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?

 

Comments

  1. The best way to limit access to something is always with pricing. The higher the price, the lower the number of attendees.

  2. I do think the size of the conference in Toronto was a bit overwhelming (it was my first TBEX). However, I don’t think that excluding a certain demographic (new bloggers without the traffic and statistics) is the answer. I think that new bloggers will gain as much, if not MORE, from the TBEX experience as the seasoned ones. I understand the complex factors involved in hosting a conference (I studied Event Planning and Tourism Management in College). I would personally want to attend TBEX every year and probably would not be able to attend the European one because of the finances involved in getting there. Maybe hosting 2 North America TBEX Conferences on a smaller scale could be an option. Maybe one in late winter or early spring in a warm location (San Antonio, TX as an example) and then another in Summer would give people the opportunity to pick from one. Hosting 2 conferences in North America takes more $$$, more planning, more EVERYTHING, but would definitely allow MORE attendees and speakers the opportunity to benefit.
    I definitely don’t think that charging more for attendees is the answer. Most bloggers don’t earn an income (or at least a substantial one) from their blogs. I am fully retired and my blog is my only job. I know that with a limited budget, I would not be able to attend TBEX if it cost more than $100 for the actual conference. Factor in the lodging, food and transportation and the cost rises substantially. I was able to do Toronto on a very low budget by flying into Buffalo and taking the Megabus to Toronto. I used 2 free Marriott nights that I had earned from stays during the year and then stayed at a hostel for 5 nights. My creative financing of the trip is the ONLY thing that made it possible for me to go! I learned invaluable information and made amazing new friends and contacts that are priceless. PLEASE don’t raise the cost!

    • Thank you for the comment Teresa. The problem with doing multiple North American events is it raises costs for sponsors while giving them a smaller audience to talk to. Since TBEX attendee pricing is so low sponsors subsidize the cost attendees pay.

  3. The only issue I had with TBEX Toronto were that the facilities were not adequate to suit the number of bloggers, many of the sessions were standing room only or too packed to get into. If you ensure the venue will be able to hold all the bloggers then it won’t feel as crowded as it did in Toronto. With regards to the type of bloggers this is a tough question. TBEX was my first conference, I had been blogging for 2 years. My stats were moderate but I was clueless with regards to the business of blogging. TBEX changed my life and my blog and I would hate for anyone to miss out on that. But there were people there who started their blogs the week before, or didn’t have a blog totally set up, I knew when I met them probably weren’t going to stick it out. Can we categorize ourselves into “real new 2 year blogger” etc. or use our stats to categorize ourselves? I think there are so many great bloggers that I have met and whose sites I’ve visited with low followers and traffic that are freaking awesome? We all can learn from newbies as well as veterans! I say the more the merrier, just make sure we all have a seat!

  4. First, I’m really happy to see you looking for input from the community on this issue!

    The World Domination Summit had 3,000 people attend in Portland this year, and while different from the two years in size, I continued to hear rave reviews. So I do believe it’s possible to scale TBEX and still ensure the spirit of the event remains the same.

    Personally, I don’t want to see it become that big, as it gets overwhelming, but there needs to be some barrier for entry, otherwise I think the quality of attendees is diluted. And not quality in terms of years of experience or traffic, but in terms of desire to learn and take this all seriously.

    I did find it odd that some people I met didn’t even have a blog. I’m all for inclusivity, but I don’t think travel blogging’s premiere event should be THAT open to newbies, who are either there out of curiosity, or to party (because the ticket cost is so low, there’s nothing to prevent people from going who aren’t that serious about it).

    “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?”

    For the speed dating, I think it makes sense to qualify the bloggers, at the least, if not the vendors too. The Professional Travel Blogger’s Association has already worked through ideas about what constitutes minimum qualifications to join the PBTA, and that might be a jumping off point. It may be a bit arbitrary, but it’s doable.

    I wouldn’t want to see ticket prices skyrocket as a solution to demand. I make a full time living from it, but even I have to skip conferences because I don’t have the money to spend on travel, accommodation, and tickets (SATW cost $600 last year for the ticket alone, so I skipped it). WDS has gotten very expensive as it has grown, due to lack of sponsors. I can’t afford that either.

    TBEX is the most affordable professional conference for travel bloggers (and heck, writers too I’d argue). Please keep it that way! Many of us have to fly internationally and arrange whole trips around attending TBEX, and for now, it’s the only conference I’m going to be sure to do that for every year.

    • Thanks for some great feedback Dave. We don’t plan any big price increases. Limiting who can participate in speed dating but still allowing people to attend is an interesting idea.

  5. I was one of the people who felt that it TBEX Toronto was a little bit too big, and I mainly felt that way due to a lot of what was mentioned above–specifically the inability to attend sessions because many of the rooms were beyond standing room only (which is a great sign, when people are spilling out of a conference room–that means you selected great speakers. But please provide the physical space for people to experience those sessions.) Additionally, I felt it was difficult to feel a spirit of community or comradery in such a giant mass of people–and ‘to feel a spirit of community’ was one of my main goals for attending.

