The TBEX Travel Bloggers Exchange Conference, easily the largest gathering of professionally minded travel bloggers & the tourism industry worldwide, is the third conference I am attending in April 2015 alone. Such has been the experience at the previously held “World Food Tourism Summit” in Lisbon as well as the “Social Travel Summit” in Hamburg that I could not simply give Barcelona, nor Lloret de Mar, the actual #TBEX conference location in Costa Brava about an hour north of the Catalan capital city, a miss. I simply find gatherings like these tremendously inspiring, hugely worthwhile – and just so good for connecting with like-minded individuals on a personal, heart-to-heart as well as business-to-business level. Which is close enough for us professional travel bloggers anyway.
So what is it that makes #TBEX #InCostaBrava stand out from the crowd? To me, it is phrases like these voiced by Jaume Marin, of the Costa Brava Tourist Board: “70 million impressions on Twitter impress our politicians. What WE care about in the long-term, is YOUR AUTHORITY in this business called blogging.”
Silence fills the room, as several hundred tourism industry professionals & travel bloggers let the impact of Jaume’s words sink in. Then murmur fills the room, eventually a clapping of hands as well as cheering support. “The difference you are able to make with your blog, your business, to someone else’s opinion (about a destination, about a country, about a place), is what really and ultimately matters to us. Be professional! Hard works always pays off. Make the most out of it! Some of the best tourism boards are here in this room: Emilia Romagna. Visit Britain. Visit Ireland. Visit Sweden. Go talk to them. Enjoy #TBEX Europe 2015 #InCostaBrava!”
“It is all about passion. Marry that with a region. That is called magic. Find the stories. Go beyond the obvious. Follow your way, your niche, your motto – linkage is key.”
The first panel session at this year’s #TBEX Europe in Lloret de Mar kicks off with an inspiring food tourism keynote provided by José Borralho, President of the Portuguese Gastronomy Association “APTECE”, a private entity of chefs, producers, restaurants & “food lovers” launched in 2012, as well as Nelson Carvalheiro, award-winning travel blogger & Portuguese food tourism brand ambassador. Having met both of them at the previously held World Food Tourism Summit in Portugal, it was an honour, and indeed a delight, to be taken once more to my beloved Portugal: “Our goal with APTECE is to promote culinary tourism in Portugal & assist with the local development beyond the well-known regions of Lisbon or the Algarve, focusing on the authenticity of the ‘real people’.” Nelson adds: “Culinary tourism really takes you out of your comfort zone of typical food tours in a capital city: It is all about telling engaging travel stories of restaurant owners representing their country and history, and about finding those ‘little guys’ who are practicing the same recipes over and over again, for centuries, because it is their family tradition. This, I believe, is so much more engaging.”
“In your storytelling, do not invent it – identify it. If you want to come to Portugal and travel for food, you have to meet this one particular guy, and go out into some faraway places. Because the food stories for these people is real: It is their life story.” (Nelson Carvalheiro, TBEX Europe 2015).
Food travel … is all about stories. “It is not about amazing food, it is about unique food! If you hear from this lady for instance, that it took her two years to learn how to make that very fine pastry, you are just so much more careful about what you are eating, hence more mindful about the entire experience.” Nelson has this to add in terms of food travel & blogging advice:
“Follow your vision and enhance it with real results. The democratic rise of little places & networks that make a destination such as Porto feel unique & tasty, is what we are looking for. In your storytelling, do ask yourselves: Is this really inspiring? Am I being a good influencer? Keep attuned to your message, and keep posting about it.” (Nelson Carvalheiro, TBEX Europe 2015).
Besides, he adds his own story of having launched “The Portuguese Travel Cook Book“, a selection of hand-picked food travel stories about “the little guys and us travelling around Portugal with a photographer to meet the fishermen, the farmers, the little restaurant owners, asking ourselves – and them: What is your identity? How does your food transmit Portugal?” To this end, José Borralho supports the message by saying that this project is born out of a cooperation with APTECE, the European Union funds, local area networks, hotels & regional tourism boards in Portugal: “The goal is and has been to involve everybody: People need to cooperate!” Good ideas paired with local support end up showing real results, he argues: “When you have the right story, the media will give you attention. Keep a global view. Know what you want to do. Strike your key, put yourself out there, have the courage – and be an opinion-maker. Sometimes, you just have to do it – like we did it with the first ever European Street Food Festival in Cascais near Lisbon, totalling more than 80.000 visitors in 10 days. Now, more than 20% of Portuguese communities are asking me, ‘How can we change legislation to have a similar event in our own community?'”.
