“This is my fourth TBEX already …” – “Oh, is it?!” – “… yeah, and I’ve enjoyed all of them, for different reasons. I clearly remember my first ever TBEX, it was also in Ireland, at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, among others ..!” TBEX Travel Bloggers Exchange Conference. The largest gathering of aspiring and professional travel bloggers, and the travel industry worldwide. To the point where even the entire town of Killarney, in South-Western Ireland, is dressed up in flags, posters and billboards to welcome us, the “heroes of our time”, marching in on this beautiful part of the world. And certainly, I am sharing more about just how beautiful and picturesque it is in my second blog post here with you.
This time again, let’s focus on what we have learned from gathering as the 500-600 people family from all over the globe we are. It has been touching to share this TBEX with my good friend Antonia, herself “The Vegan Rainbow Blog“, after knowing her for over 15 years and partly inspiring each other to do what we love and do best: Inspire others through our professional travel writing, networking, and sharing. But there’s more. On the occasion of the opening night being my 34th birthday, I treated three good writer friends Lucie, Antonia, Gisele and myself to a cute little cottage rented from local lady Carmel for the time of our stay in Killarney. It was absolutely perfect! That, the opening night, the fun & laughter, the Guinness, all preparing us for the days and nights of learning, sharing, and networking ahead. Check this out.
Opening night + birthday celebration = can it really get any better than this?!
Welcome, Antonia Krauss, to her first ever TBEX conference!
… and let’s go right “in medias res” …
… where Gary Arndt @EverywhereTrip talks to us in a very casual, yet very convincing way about the “10 steps to succeed in the business of blogging”.
- It is all about (your) authority. Not just the web stats. The primary currency on the Internet is attention, and if you have authority in your particular network or niche, attention will follow you there.
- Quality matters .. a lot. “The people who’ve been very successful in travel media, have proven that they’ve been very good at what they’re doing, over many months and years. Time, as well as a constant effort to improve, matter. Don’t think that because something was popular, it is actually good. What matters, is developing a reputation for being good“, Gary says, and the audience during his keynote – filled to the brim with what I’m guessing is at least 400 – 500 people – is nodding in eager agreement.
- You have to be your biggest critic. “Otherwise, you will never improve. We are all competitive and cooperative at the same time, and we need to be, it is what drives us, really. Sometimes, just reach out to each other, congratulate each other, watch each other’s good work, and learn!”
- Audience quality is more important than audience quantity. “Think about it in terms of a Facebook Page vs. a Facebook Group: In the latter, people are really engaged, help each other, answer each other. Those are well-travelled, keen people, and this is the audience you want! Don’t be swayed by the high numbers: It’s the quality you should really care about in your work”, Gary continues to emphasise.
- Focus on engagement, which means much more than comments and likes. “The best form of engagement, if you are an influencer, is the number of people who want to have dinner & drinks with you. This kind of direct connection on blogs, it just doesn’t exist in mainstream media, as there is no interaction. 10.000 to 15.000 podcast listeners are much more meaningful, than the same number of likes on an Instagram post (I’ve heard you there, dear Nathaniel Boyle!). That is a much stronger connection, than from simply posting x amount of ‘likes’! Personally, I still believe that the best form of engagement is meeting people in person. If you meet them, they become your advocates, and that is scalable … so try this for making your audiences grow!”
- You have to stand apart from the crowd. “There are thousands, tens of thousands of bloggers … You are never going to stand out, if you do what everyone else is doing. Focus, attitude, opinion, format: Choose something that makes you stand out. It is not about becoming big, it is more about ‘being big in your niche’. You need to do something that gives people a reason to care about you.” (I couldn’t agree more. And smile, thinking of my own creative travel niche!)
- It isn’t necessarily about your blog! “Do something else, in addition to having a website. Page views, SEO, it isn’t everything. Diversification is, as it is always good to have something more in your portfolio.”
- No one cares about you! “There is always someone else who can, and will, take your place. Be humble. Be kind. Reach out. And help each other.” (Yup. Again. Couldn’t agree more!).
- Be a successful amateur before trying to be a professional. “The real value comes from being associated with someone, or something. The question is whether you are getting value, over money? Do your homework. Do your research. Develop an audience, develop your craft. Eventually, you’ll be in a much better position to make money. Don’t beg, but come in and make people say, ‘We want to work with you!’ This is a much more powerful, much better position to be in.”
