Animal Welfare is an Important Component of Responsible Travel

 

Dr. Martha Honey, CREST Co-Director, has been invited to provide the keynote address at TBEX North America, which will be held September 11 – 13, 2014, in Cancun, Mexico. TBEX is the “world’s largest gathering of travel bloggers, writers, new media content creators, and social media savvy travel industry professionals.”

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Dr. Martha Honey, CREST

Dr. Honey was invited by TBEX following backlash from a number of bloggers and industry professionals over TBEX’s inclusion of captive dolphin tours among the pre-onference tours scheduled by the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau. A number of potential conference participants were understandably irate about the captive dolphin tours, especially those that involved direct interaction with these extremely intelligent and emotional animals. Eco-blogger Bret Love, who is also a speaker at the conference, worked very hard with the Cancun CVB to request that these tours be removed from the schedule, and most were unaware of his effort behind the scenes. See Bret’s excellent blog post on Green Global Travel explaining the situation and, ultimately, the CVB’s agreement to cancel three dolphin tours.

TBEX invited Dr. Honey to speak in order to discuss this issue and, more broadly, what is responsible travel and what should be the role of travel media in responsible travel. Not only will her address provide a platform for this important conversation, but it should be used as an opportunity to drive change for the future. CREST welcomes the opportunity to participate to encourage meaningful dialogue that supports the CREST mission, to promote responsible tourism policies and practices globally so that local communities may thrive and steward their cultural resources and biodiversity.

CREST has been asked by a number of bloggers to issue a statement on our stance on the captive dolphin tours, which we are happy to do. In recent years, CREST collaborated on several projects with the World Animal Project (formerly WSPA) and through this work we are convinced that respecting animal welfare is an important component of responsible travel. Put succinctly, our position is:

CREST believes wildlife belongs in the wild, and animal welfare is an essential component of responsible travel. As a minimum requirement, we believe in the “Five Freedoms” needed by all animals:

  • Sufficient and good quality food and water
  • A suitable living environment
  • An opportunity to exhibit natural behaviors
  • Protection from fear and distress
  • Good health

Check out Born Free UK’s Guide to the 5 Freedoms, which discusses the Five Freedoms in detail and also in context of captive animals.

Dolphins are extremely complex creatures, and we agree with World Animal Protection in that these animals “deserve to live a life free from captivity, where they can properly fulfill their social and behavioral needs.” A tank simply cannot provide them with the space, environment, and social freedom they need to thrive as they would in the wild. As stated by the tour operator Intrepid Travel, a highly respected leader in responsible travel, it is best to view wildlife where it belongs, but if a zoo or aquarium is ever visited, a visitor should make sure the facility adheres to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Code of Ethics before entering. What more, interactions with wild animals should never involve physical contact with people, feeding, or other actions that disturb or alter their natural behavior. These actions often cause extreme distress for the animal and is a health risk for both parties.

Finally, CREST works often in close collaboration and partnership with The Ocean Foundation. On the topic of captive marine animals, President Mark Spalding says, “We have admirable facilities that rescue and when possible rehabilitate and release marine mammals, sea birds and sea turtles. Some of these allow the public to visit and volunteer. And, many have advanced our knowledge of marine wildlife through research during their recovery. But like hospitals for humans, this is not where we want wild animals to spend their entire lives. We prefer to see them in the wild where they thrive.” For more information on the topics of marine mammal research, rehabilitation, and the human relationship with marine mammals, see Mr. Spalding’s blog post following the Southern California Marine Mammal Workshop.

CREST looks forward to discussing this and other issues with both bloggers and media professionals, who have at their fingertips a powerful tool for public education, which can ultimately transform the way the world travels.

Author bio:  The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) is a non-profit research institute with offices in Washington, DC and at Stanford University. Founded in 2003, its mission is to promote responsible tourism policies and practices globally so that local communities may thrive and steward their cultural resources and biodiversity. CREST uses policy-oriented research to design, monitor, evaluate, and improve the social and environmental committments of responsible tourism, as well as to promote sustainable practices and principles within the wider tourism industry. It focuses on tourism’s potential as a tool for poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation.