That’s José Borralho speaking, who clearly prefers action to talking. 🙂
Several more sessions kick off later in the day, among them such interesting ones as “moving from press trips to paid campaigns”, “building multilingual communities” as well as “defining expectations in Social Media marketing”.
For a start, I’d like to briefly sum up some of the key messages Gary Bembridge (“Tips For Travellers”, @GaryBembridge) as well as Heather Cowper (“Heather On Her Travels”, @HeatherCowper) have reiterated in their #TBEX conference session. Being spoilt among several panels to choose from, this is only a brief glimpse into the entire wealth of what #TBEX #InCostaBrava has been able to offer to us, following my first ever experience of this conference in Dublin back in October 2013.
Both Gary & Heather have the following interesting tips & advice to share with us:
- For the industry:
- Bloggers are to be seen as marketing partners, so “do make sure that your brand message fits with their content strategy.”
- Online campaigns tap into traditional media: Leverage off the best of both worlds!
- Freedom creates trust creates relationships: Find partners aligning to your individual niche.
- For professional travel bloggers:
- Which difference or USP are you able to bring to the table? What makes YOU stand out? What is your niche or angle?
- Understand your partner’s point of view: What (and when) is their budgeting & decision-making process?
- Understand your focus & pitch to the right people!
Next, Lanora Mueller (@WritingTravel), Agata (@NullNFull) as well as Pola (@JettingAround) talk to us about building communities in a multilingual environment. Having a bilingual travel blog myself in both German & English and being fluent in five languages altogether, this session seems to be right up my alley! Or did you know that “English speakers make up the largest community of users online, followed by Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, and Portuguese”? All of them speakers argue that English, however, is “steadily dropping in prevalence, as it currently amounts to only about a quarter of the total content out there.” Five issues are to be considered:
- If English is not your first language (and you aim to build it in your writing): Is your written English good enough to express feelings, describe situations or share your opinion? One way to achieve this could be to “style your posts in a way that relies more on videos and photos, away from the ‘perfect notion’ of the written language.”
- Do you have enough time to cope with writing in two languages? (A classic. My answer still is: Yes I do!)
- Do take a moment to define your target audience: Are you reaching out to readers of English, to readers of your native language, or even to readers of either?
- Ask yourself: Do you prefer to be a small fish in a large pond, or a big fish in a small pond?
- Conclude: Are you ready for a continuous learning process? 😀
Last but not least, Jennifer Dombrowski (“Luxe Adenvture Traveler”, @jdomb) as well as Katie Hammel, (“Viator”, @KatieHammel) wrap us up in an interesting storytelling session focusing on “social media campaigns vs blog trips“. Travellers, they argue, rely on (social) videos, photos, blog posts etc. for inspiration on where to travel, with keywords such as adventure, remote or experiences top of the lists. Presenting the example of Lipton and Starbucks in the United States, they explain about their strategy of hiring a variety of bloggers from different fields (fashion, photography, travel) in order to take over their Social Media channels, thereby adding fresh content for an existing audience. On choosing “the right” people to work with, the following issues are to be considered:
- Is there a “strategic fit” in brand alignment (e.g. luxury) between partners?
- What is the genre & niche expertise of the people you are working with?
- Engagement vs traffic: How many people are sharing, retweeting, commenting, interacting with their followers?
- Multilingual bloggers are a perfect fit for tapping into international markets
- Establishing contracts with top bloggers who can produce value added content is a must: Be clear & upfront about terms, conditions, and payment.
- Working on campaigns: “The key is to turn people in ongoing evangelists & brand ambassadors. Generally speaking, it really is all about the inspiration more than the actual booking.”
“Data without context is worthless. If you are promoting something, the best thing you can do is to provide a narrative – stories – that actual people can go out and experience for themselves.”