    This was my first TBEX, and I definitely learned a great deal (specifically, I approach tourism boards differently/better, and my photography has changed for the better as well) I could have benefitted from what I learned far earlier in my blogging career (my blog is just over four years old). So I absolutely support encouraging ‘newbie’ bloggers into the conference. Limiting people by stats or followers or any other such criteria does seem like it would be an issue of preventing those from attending who most need to attend. Additionally, allowing ONLY newbies would be silly as well, as we all want to learn from those of us who have been at this for a longer period of time.

    But any professional decision is also a financial decision. Personally, I spent what I consider to be a lot of money on transportation and lodging–far more than the ticket price. And here’s my main point (if I could put it in italics and bold, I would):

    Had the ticket price been, say, twice as much, I still would have paid it. Because I take what I do seriously.

    So by raising the cost, you are ensuring that the people who are there are taking what they do seriously, beginners or old-timers as they may be. Thus, I can’t really argue against raising the prices. This may just make the entire thing a bit more professional, and decrease some of the negative exhibitor feedback. And make some space in the session rooms for those of us posed anxiously over our keyboards, awaiting advice from the myriad high-quality presenters TBEX brought together in the spirit of sharing and growing as a professional community.

  6. Personally, I think there could be a lot done to build up more tracks within the conference of programming so that instead of needing the mega conference rooms, there are just more smaller rooms needed (Which might even be able to take advantage of meeting rooms at nearby hotels). Possibly for new bloggers, create a travel blogger boot camp with a self contained program, which still allows for the networking (both with sponsors and other bloggers) but does not detract from the more advanced panels by packing them full of what a newbie believes they need to learn even though the topics are for blogs much further along.

    • Thanks for the suggestions Nick. A couple of points. Every room we add, adds cost. There is AV, the room rental and possibly travel cost for the speaker. There is also a space issue. However if we did something really small where there was no AV needed, more as a group discussion between attendees with similar interest in a topic and led by a moderator. We could pull that off with very little cost. It is something we have talked about.

      The big rooms we had were standing room only so I don’t think we can give those up.

      You are spot on with the travel blogger boot camp. That will definitely be in the schedule for next year.

  7. I think the event should remain open to newbie bloggers because otherwise how will we learn the world of travel blogging. I do, however, think that one-on-one meetings with sponsors, such as speed dating, should be restricted to bloggers who have either been blogging awhile or have a substantial readership base.

  8. I agree about limiting speed-dating to “qualified” bloggers. Other events require you to apply and be accepted in order to have that access to meet with PR and DMO reps and I think that makes sense for TBEX speed-dating as well. It doesn’t need to be super-strict (as Dave said, perhaps just something similar to PTBA requirements – 9 months blogging and 3,000+ page views monthly) but I feel like everyone benefits if there is some minimum set.

    I don’t have a problem with the overall event continuing to grow if the space/overcrowding issue is addressed and if you include more opportunities more niche breakouts – one of the things I heard over and over and experienced myself was that it was so big in Toronto that it was just hard to find the people you really wanted to connect with. Including more small breakouts based on niche or interests could help with that.

    As for price, I get that increasing the price could price some people out but at the same time, it’s currently a really good deal compared to other conferences. Similar conferences that I might attend for my day job (I work in fundraising) run $800-$1000 for a weekend. So not sure what the answer is there – if you don’t need to increase the price, I wouldn’t do it just for the sake of increasing it.

    • It looks like several votes for qualifying people to attend speed dating. And thank you for reminding folks what TBEX would cost if it wasn’t sponsor subsidized Katie.

      • I think that is a good idea about speed dating for a more experience group. Maybe a separate registration for market place. I also would like more time for meeting in the market place and speed dating, feels very limited.
        I also think the sessions are great for everyone as long as there is enough space . Have you thought about having a sign-up for classes so the big sessions get the big rooms?
        Also as a reminder “new media” includes people other than bloggers like podcasters. Our sites are just a fraction of our outreach for us it is downloads and listens that matter.
        I really hope you end up back on the west coast somewhere for 2014. It would be nice to flip flop east and west when you are here.

  9. Travel bloggers are notoriously cheap (and poor) so increasing ticket prices would only serve to dilute quality. Perhaps an application process is in order? Eg. write an essay or blog post on why you want to go to TBEX, what your intentions are & how your presence would bring value to others. Quite often, the real value in these conferences are the people you meet, rather than the speakers you hear.

    Clearly the demand is there. Now, just to improve the quality of the event itself.

  10. I would recommend working on segmenting the blogging community more finitely and building your conference around the segments. Despite the community’s growth, we all treat all bloggers alike even though a blog is a technology that can be used to enable a wide variety of business models, even when that model is simply writing for friends and family. If you can figure out how to segment the group into meaningful sectors, I think you can grow the overall number while still keeping the individual communities manageable. Somewhere in that calculus you should have different offerings for the more experienced blogger and the newbie who is still asking, What is WordPress. My two cents. Curious to see where this takes you.