 

 

TBEX Mission & Programming Ethics

 

We often tell prospective destinations that hosting TBEX is like offering the world’s biggest press trip. It’s a chance for a destination to showcase its tourism product, the attractions that make up the backbone of the destination’s tourism economy.

rickcalvert_blogworldPart of this amazing opportunity is the ability to host a variety of tours and excursions that will give attendees a small sampling of what the destination has to offer visitors, a sampling that they, in turn, can share with their readers. Each destination creates a wide range of itineraries to offer TBEX attendees. For example, these may include food and shopping experiences, historical tours, ecological tours, adventure tours, cultural experiences, museums, even wildlife and zoological experiences.

When we were in Cancun for our site visit, there were three dolphin related tour companies that came to meet us. They subsequently provided itineraries for Cancun to offer to TBEX attendees. This has the TBEX community talking. Talking about issues is good. Talking about issues where everyone has a chance to get full information and respond is even better.

So let’s talk.

First let me share the Mission of TBEX.

TBEX exists to provide educational content and networking opportunities that benefit both bloggers and the travel industry, and in doing so, raising the standards of professionalism on both sides. This creates more opportunities for content creators and delivers measureable value to the travel industry.

We are passionately committed to this mission, and to the belief that new media has empowered all of us in a way never before seen in human history. New media gives everyone the opportunity to share their opinion no matter what his or her views are.

Our goal is to give you everything we can to help you chart your own success, leaving it up to you to pick and choose what best fits your personal preferences and business plan. We know you may not like everything on the program, but we hope the diversity of information helps you connect with what will be most useful to YOU.

We are not a political event. We are a professional development event. We are an advocacy organization. We advocate for you, the travel content creator. It is not in keeping with our mission to advocate on one side or the other of a political debate.

The same is true for any tourist board. Their job is to bring visitors to the destination and to represent their private industry partners who make up their local travel industry.  There is a saying in the travel industry:  the job of the tourist board is to put “heads on beds”.

Even though TBEX isn’t political, and tourism boards as a whole are not political in nature, it still begs the question – is there a line, and if so where is it?

The honest answer is yes. There is a line. But there is a very high threshold to crossing that line.

We know that some of you are offended by these dolphin programs. Some even find the concept abhorrent and consider it animal cruelty.  You have been very vocal about your beliefs and convictions.  Some have asked, or even demanded, that we remove these experiences from the program.  We respect you and your beliefs. We have heard you. And we understand you. But at the same time, numerous others members of our community have excitedly signed up for those same experiences and have emailed us to ask that we do not cancel them.

There are numerous advocates for these programs who believe they offer valuable research and that their practice is humane. There is obviously an active debate both outside and within the TBEX Community. It would not be ethical for us to choose a side in this debate. Doing so would be doing a disservice to some part of our community and violating our mission to advocate on behalf of ALL content creators.

We believe the TBEX community is made up of professionals who can accept people with differing views, never allowing a healthy debate to turn into personal attacks or insidious conversation aimed at any attendee. In fact, encouraging constructive discussion is exactly in line with TBEX’s mission.

I know some of you may be upset with this decision, but I sincerely hope you can respect the reasoning behind it.

You have only seen the tip of the iceberg in the trips and excursions that will be offered by Cancun and their partners. There will be diversity in the opportunities, including cultural and local experiences, and we believe that there will be something that will pique the interest of all our attendees.

This is a good debate to have. Change can come out of debate, so feel free to sound off in the comment section below, on your own blogs, and the social channels.

We value you. We hope you will find many other excursions that you are passionate about exploring and blogging about when you join us in Cancun this September for TBEX North America.

Thank you for understanding and respecting our mission here at TBEX.

Rick Calvert

 

***Update 7/12/14****

This has been a very active debate and I thought it was important to include some more information.

Some of accused us of including these programs on behalf of sponsors and to make money.

Fact, the company providing these tours is not a sponsor. TBEX has not been compensated monetarily or otherwise.