Matt Ridings, who calls himself the @TechGuerilla (!) on Twitter, talks in a fast-paced and engaging way about what he calls: “Think You Know Your Audience? Think Again!”. He argues that the so-called generation of “millenials” value “causes, but not organisations: Whether it is money, time or networks we donate for instance to help out after the devastating earthquake in Nepal – all of it has value, be it $ 1.000, two hours of your time, or sending out a Tweet through your networks. It very much is, a value-based generation we are dealing with.”
And this, he argues more of his interesting market research on the value-based system of the so-called “millenials”, also results in them currently being the biggest group looking for extended, meaningful experiences around the world. “One of the results of our study in the United States was the surprising fact that this target group tells us that ‘they would continue travelling despite economic uncertainties.’ So how do we resonate with these people? Are we able, through algorithms and studies of their content, to achieve a certain ‘content fingerprinting’, a ‘consistency of message’ in coming from these audiences?”
“Generic vanilla content fails. You must have a consistency in voice – which is what separates single bloggers or opinion leaders as brand phenomena beyond geographical, societal or institutional borders.” (Matt Ridings, TBEX Europe 2015).
The following are his most useful pieces of advice for us professional travel bloggers:
- Ask yourself: What is your Emotional Marketing Value (EMV)? There are certain types of words that illicit emotional reactions: The so-called “Flesh Kincaid Readability Test” can help you with that. The basic bottom line is: The more shareable the content is, the more exclusive and therefore trusted it becomes.
- Avoid the catch 22 in list posts: List posts, Matt argues, generate views, but do not convert sales. One possible explanation is that they lack a tone of voice, so he encourages us to “embed them within content that is interesting, and resonates, with your individual tone of voice in digital news publishing.”
- Make it active: Address the “experience issue”. Why are individual people’s photographs of a hotel being picked up more than a professional photographer’s on Social Media? The answer is that “people tire of cynicism and professional exaggerations. Also, travellers are much more savvy these days, and will likely know and be able to tell, the difference.”
- And finally, “authenticity in voice is key. It really is as simple as that! The more something feels personal, the more it will be accepted, viewed, and shared.”
Thank you so much, dear Matt Ridings, for such an entertaining and insightful speech here at #TBEX Europe #InCostaBrava!
“Media … is no longer national. It is global. The only revenue models that will work (in the long run) are specialised content models. Focus on the fact that GREAT WRITING WILL ALWAYS BE READ. And shared.”
Talking to us about The Future is Michael Collins (@TBEXEvents @TravelMedie_ie), who argues much like in our previous session about building multilingual communities that “the use of English is sliding, as virtually ‘everybody’ is coming online. As bloggers, think about it in the following way: So long as most of your potential audience does not speak your language, it makes sense to write in a second language. But once your compatriots have joined, the equation shifts: Blogging is a huge business these days! While it still means that basically any (amateur) can publish, blogs have completely flipped over the news business in a matter of less than 15 years.”
Offering further food for thought, he goes on raise the issue as to why Europe continues to be the most popular travel destination in the world? One answer might lie in its diversity, another one in its (relative) stability. But also, it is this: “As middle classes are created around the world, they all end up wanting to go to Europe. So think about it: Where is your demand? And how do you communicate to those audiences in the appropriate language? Are you aware of the right platforms? And which tools to use?” Interesting. Muffled words of support run through the audience, as Michael delivers quote after quote in his captivating keynote speech.
“Who is the largest publisher of travel media today? The answer is … airlines! WiFi is becoming universal on board. Work with them, or they become your competitors. Three billion people have travelled the world on an airplane during last year, 826 million in the United States alone. And with travellers being heavy social media users, airlines end up being ‘accidental media companies’.”. (Michael Collines, TBEX Europe 2015).
Content, he argues, is becoming more age-relevant, more generational, more active than passive: “Everyone is reachable. Everyone is a potential audience. To predict the future, I recommend you to spend time just thinking about it.”
Thank you for this interesting closing keynote, dear Michael! The following is a Slideshare Presentation of Michael’s talk during the #TBEX Europe 2015 conference #InCostaBrava: