More Than Social Media: Costa Brava’s Instagram Plans



Instagram is the perfect platform for sharing holiday photos – and you won’t miss home if your stay is punctuated with Insta-lovehearts. But one tourist board has bigger plans for this visual social media platform than a few holiday snaps. Instagram is fast becoming part of Costa Brava’s worldwide marketing strategy, with the aim of changing outdated perceptions of the region.

If I say Costa Brava, what would you say? Sun, sea, or sand? If, like me, you missed last year’s TBEX Conference Girona you might call to mind a beach strip studded with white high rise blocks, and restaurants offering menus with pictures instead of words. I did. And what did I base that opinion on? Pre-social media memories of orange BBC TV travel presenters sipping on sangria, 70s news reports of a boom in Spanish resorts that my parents couldn’t afford to take me to, and glossy brochures on travel agent shelves in the days when a ‘Trip Advisor’ was someone who sat at a desk in the shopping mall.

A region that has moved on

Perhaps that’s what the Costa Brava was then. But I know from a recent visit that’s not what it is now. Sure, you have your Lloret de Mar resorts filled with Brits that have turned an off-putting shade of tomato. But nowadays the region delivers cosmopolitan cities like Girona, cultural experiences like the Dali Museum, artist enclaves like Cadaques, and world class sailing and diving marinas like L’Estartit. And apart from one blip when all the food critics went to Copenhagen, it has continuously held the title of ‘best restaurant in the world.’

Held back by the past

Yet when I returned from Costa Brava, people only asked if I’d enjoyed my beach holiday. The region may have embraced the future, but the old image remains, hanging round like yesterday’s paella. For the Costa Brava Tourist Board this might be seen as something of a problem. But Jaume Marin, Marketing Director at Costa Brava Girona is upbeat. He believes most tourist boards have an outdated image or legacy to change.

“The most important thing about marketing is the perception. More than the reality. And every destination has problems with perception. Even places like New York have a mountain to climb,” says Jaume. “I think Barcelona has one of the strongest images for a destination in the world. Yet tourism is focussed on one part of the town, overloading the capacity of that part of town.”

A marketing man with a plan

Jaume is putting his belief in social media into action – or, more specifically, into a catchy little hashtag. In the time it has taken me to write this post someone will have probably looked at an image tagged #incostabrava. By the time you’ve read this article someone else is likely to have used that hashtag on a new image. Many of these pictures have sun, sea, and sand woven into the mix, but many others do not. There are pictures of spires and statues. Of alleyways and arches. Of markets and museums. Of forests and farmhouses. Of tall towers and top tables.

When I last checked there were 76,640 images on just that one hashtag. Jaume Marin believes that over time, hearts and minds can be changed through these single snaps that, together, make an almighty holiday album. But why would Instagram be more effective than leaflets and brochures? He argues that new generations are being influenced by social rather than traditional media and publicity.

“It’s no good if I say ‘The Costa Brava is more than beaches.’ Somebody else has to say it,” Jaume tells me. “If someone local says it, then it’s not the tourist board creating brand, but our own community creating it.”

Another part of his strategy is to bring expert bloggers and travellers out on a regular basis. “They have a big number of followers and people rely on them and believe them. In the past the tour operators were important and there were millions of brochures produced. But that is the past. Who creates the perceptions now? A campaign like Instagram is real and it’s authentic. Local people are part of it. And they are proud of it. This is a growing community.”


Instadays filled with instalikes

The tourist board has been facilitating the growth of the hashtag by organising free Instagram days – free guided photo walks with Instagram experts on hand to offer tips – across the region. I attended one in Cadaques. It was a sunshine fiesta of 200 snappers and I was still looking at pictures of it on my phone several weeks later. And this free Instagram day was then repeated somewhere else. By the time I met Jaume in England in June, he had clocked up 14 of them, with another 18 in the pipeline.

But I was curious. Did he put so much faith in social media platforms that they were becoming central to his marketing strategy?

“Yes. We are switching,” he said, nodding. “We are a public administration and we don’t switch from one day to another, but in the end it depends on the people who are involved, and if I’m still there, we are going to switch.”

A measurable marketing expense

One of the advantages, he explains, is that social media is measurable, unlike other channels where he could put his marketing budget.

“The circulation of a newspaper might be 100,000. But how many people read it? I don’t know. And my advert might be on the 38th page. I don’t know how many people read the 38th page. With a blog I know how many people read it and for how many minutes.”