Diana from d travels’ round has been very active in this discussion. All of her comments have been thoughtful and respectful. I felt it was appropriate to include her latest comment here. My reply to her comment is below as well.

Diana’s comment:

That is the problem though: your audience is not that knowledgeable. Speaking from experience and working in both the PR and blogger sides, most bloggers don’t know the truth about animal tourism and without someone actually taking the time to educate them, they won’t. I’ve come across so many in my time working with responsible tourism who tell me they wish they would have known the truth about whatever animal attraction it is they supported and wrote about, because then they would not have written/advocated for it. People learn because thought leaders, brands, etc. speak out and make it a priority to educate.

My reply:

 Fair point and very well said Diana. They should be. Isn’t it their job as providers of information to educate themselves and share that information with their audience? Isn’t that your job?

Imagine if every blogger who signed up for one of these trips came home and wrote a story that agreed with your point of view. How many more people would be educated?

This is the point I have been trying to make from the beginning. Our audience is not made up of consumers. It is made up of new media content creators and travel industry professionals. TBEX is not for the general public. This is an important distinction. Part of our job is to teach new media content creators how to improve their investigative skills, how to write and communicate effectively and deliver real value to their audience. In order to do that, they need to gather information.

It is their job to educate the public.

Our critics are taking the position that some sources of information are acceptable and others should be censored. That they have found the truth and no further debate or fact finding is needed. That our audience is too naive to learn and decide for themselves. That is completely contrary to what we believe and what we advocate for on behalf of new media content creators.

We are not trying to defend these programs or promote them. We included them because local businesses offered them. We think our audience is / should be sophisticated enough to make the decision of taking one of these tours and then writing objectively about their experience for themselves.

 

We hope more of our community uses this debate to educate themselves about this subject.

 

Can TBEX Get Too Big?

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?

 

Travel Blog Exchange: How Suitcasing and Outboarding Harm Events

Unfortunately, at this year’s TBEX conference in Toronto, we were forced to cancel one of our speaker’s talks at the last minute due to the speaker’s continued violations of our speaker and attendee agreements. This caused a bit of controversy at the time, so I want to explain why we made the decision we did, and to help everyone understand the broader ethical responsibility that event organizers have to their attendees, sponsors, and speakers.

I am not going to use any names. The identity of the person isn’t important to the broader points I’m going to make.

This person was a speaker at TBEX in Keystone last year. Their company is the sort that could also potentially be a TBEX sponsor. They are very active with travel bloggers and part of the business is providing DMOs with content marketing created by bloggers. That is, by definition, a qualified TBEX sponsor. They chose not to sponsor the event. We do not require qualified sponsoring businesses to be a sponsor in order to speak at TBEX, but we certainly encourage them to do so.

This company decided to host an unofficial party during TBEX Keystone that conflicted with our host sponsor’s official opening night party. They did it without our knowledge or consent, yet used our name to promote the event. Many attendees were confused and thought this was an official event. Whenever we learn about something like this beforehand we try to prevent it, because having conflicting events is harmful to our sponsors and confusing to our attendees. We always assume people are acting in good faith and are competing with us and our sponsors unintentionally, so we ask them if they can reschedule their event to a non-conflicting time, support an official event instead, or possibly cancel their conflicting event.

Last year when we learned about the unofficial party, TBEX’s Conference Director, Mary Jo, approached the speaker and explained the ethical problems of their company hosting this conflicting event. They chose not to cancel their event, but did delay the start of their party a bit. It still conflicted with the opening party, although there was slightly less of an overlap. I also talked with this speaker again in March of this year, explained why the party last year was a conflict, and reiterated Mary Jo’s points regarding our responsibility to our sponsors and attendees. We requested that in the future the speaker or someone from their company notify us if they intended to host an outboarded event in order to avoid a conflict with our schedule. I also encouraged the speaker to consider becoming an official sponsor instead to work within our system and avoid potential conflicts altogether.

We thought we had resolved the issue, that everyone was operating in good faith, and decided to have this person speak again at TBEX 2013 in Toronto.