- The secret to success is showing up! “Most travel blogs tend to disappear after about two to three years. There is a lot to be said for being persistent, determined, and not quitting. Give it time! Now, there are algorithms and analytical tools we have never had before, like ten to fifteen years ago. On the other hand side, there is also more competition. So do take the time to develop an authority – your authority – and keep showing up over time.”
Thank you so much for this inspiring opening keynote, dear Gary! I am still glowing from writing up your words now, as I fully believe in what you say: It is exactly what my own experience on being in this digital business for more than seven years now has taught me. Well done we – and here’s to many more years to come!
Next up, during one of the following sessions, Leslie Walker and Carol Cain @GirlGoneTravel talk to us about Destination Marketing from both a blogging as well as the destination’s point of view.
I take my chance and give those US ladies a squeeze: They are responsible for organising next year’s TBEX at Five Finger Lakes, in New York State, which has my full attention as it is a wine, crafts & foodie travel destination I long to visit one day in my life!
“Love yourself first. The world will follow.”
Both Carol & Leslie urge us to think about the following when it comes to developing professional partnerships: “Are you delivering each other’s needs? Create a ‘to-do’ list, and assess expectations prior to any trip. Let the community tell its story, i.e. balance political storytelling needs of the destination with stories that the travel community actually wants to hear! The destination ultimately ‘gets a better story’ if you share true local stories that take in people’s passion: Work together to create itineraries that make sense! Leave room for the ‘story to be found’. And focus on what makes you unique. Keep an open mindset and let the story unfold itself. Think outside the box. The beauty really lies in simplicity.” Well said, ladies!
Cilian Murphy from Cilian Murphy Consulting @Tri2bResponsibl @LoopHeadTourism then comes in to talk about a subject I myself and many more are truly passionate about: Sustainable, responsible tourism management, and our role in and contribution to it as professional travel publishers.
“People are slowly waking up to the fact that we are not running out of tourists, but of attractive, sound destinations that remain suitable for (large amounts of) visitors.”
Local hero Cilian, who runs a “50 mile restaurant” (meaning that virtually everything he serves comes from within a 50 mile radius) as well as a sustainable tourism company, inspired himself in the work of Prof. Harald Goodwin, on Responsible Tourism, among others. It has led him to develop LoopHeadTourism as well as Loop Head Peninsula following the devastating effects of tourism on the Ring of Kerry during summer in Ireland.
“Tourism”, he boldly urges us to think, “is like fire: It can cook your dinner, or burn your house down. The answer is management: Who is telling your story? Who is organizing what? And tourism, really, should be seen a tool to build a sustainable community. The industry concentrates on numbers, it is always that same old numbers’ game. But really, the argument we have to bear in mind is that large numbers of visitors are not a guarantee for local economic impact!”
“Maximize linkages between businesses, minimise leakages from the local economy.You have to build trust”, Cilian continues in his speech. “Cooperate, instead of compete. Block out the holes in the bucket, buy from local producers, work together. This is exactly how our ‘Loop Head Food Circle‘ was born. Locally sourced food, means that visitors buy it more, they give better feedback, thus contribute to a winning circle. At Loop Head Lighthouse, we have no cafés, craft or souvenir shops. Zero. Instead, we have told everybody that ‘there’s a local pub down the road’. As a result, Kilbaha Gallery & Craft opened next to it, run by two local women. That, now that is what I call local success, and contribution to small-scale, sustainable development.”
“As bloggers, it is your responsibility to ask hard questions, and to promote local stories over beautified photographs.” (Cilian Murphy, TBEX Ireland 2017).
As for promoting local stories through, erh, funny photographs …
… even the butcher in Killarney has a welcome note for #TBEXKillarney #lovekillarney in his shop window!
And so does the pub (of course)!
Love the Killarney quaintness …
… and local stories such as this one, selling us delicious, good quality ice cream in the middle of notoriously cool, Irish weather!
Next up in the Travel Blogging world of #TBEXKillarney, let’s talk about “Why The Writing Still Matters”, a session run by Max Hartshorne, Editor at GoNomad.
Max has the following fifteen useful points for us to consider as professional writers:
- Start with unusual destinations and develop new perspectives (such as vegan travel in Serbia, Christina?! 😉 ).