But he’s also aware that figures aren’t everything, even in tourism, and that sometimes accountability is taken a bit far.

“Are we going to measure how much people enjoy an exhibition? Is a hotel going to ask what the return is on changing the chairs? Or how many people benefited from changing a light bulb?” he asks with a shrug.

Expanding the network

Before he left England, Jaume was keen to track down UK Instagrammers.

“I would like to set up an Instagram day with the igersLondon and igersCostaBrava communities. If we met for a day and it was a failure then we would still have a great weekend. And if we met for a day and it was a success then Instagram days could be expanded all over Europe. And we would be the pioneers.”

Author Bio: Kirstie Pelling is one fifth of The Family Adventure Project, a website all about families getting active and having fun together. Along with husband and co-founder Stuart Wickes and their three children, the family have cycled more than 12,000 miles, across more than 20 countries. And with 20 years of journalism and travel experience under her belt, Kirstie is an expert in inspirational adventure writing. You can follow her and the family on Twitter @familyonabike, Facebook, G+, Instagram and YouTube.

Girona Castle Party in Pictures


We looked forward to the opening night party at Castell de Sant Gregori for weeks, and it did not disappoint. The setting was beautiful, the food was excellent (not to mention full of surprises), and the entertainment was spectacular. Enjoy these few images from the party, with more to come in the TBEX Flickr pool and Facebook page as more people download images from their phones!

What was your favorite moment from the party at Castell de Sant Gregori?

Best Budget-Friendly Restaurants in Girona


When I put out the call recently for guest bloggers on the TBEX blog, Isabel Leyva contacted me almost immediately offering to send in a post with tips for conference attendees that were heading to Girona. What makes her the right person for the job? She’s from Girona! Here are Isabel’s picks for budget eats in her city.

Eating great dishes for a small amount of money is really easy in Spain. Girona is an expensive city if you compare it with other Spanish cities, but on the other hand food and creativity is extraordinary, because we have great cooks.

All restaurants do a special menu during lunch, with the same quality for less euros – this is a great way to go to a good restaurant. For example, you can go to a seafood restaurant with two dishes, dessert, and a drink for around 16€. But these lunch prices are only available from Monday to Friday.

If you want to go to dinner and not spend too much, we have good options that are very popular among young people. All options cost around 10-15€, but of course, it depends on what you ask for. Here are four budget-friendly restaurants in Girona you should try.


Konig has the best patatas bravas in Girona, great salads, tasty American sandwiches, and great fast service. It has different locations along the city, but the best one is near Sant Fèlix Cathedral. It has a great open terrace and the views are really nice. Usually is very crowded, so is better go outside of the rush hours.

Tip: I always ask for patatas bravas, and a Chicago sandwich or Elisabetta salad – a dilemma to decide!

Konig – Calderers 6

Le Bistrot

One of the oldest restaurants in Girona, Le Bistrot has an exceptional location – the Sant Domenec Stairs. It is one of the most popular Girona spots that appears in a lot of films and advertisements – as well as almost all the travelers guides. The restaurant has a different way of presenting dishes. Dishes that usually restaurants serve on a plate, they offer it on a pagès bread, a tipical bread from Catalonia.

Tip: Escalivada is my favourite one.

Le Bistrot – Pujada Sant Domènec, 4


Basque tapas are very famous in the north of Spain. Very close to Le Bistrot we can find Zampanzar, that offers some of the best tapas in Girona. Located at Plaça del Vi, you can eat them standing up or seated while you drink txakolí. Also ask for pulpo a la gallega or chocos, tapas from the south of Spain that they cook very well.

Tip: The salt cod basque tapa is to die for!

Zampanzar – Carrer Cort Reial, 10-12

El Cau del Llop

If we talk about the most popular Catalan foods, pà amb tomaquet (bread with tomato) is the main one. In one of the last Girona historical neighborhoods to be renovated, inside an old house we find El Cau del Llop, which offers typical Catalan cold meat (such as jamón, fuet, botifarra) on pà amb tomaquet. Also, during winter, the restaurant has a wood oven where they cook great meat, and the whole atmosphere makes you feel really comfortable.

Tip: Ask for toasted bread with garlic and tomato, it’s really delicious. Be sure that you don’t have to kiss anyone after that!