  11. This was my first year at TBEX and while I enjoyed it I did feel it was too big. I fear it will end up like BlogHer with over 5,000 bloggers sitting on the floor. Yet I’m not sure what the answer is. One thing you could consider is two tracks like BlogHer is trying. One for beginners and the other for more experienced bloggers. I also think the parties are way too overwhelming and found it difficult to meet people in such big settings. It was overwhelming. Thanks for asking. I loved TBEX and am hoping to also have more sessions to choose from and less big name speakers. Its all about learning and networking so the best way everyone can accomplish this the better. having multiple tracks may help! 🙂

    • Thank you Nicole. I mentioned it above but it is worth repeating. Every time we add a session room, it adds cost for AV, electrical, furniture. And there is a space issue. We definitely plan to expand the program to more tracks but we have to be careful not to go too crazy there.

    • The official Friday and Saturday night parties ARE big and overwhelming. But, that’s where it pays to arrive to the city early, if at all possible, and attend smaller events put on by sponsors and the destination (same with staying later for fam trips).

      I learned it was better to approach networking over the course of a week, when I attended in Costa Brava last year, versus the 2 official days of the conference alone, where everybody is a little more formal, rushed, and some of the more popular bloggers may be approached much more frequently.

  12. It’s great that you’re looking for community feedback! I’m sure everyone appreciates that.

    “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.”

    I think that says it all. As a newbie blogger who will be attending TBEX in Dublin (after doing a bit of re-con in Toronto), I probably wouldn’t qualify for higher tiers. But I was able to learn a lot just from speaking to people and meeting people from different areas in the industry and it pushed me to work harder and change what I was doing in a positive way.

    From a lot of those “Why I Went/Didn’t Go to TBEX” and “What I Liked/Didn’t Like About TBEX” posts I read, a common theme is that people found the emphasis on the business aspect – rather than quality writing – of blogging off-putting. I think that by creating a hierarchy, the conference will get smaller – because fewer people will want to attend! It will only reinforce what people are starting to dislike about travel blogging – the commodification of what started as a hobby for most people.

    I think that making speed dating “invite-only” or having standards for bloggers who can attend makes sense. However, it puts newer bloggers in the age-old catch-22 of needing experience to get experience. Like someone mentioned above – there are great bloggers and writers who don’t have the numbers to reflect the quality of their work! Besides, these days you can buy followers and likes on Fiverr, so I don’t think it’s (key word) always the best indication of how influential someone is or how successful they could be.

    Well that’s my very wishy-washy, says a lot without answering anything answer, also known as my $0.02!

    Yours in Travel,

    Alyssa

  13. I’ve been blogging for about 5 years and attended my first TBEX in Toronto this past June. It was a tremendously rewarding experience despite the capacity issues of many of the seminars.

    I wouldn’t ever want to diminish the role of new bloggers in an emerging industry, and see TBEX as an opportunity to educate and teach them the lay of the landscape. However, I echo the sentiments of others who feel like some kind of organization needs to be done to ensure that serious bloggers are also able to network and continue to find enriching experiences at TBEX.

    The key is 1) making sure all bloggers leave the conference a little more inspired and educated to produce the best possible content and 2) that the business partners leave confident in our blogging community and what we bring to the table.

    Have you considered having a “beginner” and “advanced” track of seminar content? Upon registration, those wanting the “advanced” path could apply to qualify for the deeper-dive content and opportunity to participate during speed dating. New bloggers can still network during the TBEX events, but in order to put our best foot forward as a community with a professional atmosphere, I don’t think they should participate during the speed dating portion. At least, not yet 🙂

    • Thank you Christina. Someone mentioned above having a boot camp for new bloggers, which we definitely plan to do next year. Your comment makes me wonder if we do that boot camp during speed dating. So the new bloggers can attend that, while the more experienced bloggers are meeting with sponsors.

      • Rick, I like that idea!

        • I love the idea of having a boot camp for new bloggers while speed dating is going on. It was very difficult during some of the speed dating and open marketplace meetings to have a conversation while others were peering over your shoulder or attempting to sit down at the table. It would be great if there was a way for people to have a conversation and not have 20 people lined up behind them trying to get the reps attention.
          I also think it would be great for new bloggers to learn the process of talking with a rep and what information they need to bring to the table. What is expected and not expected during the conversation.

  14. I’ve had the honor of being one of the first 150 people to attend TBEX and every year including Toronto so I’ve seen the growth first hand. The standing room only topics were disappointing because of the lack of space, but fantastic to see there was so much interest in specific topics.

    I would hate to see see attempts to limit the size of the conference by raising the rates. TBEX is extremely beneficial to small/new bloggers. They are the one’s who are looking at ways to grow their sites and audiences and may not be making any money and much higher rates may limit their ability to network with other travel bloggers.

    I would like to see an online schedule/calendar system where I can easily see what sessions are available and note my interest in those I’d like to attend. This benefits me, but it also benefits TBEX in knowing which sessions are getting higher interest in and can schedule them into larger rooms.

    I’ve felt that a wider array of available sessions would be the best way to deal with the larger crowds. Have popular sessions (ie using data from the above schedule system) recur at different times/days.

    Finally, offer post-conference video downloads of the sessions for a reduce rate for those who couldn’t attend the conference and either a smaller fee (or no fee) for those who did. This may help reduce the number of attendees, but still offer them the benefits of the conference and have additional revenue.

