bit nervous at first, but I think it went pretty well, and that this can really be a company I might work with in the future.
Speed networking wasn’t the only opportunity to connect with brands though. I exchanged business cards with businesses and tourism boards during coffee breaks, parties, and even on the airplane on my way to Killarney. For me this was way more comfortable, since everyone was more relaxed, and it was easier to establish a personal connection.
The conference ended on Thursday with a closing keynote by Irish adventurer, entrepreneur and philanthropist Mike O’Shea. And I’m not exaggerating when I say this was the best talk of all TBEX Ireland.
O’Shea’s expeditions include climbing, trekking, skiing or paragliding all around the world. Just recently, he crossed the Southern Ice Cap on Kilimanjaro and the North Patagonian Icecap, and walked the complete length of frozen Lake Baikal, world’s largest lake. He worked for RedBull Crashed Ice, RedBull Cliff Diving, and Star Wars VII.
But his most important work has been using his influence to build a Home of Hope with the Chernobyl Children’s Project, an orphanage in Africa, or a school in Nepal, to cite only a few examples of his international charity work.
I loved his message about what it means to be a truly influencer, and how “influencers can change the world”.
Post-TBEX and my key takeaways
TBEX ended on Thursday night with a Wild Atlantic Way Wrap Party, hosted by J.M. Reidy’s pub and Killarney Chamber of Commerce. On the following days there were still Post-BEX tour activities and fam trips (familiarization trips that bloggers must apply to be invited to).
I returned home on Friday afternoon, after finally having some time to explore Killarney.
In retrospective, my biggest takeaway from TBEX Ireland was definitely all the great people I met during these four days in Killarney. Getting to know like-minded people from all over the globe, sharing experiences, and listening to their struggles and success stories was invaluable, and made me even more confident about my own blogging path.
Moreover, seeing first-hand how other bloggers and influencers work, how they cover such an event on social media and on their own platforms, turned out to be a great opportunity for learning and upgrading my own game.
Of course, I also learnt new things with some of the breakout sessions, but I honestly cannot say I learnt a lot from those.
I really think the best thing about attending a travel bloggers conference like TBEX is making new friends and connections inside the industry. And I can’t wait for the next one!
5 tips for TBEX first-timers
If you’re a new blogger and you’re wondering whether you should attend your first travel bloggers conference, the answer is: absolutely!
My advice is to do it sooner than later. I’ve met people at TBEX that didn’t even had blogs yet, so don’t wait to be big enough or to have the perfect numbers (you’ll probably never feel you’ve achieved that, anyway). It’s much easier to succeed when you surround yourself with like-minded, inspiring and encouraging people. So why wait?
If after reading all of this you’re still feeling a bit nervous, here are my five tips for first-timers, to help you break the ice and have a great time:
#1 Join a pre-BEX tour
As I said above, when you register for TBEX as a blogger you can join one pre or post-BEX tour of your choice. Doing a pre-BEX tour is a fun and easy way to meet other bloggers before the conference starts.
I met some great people during my pre-BEX tour, like Divya FS, from the blog Fashion.Love.Travel, with whom I ended up hanging out a lot during the whole conference.
#2 Make online connections before the event
TBEX has a Facebook group for all the bloggers attending each conference, where you can connect with other delegates and know about spontaneous get-togethers and activities.
That’s how I met Brazilian travel blogger Gisele Almeida, from Viajar pela Europa, with whom I had a great time tasting beer at Killarney Brewing Company, on my first night in town, or discovering the best Insta-worthy spots in Killarney.
#3 Introduce yourself to people
Don’t be shy and introduce yourself to the people sitting next to you at lunch and breakout sessions. Once I started doing this, I realized most people were super friendly and happy I showed genuine interest in knowing them and what they do. And, needless to say, I met a lot of interesting people, like the incredible ladies in the photo: Michelle Barret, from The Wanderlust Women’s Network, Sisse Runge, from Nihao and Namaste, and travel blogger and videographer Pam Roberts.
#4 Make friends (not contacts)
As an introvert, I used to dread networking events. The simple thought of introducing myself to new people and talk about me would give me chills. Until something changed, and I realized I should be trying to make friends, not just contacts. I mean, I’m perfectly aware not everyone is going to become my best friend, but it’s about establishing a human connection before anything else. After all, what’s the point of working with someone you don’t like or have nothing in common?
Try to know people without worrying about what you can get from them. Besides making every interaction feel more authentic, this approach takes all the stress out of networking.
#5 Have fun
If you’re a new blogger attending your first travel bloggers conference, make it your first goal to have fun.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be professional and show up prepared for the event (I definitely recommend having some fancy business cards, your elevator pitch, and a media kit), or that you shouldn’t have ambitious goals for yourself and your blog.
Just don’t worry too much about how many business partnerships or press trips you’ll get out of it, that you forget to enjoy the moment.
After all, that’s why you travel in the first place, isn’t it?
Have you been to Ireland? Or have you attended a travel blogging conference? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
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