In early October, 2017, over 600 travel bloggers descended on the small town of Killarney, Ireland for the annual TBEX Europe conference, a gathering of the travel industry’s new media.
As a beginner travel blogger who had only started a travel blog about five months before, and who is most definitely more of a hobbyist than a professional travel blogger, I was initially hesitant to attend the conference. But I wanted to visit Ireland anyway, so the conference gave me a good excuse to go the Emerald Isle (and to write up a post on What to See in Ireland in 7 Days and Tips for Traveling in Ireland).
So what’s it like to be a first-timer at a TBEX? Should you go to TBEX if you are a travel blogger? Though I know others have different thoughts on the issue, here’s my takeaways after attending my first TBEX:
If you’re worried that you won’t fit in at TBEX as a new blogger, don’t be. For one thing, you’ll be in good company. Many of the bloggers met had only been at it for a year or less (some hadn’t even yet picked travel blog name yet!), and I figure the majority had been blogging less than two years. Moreover, I found that even those that have more experience are universally friendly and approachable. So don’t avoid attending because you think you don’t belong.
It’s everyone’s dream to make a living blogging from their laptop while traveling the world. While there definitely are people who’ve realized that dream at the conference (including many of the speakers), the hard truth is that blogging is not something you should do purely for economic reasons.
Most people who blog, including myself, do it either as a hobby or as a part-time supplement to their income (see my post about the hard truths of travel blogging for beginners). TBEX reflects this in that the vast majority of the bloggers in attendance have a “day job,” some form of other income, or are traveling off savings.
I hate to say it, but the truth is that, while I definitely learned some things, most of the speeches I attended felt a little flat (there were exceptions, including a truly great presentation on SEO by Two Scots Abroad and Savored Journeys).
Maybe I chose the wrong sessions. Maybe it’s because it’s a challenge to truly teach anything in a short one hour session.
Or maybe this is because most of it was just information and tips I had already learned through my participation in an online blogging course (check out my Superstar Blogging Review here if you’re interested in that). But since an online course costs about the same as a TBEX ticket, contains a lot more information, and can be accessed at anytime from anywhere, if you’re just looking to learn how to be a better blogger, I would say your time and money are better spent on that or a similar online course.
A fairly large focus of the conference is networking with brands — tourism boards, travel companies, etc – that are in attendance. Many bloggers will love this, since I saw folks in attendance score invites to press trips to places like the Maldives and the Philippines.
There is even something called FAM trips, which you have to apply for in advance, and which take you on a sponsored trip of the host country after the conference. Personally, I’ve made the decision to avoid sponsored travel. Though my reasons are a subject for another post, this did mean that I felt like a large part of the conference didn’t speak to me.
The price of every TBEX ticket includes a day trip on the one of the days before or after the conference, as well as access to parties and other events in the evenings. These were universally excellent and enjoyable. If you’re a first timer, I suggest taking a pre-TBEX tour, so you can meet some other folks before the conference itself begins.
And I’d also suggest attending every single social event — connecting with and learning from other bloggers is one of the greatest benefits of attending the conference. Oh, and be sure to bring a thick stack of business cards.
I expected TBEX to be one of those annoying networking events where everyone’s only half engaged with the person they are currently talking to, all while scanning the room to see if there is someone more important with whom they can superficially network before moving on to their next target.
While there definitely is plenty of networking to be had, I almost universally found that my interactions with other bloggers were of the genuine variety and not the forced kind I had expected.
Maybe what separates TBEX from other events is that, at core, all of the attendees aren’t just travel bloggers … they are travelers. And for those of us who travel the world constantly, it can be refreshing just to find people who share that same mentality.
I walked away from TBEX with many new friendships and plans to see some of those new friends elsewhere in the word.
TBEX Review Bottom Line: if you are considering whether it’s worth attending a TBEX, I would ask you to first consider why it is that you want to go. If it’s purely to learn how to be a better travel blogger, I think you’re better off signing up for an online course, or spending time learning how to find better search-optimized blog post ideas. Those will save you the time and money involved in making the trip. But if you’re looking to meet other bloggers in real life, if you care about finding sponsors, or if you just want to have a great time with like-minded people, the conference is definitely worth the effort.
I’m glad I went to TBEX Ireland and I’ll certainly plan to attend future events where I can justify the cost and time — especially if it’s a cool destination I want to attend anyway.
If you have any further questions or just want advice on TBEX or other blogging topics, just leave a comment below.
Nate Hake has traveled to 65+ countries across six continents around the world and blogs about his travels at TravelLemming.com. He is from Denver, Colorado, and recently concluded a six month stint living in Mexico.