  15. It would be helpful to know what TBEX’s mission is around having the conference. Is it about writing? About monetizing? Business strategies? Perhaps all. But it seems like the questions posed in the post are mostly around catering to folks who monetize. If that’s the case, you don’t need me at your conference. I’m a writer and I happen to travel. TBEX put me in touch with some great writer mentors and also helped connect me with a person who is also in my niche (Global birding) and now I can provide her site content. Nothing monetary here. If TBEX’s mission is to help people make money at their blogs and connect with sponsors/businesses/travel boards, since that’s not my thing, I will bow out graciously and seek my connections via social channels and other conferences. And as a suggestion, you might want to change the name of your organization. Travel Blog Exchange implies blogging. Which is writing. Doesn’t seem to be much room for that at the conference. I write. I travel, And I have a blog. If you want to limit attendance to those who have a particular traffic number, well, then I’d say this isn’t even a fit for me. I’m okay spending my money at Book Passage instead.

    • You are right Lisa, we will add a detailed explanation of our mission to the about page soon. To answer your question; TBEX is about all the things you mentioned and more. It is meant to be a 360 degree representation of the travel blogging universe. So yes, it starts with writing. Our very first session was a four hour writing workshop. We offered sessions on writing and content creation in every hour of the program, not just on writing and storytelling but on photography and video too.

      We also offered sessions on technical topics like how code, plugins, SEO and color effect the usability of your blog. And yes sessions on monetizing your content. We also offer a track for the industry to teach them how to blog themselves, work with bloggers, and how to use and measure social media tools.

      We also offer pre and post event trips for attendees to get out and explore the destination and create content. Perhaps most importantly we offer multiple opportunities for attendees to network and learn from each other.

      We are asking a couple of basic questions, is the event too big now? or is there a number of attendees that makes it too big? And if we are to limit the size then how would you suggest we do that?

      Maybe as someone suggested above to have prospective attendees submit a sample of their writing that a board would review and decide if they were qualified to attend?

      • Rick, you’re right. I didn’t exactly answer your question about the conference being too large. It did seem rather large to me, but I was okay with that. I actually took advantage of the writing workshop pre-TBEX and loved it. (Actually wanted more.) And the track I followed was all about content, so I did walk away feeling like I got more than my money’s worth. (This conference is uber inexpensive, which is great, but I think you should have charged for the pre-workshops. I see a lot of associations that do that and seems pretty standard. And I agree with another commenter that raising the price slightly would screen out some tire kickers.) I’m not a party girl, so I didn’t attend the evening events, but that’s me. I connected with almost everyone I wanted to make a connection with in person. Since Toronto was my first TBEX I don’t have the frame of reference of it being a smallish, intimate group, ergo I don’t have a sentimental feeling about past TBEX conferences.

        I’m not sure I agree that general attendees should be screened, but perhaps those seeking Speed Dating appts. I can see why sponsors would want to have more experienced bloggers to engage with. Totally makes sense.

        Here’s an idea: TBEX as an association (not the conference) would be a dues-paying association. That’s where the criteria could be managed (writing skills, web traffic, etc. Could have lots of learning opportunities there too.) It would screen out the not-so-serious bloggers. So then TBEX members (dues-paying members) would get a discounted rate at the conference and non-TBEX members (non-dues-paying folks) would pay a higher price. Just a thought.

  16. As a new travel blogger who is contemplating leaving Corporate life to make travel blogging my full time job, attending TBEX in Toronto for the first time helped me a lot. It helped me see there is a lot I don’t know and that I have a lot of work to do before I try to make this transition. Without being able to attend TBEX, being part of the standing crowd at the breakout sessions and networking with some great new and experienced bloggers, I would think that being a professional travel blogger was just an intangible dream.
    I can imagine that more experienced bloggers, with stats and all, may have been annoyed by the amount of newbies, but in the spirit of community and based on my own experiences, we can all learn from newbies and experienced people as well.
    I would suggest dividing sessions for newbies (travel blogging 1-on-1) and experienced bloggers. That way, TBEX can continue to grow and still add value to all of its audience.

  17. TBEX is a very affordable conference for travel bloggers, and although I don’t like the idea of ME having to spend more money to attend, I do think that increasing the price slightly will filter out the people who are less serious.

    I must admit, I’d like to see TBEX held in smaller cities. I realize they can be harder to get to and may present some sponsorship and coordination challenges, but on the flip side they tend to offer cheaper accommodations, it’s often easier to get between venues, and exposing bloggers to some “second cities” would be a benefit to blogs and the hosts cities. Places like Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Tucson, Baton Rouge, and so many others have the capacity to really surprise attendees. Just sayin’.

    To encourage fresh voices, maybe there’s a way of coordinating a TBEX Scholarship that offers discounted or free admission… first time bloggers can apply for a scholarship… if they meet certain criteria, they are eligible for a discount to their first TBEX (sorry, I don’t think returners should be entitled to scholarships).

    • We completely agree with you on including smaller cities in our rotation Corey. That also brings up the size issue. Many smaller cities are not able to accommodate 2,000 attendees in one building or have a budget to support an event that size.