In mid-May, shortly before TBEX Toronto, we were informed by our host city that an unofficial event was being promoted using the TBEX name and that it was in direct conflict with the hosted blogger tours they had worked hard to put together. These tours were very important to our hosts, and the conflicting event put them in an awkward position. This was a company with whom they could potentially do business, but that was instead harming their business.

I emailed our speaker on May 17th, two weeks before the start of our Toronto event, and let him know they had again scheduled a conflicting event and that it was harming our sponsors and us. I let the speaker know that we felt betrayed after our previous conversations.

the response was, “I am not rescheduling, and you cannot make me.”

Of course, that statement is true. We can’t stop anyone from hosting an outboarded event during one of our conferences. I tried to schedule a phone call with him to resolve it. He said we could talk, but again told me there was nothing I could do that would change his mind and that, somehow, it was our fault that he decided to compete with our event.

At this point, we had an internal discussion about whether we should cancel his speaking appearance at the conference. It was apparent he had now decided to be a competitor and not cooperate with us. In the end, we made the decision to keep his session on the program, but knew that we would not be inviting him back to future events until we had come to a mutually beneficial understanding.

Then, on the day of the pre-BEX blogger day tours before the TBEX conference began, I received a complaint from a sponsor. Someone was handing out flyers – with the TBEX name on them – in the main lobby of the Toronto Convention Center in front of our registration desk, encouraging attendees to go to this speaker’s unofficial off-site event in direct conflict with the blogging trips. This is what’s known in the conference and trade show industry as “suitcasing.”

What is Suitcasing and Outboarding?

Let's stop for a moment and define a couple of terms.
Outboarding is when a company that should be a sponsor of an event instead decides to host their own competing event without the consent of the original event organizer. Outboarding steals from event organizers directly by costing them revenue from the potential sponsor, as well as revenue from any other sponsors of the outboarded event that might have otherwise been spent on official events. Outboarding also steals attention away from official sponsors of the official event, drawing attendees and media attention away from sponsors. Lastly, it is deceitful and harmful to attendees by confusing them into thinking they are supporting the official event when really they are not.

Suitcasing is when a company either registers as an attendee, or has no badge at all, when they should be registered as a sponsor of the event. They are actively trying to recruit business from attendees – by handing out flyers in hallways, leaving printed material on tables, etc. – without paying to be a sponsor. Obviously, this is directly stealing revenue from the conference, as well as stealing from the official sponsors and being deceitful and confusing to the attendees. Nothing upsets sponsors quite as much as a suitcaser. They are always reported to the event organizer by an angry sponsor.

Outboarding and suitcasing are both very common at conferences and trade shows – this is by no means a TBEX-only issue. I am sure, now that you know what they are, you can recall several times when you have either attended an outboarding event or been approached by a suitcaser. You may even be guilty of doing it yourself. Most people don’t realize how harmful these things can be, but if you take either to the extreme of “what if everyone did that?” you can see how there would no longer be an event at all – and then everyone would lose.

When I heard from the TBEX Toronto sponsor about the suitcasing going on in front of our own registration desk, I was furious. I immediately approached the two young women in question – who tried to hand me a flyer. I told them that we had already told the person responsible for organizing the event they were promoting that it was in violation of our rules, and that they had to leave the building immediately. I also told them that if they were caught handing out flyers in the building again we would revoke their passes and they would not be allowed to attend TBEX.

At that point, I emailed the speaker informing him of what had just happened, and told him that because of his continued violation of our rules his speaking appearance was officially canceled. I also asked him to immediately cease and desist in using our company name to promote his competing event.

He, of course, used this as a promotional tool for his competing event. He held his talk at a venue across the street during our conference and played the victim.

He approached me at our official party later that night and asked if we could talk. I said yes. He insulted me immediately, I responded in kind, and the conversation degraded from there. I told him he was wrong for intentionally harming our business, especially after we had specifically cautioned him about this on multiple occasions and despite our repeated attempts to resolve the issue professionally. He insisted that I and TBEX were wrong, and rather than punishing him we should be grateful for all of his “promotion” and “support” of our event. He asked why I hadn’t revoked his badge completely, and I told him that, for our part, we were still trying to resolve the issue. From my standpoint, all he needed to do was apologize, admit he was wrong, and then we could repair the relationship. Instead, the insulting and name-calling continued, I lost my temper and stooped to the same level, and eventually he walked away.