El Cau del Llop – Carrer de Sacsimort, 5

Isabel Leyva is an accountant and adventurer who is passionate about social media. Her blog, La 5th con Bleecker St., is where she shares her love for New York with her Spanish readers. Her blog won the Mujer It award in 2011, given by the Spanish magazine Mujer Hoy, for the best Leisure time and Actuality blog.

photo by leoglenn_g

Girona Checklist for Attendees


I dunno about you, but ’round the virtual TBEX offices we’re counting down the days until Girona. In the giddiness that surrounds an upcoming trip, however, we don’t want you to forget something important. So here’s a pre-Girona checklist to make sure you’ve done everything you need to do before you show up in Spain.

TBEX Girona Checklist

    • Have you booked your accommodation? If you’ve waited until the last minute, don’t freak out (too much). Scour this list of TBEX lodging in Girona, all of which have some pretty excellent conference discount rates, and get a bed booked. Pay attention to the instructions under each hotel/hostel listing on how to get the TBEX discount – each one is slightly different. Just to keep you on your toes.


    • Have you figured out how you’re getting to Girona? We’re going to assume you’ve booked a flight if you need one, but if you’re flying into Barcelona’s airport you still need to get yourself to Girona. There are several options for ground transportation; the cheapest is the train, which requires one change at either Barcelona Sants or the smaller Passeig de Gracia station, but there’s a bus that goes straight from BCN into Girona if your jetlaggy self will be too disoriented to manage a train change. (Also, this just in – there’s incredibly thorough information on the Barcelona-to-Girona train trip on our Facebook page now, thanks to Gary Arndt & Michael Hodson, who have made the trip recently.)


    • Have you seen the updates on the opening party at the castle? We’ve updated the party page, with new information about transportation to and from the castle.


    • Have you booked everything you need to stay in Costa Brava after the conference? If you’re extending your stay in Costa Brava after the conference, there are still some free rooms available on a first-come first-served basis, so if you didn’t already apply for a free post-conference room, do it today!


    • Have you sent in your RSVP for the guided tours? Be sure to RSVP for the free Girona city tours on September 20. There’s no space limit, but they need to know how many guides to send, so we need to have folks RSVP if they want to go on a free tour. Oh, and although the photo walk with Gary Arndt and Kirsten Alana doesn’t require a reservation, it’s a newer addition to the tour options, so we wanted to remind you of it here, too.


    • Have you made speed dating appointments? All registered attendees for TBEX should have gotten an email giving them access to TBEX Girona’s PresdoMatch site, on which you can schedule speed dating meetings with anyone else at the conference. (Check out these tips for speed dating at TBEX, too.) Didn’t get your PresdoMatch email? Search your email archives using the word “presdo,” and if you still come up empty, let us know ASAP. You’ll want to get in so you can make sure not to miss potential meetups with industry pros and bloggers alike. And hey, if the person you wanted to meet with already has a full schedule, or you want more than the short speed date to chat with someone, you can also set up appointments in the Open Marketplace on Friday from 4:30-6:30pm. (Remember, speed dating is included in your registration if you’re a blogger or a sponsor – all other PR/industry folks can rent a table to be involved!)


    • Have you seen the niche topic icebreakers? Also on the TBEX Girona PresdoMatch site you’ll find informal opportunities to have lunch with other people who share a common interest. There’s nothing formal or required about them, but if you don’t know many people this is an excellent and casual way to meet like-minded folks. There are six niche topics listed, so with two days you can meet two different groups of people.


    • Have you figured out which sessions you’ll go to? You can peruse the TBEX Girona schedule on the TBEX site, and it’s also on the PresdoMatch site – on the latter, you can even mark which sessions you’ll be attending, so you can customize your conference schedule. Of course, you’re not required to RSVP, and you can absolutely change your mind on the spot to attend a different session.


    • Have you figured out a plan for your mobile phone? If you don’t already reside in Spain or have a Spanish SIM card for your mobile phone, be absolutely sure you’ve talked to your mobile provider so you know what your phone bill could look like when you get home if you make calls or send tweets from Girona. Add a global plan if you want, keep your smartphone in “airplane” mode and just use its built-in WiFi, or plan to pick up a local SIM card when you get to Spain. Just don’t forget to take the necessary precautions, or you’ll be blogging about your astronomical phone bill six weeks from now. (Yes, we know plenty of you know this already, but we’ve read blog posts from experienced travelers who looked down the barrel of four-figure phone bills after a trip, so you can never be too careful.)