  18. Hey Rick! Thanks for opening up this discussion. I’ve been to all the TBEX conferences except Vancouver. None was perfect, but each subsequent event was better than the last in many ways. Toronto was a great venue, and I’m glad I was there.

    I’m just back from another show (Travel Media Showcase), where several exhibiitors and journalist-bloggers commented about the size of the Toronto meeting: standing room only in sessions, inability to connect with other attendees, confusion during the speed-dating sessions.

    It seems the Toronto event was just too big, if that’s the right word, to allow effective networking. Many people, exhibitors included, are reporting they never even got a glimpse of acquaintances they had hoped to see, or if they did, were only able to wave in passing. I ask if “big” is the right word because I’ve been to many larger meetings in my previous professional lives where size doesn’t seem to have been a negative factor.

    You’re getting lots of good suggestions from other TBEX attendees. Following TMS’s example, you might want to extend the one-on-one appointments to 15 minutes. Also, it would be less distracting and easier to navigate if speed-dating were held in a dedicated area, fully separate from the marketplace booths.

    Looking forward to seeing the (smaller?) crowd in Dublin!

  19. Rick, you make a lot of excellent points in your article, and I’m now convinced that TBEX should NOT limit its size. Regarding Speed Dating, doesn’t it self-regulate anyway, as many companies won’t even schedule “dates” with smaller bloggers?

    Next, I’m really excited by your reply to an earlier comment that you’re considering adding more casual but still semi-structured discussion groups (no A/V required!) of limited size to discuss a different topic or connect a different niche each time slot. When I pitched this idea for TBEX Toronto, it was turned down with the reason that people do their networking in the halls and during parties, but as a teacher I can tell you that humans really need a more structured bridge to connect with new people. Without some structure, it’s hard to realize who else is in a room and how connecting with them can be mutually beneficial. There is a structure I’ve seen to run these discussion groups in other conferences known as “Solutions Salon,” which I’ve gotten a lot out of participating in, and think TBEX attendees would, too. Let me know if you want more info, and thanks for reaching out to the community to discuss this important question!

  20. Dublin will be my first conference, as I live in Europe and couldn’t attend the one in Spain. I am anticipating learning a lot while there, although I have been blogging a year and a half (does that make me a newbie?). In short, I don’t know what to expect, but hearing about SRO in sessions is discouraging.

  21. I would love to truly see tiers of content that gives weight to the people with more experience, while offering the basic content as well. And it would wholly deal with the capacity issue. Colleges have 300 seat lectures on the basics, and that could work for TBEX as well. Then you allow qualification-only sessions for more advanced topics, more one on one. If the speakers are told to anticipate 300 in one session and 30 in another, it sets the stage for a better engaged process for everyone. And, you open up the range of speakers to those with the broader message, and those with highly honed skills in the finer points that newbies are not ready for yet. Entry level sessions each year would still allow everyone a chance to come and interact, but allow bloggers with a stake in the game access to quality, niche content.

  22. I’ve been to the first TBEX, then Keystone and then Toronto. They’ve all been great, and they’ve all been bigger than the one before. Please don’t limit the size of TBEX – or the reasonable cost if you can help it. I agree about SRO for the breakout sessions, but I think of this as a TBEX tradition – most of us sat on the floor the first year too. This is just a great word of mouth event, and I think no matter how many people you plan for by the time the event rolls around more than you thought are showing up!

  23. I wasn’t at TBEX Toronto but based on the experience in Spain I think you should really be sure to vet out the companies/sponsors who are will to ‘work’ with bloggers – I don’t mean the ones who want us to compete in some video contests or the ones that are just looking to get more content for free from bloggers. While I like seeing friends at the conference I gained very little from the actual conferences. While I had a great time speed dating most of our real contacts that meant anything at all actually came from outside that realm (socializing, etc). As an industry leader it is important that TBEX gets sponsors who actually want to treat bloggers fairly for the work they do, not ones just looking to further dilute this industry while offering ‘exposure’. As for size, I thought the Spain conference size was great. I do not know if limiting the tickets is the answer and raising the price for bloggers is not a good idea since most struggle to make the trip happen. If that happens and the quality of sponsors does not change then it will end up just being new bloggers looking for a free trip and sponsors just looking for free work. Maybe the tickets should be available to everyone but the speed dating should be only available to those who meet certain criteria? The speed dating sponsors should also be vetted with what they are looking for before they are able to meet even with the bloggers. It has to be high quality all around to make it worth everyone’s time.

  24. TBEX Dublin will be my first TBEX so I am not speaking from experience in terms of the blogging community. The implication here seems to be that allowing new bloggers to attend is solely for the benefit of the new bloggers. I think there is no doubt that new bloggers will benefit the most from the experience of veteran bloggers. That said, in other industries I’ve worked in, we welcome fresh ideas from newcomers as a way to challenge our way of “established” thinking– sometimes an outsider can provide a different take that those who have been doing something the same way for years are unlikely to see on their own. With regards to the speed dating, it was my understanding the sponsors are able to select the bloggers they are interested in meeting based on certain parameters (again, I haven’t been yet so I may be mistaken here). Couldn’t they just elect established bloggers? If there is an issue of the “weeding out” process being too burdensome on the sponsors despite the self-selection process, then a tier system for qualifying absolutely makes sense. No one wants to waste time on a meeting that is based on erroneous assumptions, including new bloggers. I can’t speak to the crowding issues, but if space is an issue, as a newbie I have no problem hanging out in the back and letting the established bloggers have a reserved section, as they will be more likely to be actively participating while we will for the most part be observing.