Throughout this entire drama, from the behind-the-scenes conversations before the conference right up through the confrontations at the conference itself, TBEX never once publicly mentioned what was going on with this person (or his company) by name. We never called him out on social media, in our newsletter, on our blog, or in public in any way. We have still not publicly discussed this matter using his or his company’s name – even in this blog post. We tried, at every point in the process, to resolve the conflict professionally and ethically. And at every point, he refused to see our position or make any move toward compromise.

Why are Suitcasing and Outboarding Unethical?

Why breaking the rules harms everyone.
Event organizers sell a product just like any other business. Our product is the event. We spend anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars marketing our product. We bring as many qualified people as we possibly can to one place all at the same time.  We set the prices for our products and we create the terms and conditions (T&Cs) around how we are willing to provide our products. We create these T&Cs for attendees, speakers and sponsors to protect ourselves as well as our exhibitors and attendees from unethical people and companies. Our goal is to create a level playing field for everyone. In our terms and conditions we ask that all companies who are trying to sell something to our attendees purchase a booth space or in TBEX case a table top exhibit. This is where they are supposed to pitch their products to customers. We have rules prohibiting them from selling their product in the aisles, in front or inside their fellow exhibitors booths. (Yeah I know its crazy you need a rule explaining that but unethical people try and do this all the time).

The cost to exhibit at an event is usually significantly higher than to attend. So when a Suitcaser decides to buy an attendee badge and sell their products in the aisles instead of purchasing a booth; they have just decided to steal from the event organizer. They have decided that they will find customers there but they are unwilling to pay the price the event organizer is asking.  They have decided to unfairly compete with the other exhibitors, and they have decided to approach attendees outside the marketplace where they expect to be sold to. Ever been in a session when someone stands up to ask a question but instead tells you all about their product and why people should buy it?

That is a Suitcaser and that is unethical. It is also angers everyone in the room. Have you ever had someone walk up to you in the aisle or the lobby or at a party of an event who handed you a flyer or a free sample while trying to sell you their awesome product?

That is Suitcasing and if that person doesn’t have an exhibitor badge they are definitely a Suitcaser. There are some exceptions to that rule where an attendee may ask directly about someones product, but most of the time it’s unethical and rude.

Outboarding is similar and even more damaging. Again this company has recognized that the event organizer has done a good job at marketing their event and delivered customers to one place at one time. The Outboarder make a conscious decision to steal from the event organizer and host an event off-site without the consent of the organizer. Many times they even use the event organizers brand to confuse attendees into thinking this is a sanctioned event.  When an Outboarder does this during show hours, they have just stolen customers from other exhibitors, sponsors and speakers. When they do this in conflict with official after hours events they have just stolen customers from the sponsors of those events.

There are exceptions to this rule. Some “unofficial events” are held with the blessing of the show organizer. We cooperate with stakeholders all the time. For example, Travel Massive has hosted events at the last three TBEX conferences. All of them were done in cooperation with us.  We have done it ourselves. Last year we moved our New Media Expo event to January in Las Vegas. Our dates overlapped the Consumer Electronics show and were close to Affiliate Summit which were both also being held in Las Vegas. We called both event organizers to tell them about our potential date conflict and received their approval before we contracted with our venue. We have done the same thing with BlogHer and other conferences in the past. 

Now, let’s discuss the ethics of a responsible event organizer.

First, our business is to produce an event that brings various stakeholders together – including buyers, sellers, media, and industry thought leaders. We create a marketplace where transactions can occur, educational settings for attendees, and networking opportunities between peers, customers, and vendors. We work for an entire year (and invest a significant amount of money) marketing this event to attendees and sponsors in order to encourage them to attend an event that takes place over a few short days.

