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.