    • We aren’t coming into this discussion with an agenda Kristin. Personally I believe in events that allow everyone to come. I have attended, exhibited and organized events with over 100,000 attendees so TBEX is not even close to too big for me.

      We are simply responding to feedback from the community at the show, in our post show survey and from post show blog posts. Several people said “TBEX was too big or might be on the verge of becoming too big”. So we wanted to get some more detailed feedback on what the community thought was the right way forward.

    • Great comments Kristin. You are correct sponsors can see the experience level, traffic and social profiles of bloggers before they decide to meet with them. We did hear from several of them that they were overwhelmed with the number of meeting requests they received.

  25. Scaling a conference from a small community of passionate people to something as large as TBEX has become will come at a price. The intimacy and sense of community will change or disappear. I’ve seen it at other places before and it’s a shame for those early pioneers. I think TBEX is just a reflection of the travel blogging profession. It has grown substantially and the business world is also catching on. The early community still exists but TBEX is probably not their exclusive place anymore even though they feel a certain ownership. I think it’s easy enough for people who have that need to meet on their own account before/after/during TBEX. TBEX should support this because they don’t have the exclusive for travel bloggers to gather and learn from each other.

    I think you have to give everybody who wants to be a travel blogger a chance. Sure, there are people who approach it the wrong way and start for the wrong reasons and they will learn the hard way. DMOs and travel suppliers who host them without doing their homework will learn as well. Yes, this can really hurt the profession and I think TBEX is actually the perfect place to educate new bloggers how to go about it so they don’t ruin it for everybody. Because our clients (DMOs) get inundated with requests from bloggers who don’t have enough value to bring to the table (yet). Instead of educating about how to pitch, write press kits, etc. the focus for new bloggers should be about how to get to a place where you can start approaching DMOs and suppliers. That way you strengthen the overall value bloggers bring and this will be good for everybody.

    In that sense some entry criteria for the speed dating (or maybe even certain sessions) makes sense. As somebody who sat at ‘the other side’ of the table I was really surprised by the large variety of blogger I spoke with. From very organized bloggers who take things very seriously to people just starting up without much of a plan beyond ‘travelling the world’ looking to a way to subsidize their trips. It took us a lot of time to wade through all the invites. I thought it was all very interesting and fascinating but our clients are DMOs need to do this as well and they often don’t have a lot of time.

  26. I agree with not capping attendance. Although it may be a little more of a challenge to find our friends when there are so many attendees, bigger really is better for everyone involved – provided that the session rooms are larger than they were in Toronto.

    To expand on Shannon’s point, one thing you might want to do in the days leading up to the event is have some sort of poll or other mechanism by which bloggers can indicate which sessions they are leaning towards attending. Having at least a general idea of people’s interest level means you can make sure the most popular sessions are being held in the largest rooms. And you won’t be caught off guard when 300 people show up for one session versus 30 in the session next door.

    I would not substantially raise prices, for all the reasons mentioned above. Having some minimum requirements for speed dating participation would be beneficial, for the reasons mentioned above.

  27. Rick, If you want to limit attendance you simply limit the number of tickets. But as a businessman you would be leaving profits on the table. I would look toward what the travel industry has done. Dynamic pricing. Early ticket sales would be one price. As the demand for tickets goes up the price goes up. People passionate about the event will be waiting for tickets to go on sale and get the least expensive offer. Those who hear about it at the last minute will need to pay a dramatically higher price, testing their motivation.

    Biggest issue I see with new attendees is that many of them think they can start a travel blog and make a living at it.

    The problem I see with limiting the size of the event is that I suspect the Host city and vendors want the biggest number possible. But if they were to really think about it they would much rather have a very “qualified” audience then a mix of unkown travel bloggers. This would require you to educate the vendors.

    Good Luck

  28. TBEX Toronto was my third TBEX, so I’ve gotten to watch it grow over the last few years. One shift I’ve really appreciated was the tag line move from a strictly travel blogging focus to one that includes travel content in general. I work for an established online travel pub and while blogging is part of what we do, the stuff I learn at TBEX has more to do with our other types of content (features, social media, video, etc.). That’s all simply to say that at this point, TBEX is bigger than just the blogging community at this point. It’s something that more and more travel content providers are looking to for learning, networking, and sharing as well.

    And while it’s great that people who are considering starting a blog blog or have just started one have a place to come and learn, I think it definitely creates a challenge around how to serve everyone best. I would have loved to see more advanced-track sessions and to have sat through fewer Q&As where people were asking blogging 101 questions. This issue is definitely tied up in conference size, but it’s perhaps equally an organizational hurdle. How do you build a conference that welcomes the far ends of the spectrum and everyone in between? Some basic qualification barriers might be in order, but so is an honest assessment of the needs and expertise levels of the attendees.