We are ethically bound to provide a level playing field to all parties. We have to remain neutral – we have to be Switzerland. We are also bound to protect our sponsors and our attendees. Without them there would be no event and we would be out of business.

As I said earlier, suitcasing and outboarding are common at events like ours. (see this post by BlogHer co-founder Elisa Camahort Page on the same issue at BlogHer.) Throughout my career I have approached at least a hundred outboarders and suitcasers, most of whom apologize and start following the rules. Some try to avoid you and keep doing what they’re doing even after being cautioned. I have taken badges from and ejected a dozen or so suitcasers over the years who refused to quit after being warned.

But this was a first for me. In this case, our speaker was knowingly both suitcasing and outboarding, and then when we took action in removing him from the program, he insisted he and his company were victims who were actually doing us a favor by harming us, our sponsors, and our attendees. When he was caught and confronted he tried to continue to use it to his advantage in publicly promoting himself, his event, and his now-canceled talk. Incredible.

At one point this speaker told me, “You don’t own Toronto. You can’t stop me.” He is absolutely right. While every show organizer has the right to remove anyone’s badge and ask him or her to leave the event for any reason, no one can legally stop an outboarder from stealing your marketing and hard work or from harming your sponsors and attendees. Event organizers can and do have signed contracts with hotels and convention centers that prevent competing events from taking place at the same time.

But there is no doubt than when outboarders and suitcasers decide to do this they have changed from cooperating participants in an event to competitors. More than that, they have made the decision to be unethical competitors – otherwise they would hold their events in another city or on another date that was not in direct competition with yours. It is clearly an unethical practice. You can – and we did – deny them the opportunity to steal our business and harm our speakers and sponsors right in front of our face.

Author Rick Calvert is the CEO of TBEX and CEO & Co-founder of BlogWorld & New Media Expo

You Are Not a Travel Blogger

 

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This weekend Matt Kepnes, otherwise known as Nomadic Matt, wrote a post that was a bit of a wake-up call. I told him I was proud of him. Matt has a caveat in his post that if your blog is your hobby that his post was not meant for you. The same applies here. If you are blogging for your own personal enjoyment, good for you. This post really isn’t for you. Have fun blogging and enjoy it.

If you ever ask for free stuff or try to sell something on your blog, then this post is for you.

I have been saying for years bloggers are like rock stars, and professional bloggers really are. Many people who think they are professional bloggers are really more like amateur wanna-be rock stars. They love the idea of fame and fortune and the rock star lifestyle, but have no clue how to achieve that goal – or they lack any work ethic to make it possible. This isn’t unique to travel blogging. It spans the entire blogosphere.

creative commons photo by Hervegirod via Wikimedia Commons

creative commons photo by Hervegirod via Wikimedia Commons

Even more lack the actual talent needed to deserve that success. I call it “American Idol Syndrome.” If you have ever seen the show, you know what I mean. Some people are completely delusional about their abilities. This isn’t unique to blogging. Music has always been this way. Most people who try to play the guitar suck, don’t they?

The difference is most sucky guitar players don’t go around calling themselves musicians. Although there are a lot more of them out there now with the advent of the internet.

Bloggers writing about their drunken escapades? Sounds just like wanna-be flash-in-the-pan rock stars – only these people are so dumb that they publicize their own bad behavior. At least rock stars try to hide it from the paparazzi.

Matt talks about bloggers having a menu of what they offer, like restaurants do. I would love to hear him expand more on this. What kind of menu? What kind of products and services should a blogger offer?

Again the music analogy applies. Did you ever notice all the merchandise Lady Gaga and other rock stars sell? They definitely have a menu. They sell their content to start with. They sell all sorts of products and services, and they definitely sell the equivalent of sponsored posts – they are called product endorsements. The smart ones, the good business-minded rock stars, sell sponsored posts that reflect their brand, that their fans can relate to and that don’t violate their fans’ trust.

Here is a reality check:
If you think travel blogging is about getting free trips and getting drunk and stupid, then YOU ARE NOT A TRAVEL BLOGGER.