    • Have you got the necessary electrical converters and adapters? (Do you know this already, too? Probably, but it’s worth repeating just in case.) Again, if you’re coming from outside Spain (or anywhere else that has the same electrical system as Spain), you’ll either need converters (that change the voltage), adaptors (that allow your plugs to fit into Spanish outlets), or both. We don’t want to read tales of any TBEXers frying their gadgets or, y’know, setting fire to anything, okay?


    • Have you packed your tiara for the kick-off party at the castle? Fine, this is completely optional. But you totally get bonus points if you do wear a tiara.


Other various and sundry things to bring and/or remember include:

  • Don’t leave your passport in the safe at home
  • Remember to bring enough business cards (we’re up to more than 300 attendees!)
  • Bring a media kit or one-page handout for your appointments
  • Don’t forget all the necessary chargers for your gizmos
  • Double-check the date and time of your flight
  • Check in for flights 24 hours in advance to pick your seats

Now then – who’s ready for Girona? YOU ARE.

photo by Jo@net

Girona Offers Free City Tours to TBEX Attendees


Jewish Quarter Girona Spain

The city of Girona has an illustrious history.  It’s undergone 25 sieges, been captured 7 times, and been devastated by disease and famine.  The defensive walls of the city were taken down to allow for expansion, although recently some of the walls have been reconstructed.  The city of Girona wants to share this fascinating history with TBEX attendees with a FREE city tour that will familiarize visitors with the city’s Old Town and Jewish Quarter (in photo), the colored houses along the river, and the surroundings of the Cathedral, among other hidden spots.

The FREE city tours start at Punt de Benvinguda.  The tours will be offered on Thursday, September 20th, at 4 pm and 5 pm.  The tours last about an hour and a half, and will give participants a brief glimpse at the history and architecture of Girona’s past  as well as a look at the Girona of today.  And they’ll get participants finished in plenty of time to catch the shuttles to the opening night party at St. Gregori’s Castle.

Participation in the tours require an RSVP.  Feel free to bring a guest, but please sign them up so the city of Girona can get an accurate head count.  The tours will be launched in groups of 30 people, and everyone who is interested will be accommodated.

Photo credit:  Naevus via wikimedia commons

TBEX Europe Heads to the Beach


Expedia beach party

After the first day of educational sessions at TBEX Europe, we’ll be heading to the beach for a party with Expedia that includes food, music, and a few surprises. We know that Expedia knows how to throw a great party, and this is shaping up to be another great event.

The beach party will be held on the beachfront of the beautiful Hostal Empúries, the first hotel in Europe to receive LEED Gold certification. The hotel is located next to the Greco-Roman ruins of Empúries, the only such ruins in the area. Preserving and enhancing the heritage of the ruins is a major goal of the hotel and, combined with a desire to leave a legacy for future generations, the hotel has commitment to sustainable practices in every phase of their business.

TBEX attendees will be shuttled to and from the beach, and in between will enjoy a tapas buffet that includes delicious choices like Iberian ham, watermelon bloody mary’s, grilled vegetables, padron peppers, and a whole lot more. Along with the delectable nibbles will be a drink bar, music, and plenty of time for networking, laughing, and have a great time.

The beach party is part of the TBEX Europe registration package and is open to registered attendees only.  So if you’re not registered you’ll be missing out. Shuttle schedules will be provided on site.

A big thanks to our diamond sponsor Expedia for hosting our Friday night beach party! And, for their continuing commitment to travel bloggers.

Let’s hit the beach!


Come to the Castle for the Opening Night TBEX Party



The official TBEX Europe conference events kick off on Thursday night, September 20th, with an opening night party at Castell de Sant Gregori (Castle of St. Gregory).

What’s a castle without a whole lot of history to go along with it? The Caste of St Gregory dates back to the 12th century and was patterned after the noble town houses of the time. It was much bigger and more opulent that other houses in the area and served as one of the largest forts in the town. In the 14th century, the fort passed to the influential Margarit family, and then to the Marqis de Valderas of Madrid, before lying uninhabited and in deteriorating condition. In the 1990s, attempts were made to turn the castle into a hotel, but money was in too short of supply to make that happen. Finally, in 1999, the castle was acquired by another Girona area family with the intention of restoring it to its former condition.

Castle St Gregory, Girona Spain


Today the castle has a central courtyard that surrounds seven rooms and a lobby. The reconstruction efforts have respected the original architecture and appearance along with its historical legacy.