    • I love your suggestion about limiting the 101 questions Christine! I am thinking we can give instructions at the beginning of the session explaining the level of the talk and the types of questions we are looking for.

      The experience level of our attendees definitely runs the gamut from newbies to experienced successful travel bloggers who have been doing this for years. We have offered advance content before but definitely plan to have more of it next year.

  29. I have never attended but I follow the TBEX news and trends. I don’t accept the concept of “qualified” and “unqualified” bloggers for both attendance and speed dating as it is pure discrimination. TBEX exists to satisfy a need for travel bloggers to meet, learn and find sponsors. Why penalize some and accept others? Capping attendance is a thought but again who is going to decide on the numbers and on what criteria? I believe that it should stay open and self-regulated. Conferences have ups and downs and you can’t say for sure how big or small the next one will be.

  30. Yes.

    Although this was the first TBEX conference I attended, I’m a longtime member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), NASJA (North American Snowsports Journalists Assn.) and IMPA (International Motor Press Assn.), and have attended many of their conferences and other journalist/editor/supplier conferences over the years. Every one of them has capped attendance, which serves the dual purpose of allowing booking of less-cavernous convention sites and the promise of more personal time with fellow attendees and sponsors.

    That being said, I had a valuable experience, learning a good bit from speakers, seminars and sponsors. Still, unlimited registration to the conference while capping tours at 10 or 12, and scheduling seminars which you can be sure will attract 300 in a break-out space that barely fits 30, makes for frustrated attendees – including me. Alos, capping registration could weed out “wannabees” with little or no hope of earning a living writing about travel online, whether for their own sites or selling their content to others.

    I won’t be attending Dublin, for reasons that include still processing and implementing what I learned in Toronto, and still writing about all the sights I saw in Toronto. But, I am definitely planning to participate in the USA again in 2014, so keep me posted if you decide to cap registration, since I wouldn’t want to miss the “window”.

    Thanks for asking.

  31. I thought the Toronto conference was just okay. The problem I had was that the speed dating system didn’t work well. I had an appointment that later found out was cancelled. Poor planning on your team’s part resulted in rooms that were way too small for the break out sessions. You had to race to the next talk in order to find a space in a chair and not on the floor.

  32. Thanks for opening this up to community feedback – although I’m disheartened to see the Dublin conference is now limited tickets!

    TBEX Toronto was my first TBEX and I’m 110% newbie – I felt overwhelmed by the sheer size of the conference but I actually think there are better ways to address that than limiting the # of attendees.

    Without any bootcamp/intro it was not newbie-friendly and in that sense the # of people was overwhelming. Some sessions were far more relevant than others so there were too many bodies on not enough chairs. And with a dive-in approach to peer-to-peer networking it was intimidating to take on 1500 strangers. These three aspects contributed to the feeling it was Just Too Big!

    Suggestions:
    – start off with newbie intro/bootcamp in the main room
    – use bootcamp time (main room) to offer advanced-focused content sessions (breakout rooms)
    – use speed dating time (main room) to have newbie-friendly content sessions (breakout rooms)
    – newbie/established blogger mentoring (if enough ppl are interested)
    – facilitate peer-to-peer networking at the planned social events through small-group activities e.g. Trivia or something like

    • Hi Hillary,

      Actually we did have a first time attendee orientation in Toronto in the Starwood Amex blogger lounge on the first morning of the show. We really like the idea of having some newbie get togethers or a boot camp during speed dating and organizing some more informal meet ups.

  33. Rick
    Thanks so much for asking the questions! I attended Toronto and Costa Brava and will be in Dublin as well. Toronto was overwhelming not only because of the size, but the venues were too small, as mentioned before, but that was probably because you weren’t expecting the numbers. I got a seat in a crowded room, but maybe 10-15 minutes into it, i realized it was not for me, yet there was no way out, as people were sitting on the floor and crowded up in the back. I, however, also went to ITB (Berlin) where the numbers were so overwhelming, I was like a fish out of water, so at least TBEX was doable!
    Also, maybe we can sign up for specific classes and so you will know in advance who is going where and how much room and seats each speaker will need. I recently did a WORD PRESS CAMP and that is how they had thing set up.
    I like the idea of travel blogger minimums (like PTBA) which is not that high, but will keep the lurkers out, however it does make it tough on the newbies. An increase in the ticket price, to me, is a good idea to keep lurkers out too.
    I also like the idea of more casual discussion groups as mentioned before, as someone that is not that outgoing, these smaller interactions make it easier for me to navigate. I also went to Bloghouse Toronto, and since it is a small group, I was able form more intimate relationships with not only other bloggers, but the PR people as well
    One last comment, I also attended an Italian Travel Bloggers Conference (TBE) in Genova, Italy last year and found that the speakers were fascinating and more interested and focused on creating travel content, storytelling and “how to pitch” ideas than what I have found at any of the TBEX conference I have attended (2), although TBEX does have some of that, it seems to be more focused on the business of blogging itself.