You are a wanna-be. You are a poser. You give people who do want to be or who are travel bloggers a bad name. Either wake up and shape up, or do us all a favor and stop calling yourself a travel blogger.

If you don’t have a business plan (like Matt suggests), if you are not a talented story teller (regardless of whether your stories are told via print, audio, or video), if you are not constantly trying to improve your craft and provide value to your sponsors and readers, then you are not a professional. Again, if you are a hobbyist there is nothing wrong with that. Have fun. Just don’t represent yourself as a professional. In fact, you can be a hobbyist and accept a press trip, a comp, or a sweet deal, but you need to know that the moment you accept any form of compensation you have entered an agreement. That agreement includes the expectation that you will act like a professional for the duration of that relationship. If you think anyone is giving you a comp just because they like you, you are wrong.  These companies are in business to make money, and they expect you to help them reach more customers and do more business.

Professionals have talent. Professionals work hard to constantly improve that talent. Professionals also work on all the mundane things that separate them from amateurs. They learn about SEO and other technology that impacts their reach. They create a business plan and a marketing plan. Then they execute and measure the progress of those plans and adapt them when necessary to bring them closer to success. They act like professionals when they meet with potential sponsors and clients. Professionals disclose it to their readers when they have received compensation that may affect their opinion on a story. They disclose when links they provide are paid for or when a post is sponsored. They look for mentors and teachers from whom they can learn. They network with their peers, copy their successes, and try to avoid others’ mistakes.

So you should ask yourself – do you really want to be a travel blogger?

If the answer is yes, then start honing your craft and doing the things a successful professional does. I hope one of those things is attending an upcoming TBEX or other events that are geared toward professional development. Start taking a creative writing or journalism course, or start learning how the internet, SEO, keywords, and the technology you use every day works.

Do you call yourself a travel blogger? Do you disagree with this post?

Author Rick Calvert is the CEO of TBEX and CEO & Co-founder of BlogWorld & New Media Expo

Is there room under the travel blogging umbrella for calendars and calendar haters?

 

Earlier this month, there was a bit of a kerfuffle over a travel blogging calendar. The fact that there were facets of the travel blogging world that didn’t embrace and applaud the calendar isn’t the interesting part, that was to be expected. Rather, what was interesting was that the sentiments of both the calendar’s detractors and its champions, taken together, did a fine job of demonstrating how all-encompassing the travel blogging world has the potential to be.

But let me back up a bit.

Travel bloggers posing for calendars isn’t new – just ask Diamond PR about their “Men of TBEX” calendar from Vancouver. Unlike that effort, however, the impetus for this new calendar of travel bloggers has come from the bloggers themselves – and this time there are separate calendars for men and women. Twenty-four bloggers agreed to submit photographs of themselves, and two charities were selected to receive “the entirety of the profits” from the sale of the calendars.

And then came the questions. Questions like, “How close to nude can we go?” from one calendar participant, to “Really??!?” from one skeptic, to “Who’s going to buy these calendars, anyway?” from a few people, both in public and private.

These calendars were never going to be just another travel blogging initiative – something the organizers knew going in (if for no other reason than the fact that the earlier “Men of TBEX” calendar brought up questions, too). They were going to generate some raised eyebrows and (yes) some questions. The success of a project like this has to be based on getting the word out. If even a portion of that is accomplished by said project being of a slightly prurient interest, then that makes the promotional effort easier. Raising eyebrows (or questions) is fine, since “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” right?

Evidently not everyone who’s a fan of the calendar agrees with that old chestnut, and some were unprepared to deal with any questions that weren’t along the lines of “how can I be in it next year?” or “where can I buy one?” When the purpose and motivation of the calendar effort was questioned, the conversation quickly went off the rails.