Best of all – YOU get to check out Castle of St. Gregory for yourself If you’re registered for TBEX and attending, that is.

Here are the details:

Date & Time: Thursday, September 20th, 2012 starting at 8 pm.

The Food: Tapas featured specialty dishes from the region.

The Drink: Local wines from the regions. (Some of you will have visited these wineries on your excursion or will be visiting on your blog trip.) Also pouring local ales and beers.

The Entertainment: Local traditions, music, and some surprises. And no, we’re not going to give away all the surprises!

The opening night festivities are brought to you by the Costa Brava Girona Tourism Board, Diputació de Girona and the Catalan Tourist Board.

interior of st gregory girona

The Opening Night TBEX Party at the Castle is open to registered attendees only. So for heaven’s sake, head on over to register.

Who’s excited to party at the castle?

UPDATED:  More information about transportation to the castle can be found here.


Photo credits:  Courtesy of Costa Brava Tourism Board

How to Plan Your Time in Costa Brava for TBEX Europe


We’ve been talking about TBEX Europe in Girona for so long that it’s hard to imagine that it’s almost here. Yesterday we shared some of the bloggers who will be speaking at TBEX Girona, and we have more to confirm in the coming days.

Now, to get you enthusiastic for your time in Spain, we have an infographic to share with you.  Use the dates and events on the infographic to help you plan your time in the Costa Brava area.

TBEX Europe Costa Brava

Let’s take a look:

  • Thursday, September 20th – A couple of tours during the day and the kick off Costa Brava dinner.
  • Friday & Saturday, September 21st-22nd – TBEX Europe Conference at Girona Conference Center
  • Sunday, September 23rd – A choice of tours.
  • Monday, September 24th – A number of additional tours are schedule to depart.
  • Thursday, September 27th – Monday, October 1st – Free time.

That’s a lot of dates, a lot of events, and a lot of time you can spend in Spain.

But what exactly does it mean?

We can’t give you the full scoop. . . yet. . . but we’ll be announcing these events in detail starting tomorrow. We have options that will allow you to spend nearly two weeks in Spain, networking and learning at TBEX, and then discovering the great stories to be found both in Girona and in the Costa Brava area. We know you’ll love the area and will find plenty of stories to share with your readers; we know your readers will love your stories as well. And it’s all brought to you courtesy of the Costa Brava Tourism Board and its partners.

BUT – these events are only available to registered travel bloggers. If you’ve put off registering for TBEX Europe, don’t put it off any longer. Registration is still available for $100 (for bloggers) and will give you the opportunity to take advantage of all the special offers that are available.

What do YOU want to see in Costa Brava?

TBEX Europe Speakers Announced

Girona, Costa Brava, Spain

Joining a list of distinguished speakers that includes Peter Shankman, Amy Porterfield, Chris Guillebeau, and C.C. Chapman, we’re very excited to announce the following bloggers will also be speaking at TBEX Europe in Costa Brava:

  • Abigail King
  • Amy Moore
  • C.C. Chapman
  • Beth Whitman
  • Chris Christensen
  • Chris Gray Faust
  • Dave & Deb
  • Gary Arndt
  • J.D. Andrews
  • Jennifer Miner
  • Keith Jenkins
  • Kirsten Alana Larsson
  • Matt Kepnes
  • Melvin Boecher
  • Michael Hodson
  • Michael Turtle
  • Nellie Huang
  • Pam Mandel
  • Shannon O’Donnell

What topics will you be learning about in Girona?  We’ll have three tracks:  Content Creation, Commerce and Community, and Travel and Tourism, the latter for industry attendees.  Some topics you can expect to learn about include:  Effective marketing with your Facebook page, collaboration for better branding and profit, how to effectively use new tools like Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram, writing session, photography, podcasting, and  video sessions, and a whole lot more.

We’ll be confirming and announcing more speakers this week as well as getting the speaker bios and detailed session information posted on the Europe conference site.  Information about the customized speed dating process will be posted soon.  Only registered attendees will have access to the speed dating information.  TBEX sponsors will have tables in the Expo area and industry attendees who are not sponsors may purchase a table for speed dating for $500 per day.

We have lots more announcements coming up this week including information about pre- and post-conference day trips, blog trips, and more.

Will we see you in Girona for TBEX Europe?  Registration is still available at the discounted price of $100.

Photo credit: Michael Nyika via flickr