- Find a hook! Why am I here? Why do I care? Set an exciting scene. Is it an iconic, charming, thought-provoking destination, and why?
- Get right to the point. Where are we going? Why should we care? What is new here? What is the hook?
- The hardest part: The story arc. Something has to happen, and change. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Make it about your trip, as your readers can experience it. Do not turn it into your own personal glorification.
- Use the senses. Use dialogue. Description and quotes from locals are more useful than yours, since they are the ones that live there.
- Stick to one tense. Don’t confuse your readers.
- Use simple language. Write conversationally. It may help you to read out loud what you wrote.
- Narrow your focus. Be specific, and don’t try to cover everything.
- Be a reporter. Details, details, DETAILS. Don’t forget the facts!
- Surprise the reader. Strive to tell the new. Be curious, ask the right questions.
- Take a fresh perspective. You can write about a familiar subject in an unfamiliar way.
- Take great notes. Record when needed.
- Write ironically. Have fun !!
- Use a narrative. It is easier to follow a story, than an entire guidebook.
- Read other travel writers. Such as: Paul Theroux, Bill Bryson, Don George ..! (Yes, Don. He already gave us those few great, still valuable tips at #TBEXIreland in Dublin four years ago ..!).
“No matter of dazzling writing can overcome weak content. The hard part is gathering the material. The writing will follow.” (Max Hartshorne, TBEX Ireland, 2017).
Last but not least, it is time for some more “family love” …
… so let us hear Jaume Marin & Dunia Coromina, from Costa Brava Tourism Board, on “How Brands work with Bloggers” in the most successful, (emotionally) proven way.
“Engagement is the single strongest metric in measuring successful relations. Why is it more valuable, and what is engagement?”
The answer, among others, lies in building a community, in having passionate followers, who share your content with their friends, and more. “People don’t care about your business, but whatever solution you can provide them with. Be helpful. The mentality shift is to think about it from their perspective. We call it, to be HAPPY: To be helpful, to advocate, to be professional, to promote, and to be yourself ! Values are very important. First comes why? Then what? What angle, what scope? You need to be precise. And work to achieve long-term relationships”, says Jaume Marin, who I’ve worked with earlier this year on #CreativeTravel #inCostaBrava after having first met in person during TBEX Costa Brava in 2015.
“Resident bloggers”, he goes on to argue, “create high quality content. Some are staying for two to three months at a time! Bloggers become our ambassadors. They come on holidays with their families. Some of them have even moved to Girona! (and that is, Amber & Eric from ‘With Husband in Tow’). Besides, we also measure everything in the impact of a campaign. We do so by influence, not just by absolute number of followers. And I clearly recommend you, before you do anything: Read the blog. Always. Read the blog of the blogger you want to work with. You will see the engagement. It is very important. As brands or tourism destinations, my target is the influencer’s audience.”
Thank you Jaume, for promoting also our cooperation in your talk!
“Try new things. Try new things. If you fail, fail quick and cheap. But try new things. Our #EuroFoodTrip, the first ever joint blog trip between the Italian Emilia Romagna and Spanish Costa Brava region, has recently won us the world’s leading travel marketing campaign award.” (Jaume Marin, TBEX Ireland, 2017).
The key to having “happy brands & bloggers” reads like a little recipe list:
- Do some happy teamwork
- Create and build #Hashtags: Have them and use them
- Sharing is caring!
- Follow up and prove ROI
- Keep the story alive over time
“Move from hunting to fishing. Start small. Pitch small. Prove yourself. Be generous. Build a relationship. Then, you grow. And keep growing. Our goal: We don’t want to produce any content ourselves. We put all the budget into content creators. Virtually all the advertising budget has disappeared. We used to have an online team, now everybody is online in our team!”
Thank you for the great closing remark, dear Jaume! What a week of learning and sharing, yet again!
Thanks so much to everybody here who came, really, a lovely picture between me & my travel buddies from Germany & Austria!
For more #TBEXKillarney photographs, head on over here:
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Elena has recently published "The Creative Traveler's Handbook". Chock full of inspiratinal stories, travel tips and advice, it offers everything you need for planning and managing your next creative escape, addressing beginners and experienced travelers alike. Here's how to get your hands on it