TBEX Toronto in June 2013 was our largest and most successful event ever. We had more than 1,400 people register, and nearly 1,200 showed up on site. Those numbers don’t include the people who showed up to the parties or organized unofficial meet-ups and other events around TBEX.

rickcalvert_blogworldThe overwhelming majority of attendees and exhibitors have given TBEX Toronto rave reviews. However, a noticeable and important minority of both attendees and exhibitors said they wanted to see fewer people at TBEX next year.

In the trade show and conference business, “Bigger is Better” is typically the rule. When it comes to travel-specific trade shows, ITB Berlin attracts 170,000 attendees and World Travel Market in London reports more than 47,000 attendees (including exhibitors and press). There are 640 DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations) in the US. and that industry’s conference (DMAI) has 2,000 attendees. On the other side of the coin, some events promote exclusivity and scarcity. They have strict qualifications for attendees and sometimes for exhibitors as well.

In general, a conference/trade show whose mission is to represent an industry benefits by having as many stakeholders present as possible. That means the more attendees the better, the more exhibitors the better, the more industry leaders and thought leaders speaking the better. This inclusiveness gives everyone a 360-degree view of the industry at that moment, and hopefully some indicators of where the industry is growing.

Since its inception, TBEX has grown significantly year after year. From 150 attendees at the first TBEX in Chicago in 2009, the conference grew to 400 attendees in New York in 2010, 600 in Vancouver in 2011, 750 in Keystone in 2012, and 1,200 this year in Toronto. There are far more travel bloggers today than there were in 2009.

We have also grown dramatically in the number of participating sponsors involved. TBEX went from fewer than a dozen participating sponsors in 2009 to nearly 200 in 2013.

We introduced speed dating last year in Keystone, with 300 appointments between bloggers and industry sponsors. This year in Toronto we had over 3,000 meetings!

Those three figures tell us the travel industry today views travel bloggers as being more important to achieving their business goals than ever before.

In the responses to our post-show survey, we saw consistent trends in the feedback from attendees and exhibitors. Sponsors told us there were too many start-up travel bloggers, there were too many bloggers who had no idea how to deal with DMOs and other travel industry companies. Our bloggers told us that industry sponsor tables were staffed by people who didn’t know how to deal with travel bloggers – or in some cases didn’t even know why they were there.

 

Limiting the size of TBEX would be a very big deal

 

Telling some portion of our community that they do not qualify, or that we do not have room for them is antithetical to the whole idea of the open web and blogging culture.

 

So, we’re asking ourselves some tough questions right now, and we need your help

 

  • Can TBEX get too big? If so, how big is “just right?”
  • If we decide to limit the number of attendees or sponsors, how should we do that?
  • Do we just set a number and say first come, first served?
  • Do we set up a qualification process for bloggers requiring them to have been blogging for a certain amount of time? To have a certain amount of web traffic? Or some other criteria?
  • If we qualify attendees based on one of the criteria mentioned above, where will the newbies go to learn? Sponsors will almost certainly be less interested in supporting an event designed just for new bloggers. That means the bloggers who can least afford it will have to pay the most to attend the event they need, and they will also lose the benefit of learning from their more experienced peers.
  • Should we require that industry sponsors are qualified in some way? We don’t currently require that industry sponsors prove to us that they know how to work with travel bloggers, but we do a lot of educating before the conference by letting them know what to expect and who on their team should staff their table.

One potential reason for limiting the size of TBEX is simple – location. We strongly believe our host city partners are a key part of what makes TBEX special. And, of course, the bigger we get, the shorter the list of viable candidate cities (cities that will actually be able to logistically support us) gets.

What it boils down to is this – if you’re one of the people who thinks TBEX is too big, or that it could potentially get too big, then we would love your answers to the questions above.  Who should we keep out? And how should we keep them out?