What I love about this calendar is that it’s something different. Who knows how much money they’ll raise – I genuinely hope it’s a good sum, and that they share their progress – but at least they’re thinking creatively. The calendar is an effort to drive money toward a charity, but it also showcases the ability of travel bloggers to think creatively and work together – skills that are in demand as more people flood the already saturated travel blogging market. Additionally, turning this from a “spur-of-a-moment idea” into an actual, physical thing in a short span of time highlights how adaptable travel bloggers can be – the world moves quickly, and we must move quickly with it or get left behind. All of these traits are specific and marketable skills – we’re talking resume-quality language here – and that deserves applause. We need more of that kind of forward thinking. The calendar’s organizers and participants get major points for showing creativity, adaptability, and the benefits of collaboration.

But what the array of reactions to the calendar has demonstrated is something that I love even more – that there’s room under this enormous umbrella of travel blogging both for the people who adore this calendar idea and want to buy it every year and for the people who roll their eyes at it before going back to whatever section of the travel blogging world suits them best.

There is no brush broad enough to paint all travel bloggers at once, nor should there be. Travelers are exceptionally diverse, why shouldn’t travel bloggers be, too? We travel differently, we blog differently – we think differently. If we all produced the same ideas, what an awfully boring community this would be! There are enough niches under this gigantic umbrella that everyone will find something they love and others who have similar affections. The travel industry is even bigger than our umbrella, trying as it is to appeal to the whims of every traveler on earth, so it’s big enough to support a wide variety of travel bloggers, too.

Not everyone will cheer every new idea. It makes sense, right? There are critics in every industry. Some will quietly scoff and go about their own business, some will openly mock, and others will ask questions. We need to be prepared to deal with every kind of critic – whether simply accepting that not everyone is a fan, ignoring the detractors who offer nothing more than vitriol (don’t feed the trolls!), or explaning what we’re doing and why we’re doing it – in a thoughtful and reasonable manner. Critics should be expected to ask pointed questions about things they find confusing or about which they just want more information. Asking “who’s the target audience for this calendar?” isn’t an attack, and it certainly shouldn’t generate threats of physical violence. (Update: the Twitter post with the threat has apparently been removed, but here’s a screenshot of it.)

Whether the loudest (so far as I can tell) skeptic of the calendar had simply asked pointed questions or “took a hard(ish) line on” the topic, this kind of lighthearted retort seems the better place to start. Really, the first – and only – response could even have been, “Sorry you don’t like it, man, and I’mma let you finish, but we’re gonna be over here raising money for charity, mmkay?” before dropping the mic and walking offstage.

Yes, I’m being flippant, but the point is we have to know that not everyone will love what we do. If we fail to respond appropriately to our critics we run the risk of looking foolish or, even worse, looking like we haven’t even thought about our actions as much as our critics have.

Asking pointed questions helps us refine our bold ideas and prepares us for when businesses (rather than other bloggers) are asking the hard questions. We need to ask ourselves pointed questions, so we’re ready when others ask them. We need to answer thoughtfully, so we don’t appear poised for attack (even if we think it’s a defensive move). When we do all of this, it doesn’t matter one iota whether someone else under this umbrella doesn’t totally love our idea. There’s plenty of room for all of our well-considered (if sometimes quirky) ideas. Not everyone needs to follow the same path or even like every available path, as long as we agree to disagree as professionals.

As for the question posed at the beginning – is there room under this travel blogging umbrella for both the calendar lovers and the calendar haters? – I’d like to believe the answer is a resounding yes. The incredible and sometimes bizarre diversity of people I’ve met in this community – a community drawn together by a love of traveling – never ceases to amaze. I’d also like to believe that the umbrella is limitless, and that we all (at the very least) share the willingness to defend one another’s right to push boundaries, throw spaghetti at the wall, and ask questions.

If we can’t do that – support creative discourse and a little spaghetti throwing – then we’ll fracture our community instead of growing and sustaining it. I think the growth option is better for all of us, even if it comes with a few hard questions along the way.


We’re interested in publishing editorial content on the TBEX blog that represents a wide array of opinions on all things travel, blogging, and anything else that the TBEX audience might find interesting. And as it turns out, TBEX staff have opinions, too. This opinion piece may not represent the opinions of everyone working at TBEX or New Media Expo. Do you have a counter-point to this editorial? Do you have something else you’d like to get off your chest? We’d love to hear from you.