    • You are welcome Cacinda and thank you for taking the time to reply as well as your support for the conference 8). I explained above why we don’t use a RSVP system in another comment above. For an event as big as ours these systems are really hard to enforce on site and create a hassle for attendees. People change their mind on which sessions they want to attend at the last minute often.

      We try to balance our content about 50/50 on content vs. the business side of things. We see both things as being important to successful bloggers and encourage them to think more like publishers than free lancers.

  34. As someone who tends to be a wallflower at large gatherings, I’ll probably continue to skip TBEX whether it has 300 attendees or 3,000. (Under 100 would be ideal for me.) Still, I agree with those who feel that limits on attendance aren’t necessary–or desirable–as long as the event is well organized and has enough sessions to keep everyone happy.

    Re speed dating: Instead of limiting it to bloggers who have been online for X number of months or have Y number of unique visitors, why not simply let the DMO reps choose the bloggers they’d like to meet? If the speed-dating application process required bloggers to submit basic information (topic, traffic, audience demographics, URL, etc.), each DMO representative would have enough data to decide which applicants were a good fit.

    • Yes sponsors can already see the bloggers stats and social profiles so they are able to filter them by whatever criteria they like.

  35. I’m one of those that thinks TBEX Toronto was too big but that’s just my personal preference. I like smaller conferences where I can network more easily with people, something which I appreciated after attending similar conferences (TBU, TBE) in Europe. I feel I learn more from those 1-1 conversations than from some of the sessions themselves.

    Yet, I can totally see your reasons for not wanting to limit the number of attendees. Why diminish a good thing when momentum is clearly building? And newbies shouldn’t be limited as learning needs to start somewhere and what better place than an industry conference?

    So some thoughts about how to improve?

    Qualify the bloggers somehow – in order to get a media pass to ITB, you need to apply. It should be shown that you have a clear dedication to travel, writing, photography etc.

    There were people who attended TBEX Toronto who either didn’t have blogs at all or didn’t have blogs related to travel, lifestyle etc. I know for a fact that some of these types (local Toronto bloggers) were given free passes to the conference and this really bothered me – as I paid good money to attend and learn more about my profession! These same people took up speed dating spots that could have been given to actual real travel bloggers.

    I’m not saying newbies should not attend as I understand someone who’s either thinking of becoming a blogger or is just starting out could clearly gain value from the conference. This is where having different tracks could help or as others suggested above have two different NA and European conferences. One for newbies, another for those more advanced. You could also make it so you have to qualify for speed dating appointments so the sponsors time is not wasted by people who are not bloggers or are only looking for free trips.

    • Thank you for the suggestions Cheryl. I like this one: “It should be shown that you have a clear dedication to travel, writing, photography etc.” However unlike ITB which is an event for hotel operators, DMOs Tour Operators and other elements of the travel industry, we are an event by and for bloggers. Which means our qualification process needs to be a bit different.

      We didn’t give free passes to anyone other than speakers. Everyone else paid for their pass or had it included in their sponsor package someway. So those folks are pulling your leg or they got their ticket via a sponsor somehow.

      Making people qualify for speed dating is something we can do but as someone else pointed out, sponsors have the ability to choose who they meet with. They are able to see attendee’s traffic, bio, social profiles etc. This should allow them to filter out newbies if they want to.

    • Dead on Rick! Sorry I brought this up… You have it covered!

  36. I don’t mind it being an event with large attendance, because it is those large numbers which attract the sponsors, and it is the sponsors who keep our costs to attend so low.

    But if you ever had to limit numbers, you should do so on a first-come, first-served basis via ticket sales, so everyone gets a fair chance to attend. I don’t agree with qualifying bloggers, and I’m categorically opposed to qualifying them on the basis of traffic/stats. Many of us publish blogs for reasons other than building traffic. I use mine as a platform for my travel writing in general.

    Thanks for the opportunity to weigh in.

    • I agree with Traci here. As a freelance writer covering travel (along with many other topics), I started blogging as a way to stay relevant in the marketplace and to have another skill set to offer clients. As such, building traffic has never been my blogging goal, but rather producing quality content. For me, a lot of that quality content is paid assignments that results in increased traffic for my clients’ sites rather than my own. However, I attend TBEX in order to learn more blogging skills to apply to my own site as well as those of my clients. Penalizing me because my own blog doesn’t “measure up” is not a true reflection of what I can offer a DMO during speed dating. Rick, I hope you think long and hard before you put such a requirement on the speed dating, which is, for many attendees, a key reason why they attend TBEX in the first place.

      • Just asking Karon 8). It is easy to say the event is too big, but when you ask who do we keep out and why, it gets a lot harder.

  37. We shouldn’t forget that TBEX is a commercial enterprise, and not run as a social service. Having said that, using phrases like “Join thousands of travel bloggers and travel industry professionals at one of the most exciting travel events of the year!” (Dublin) doesn’t really sound like any limitation of numbers is on the cards!

    Any commercial event needs sponsors, and the travel blogging “industry” is no exception. Sponsors need a return on their investment, or it’s simply charity. The blunt truth is that few travel bloggers offer any real ROI for most sponsors. The reality is that at this stage in the game no-one has any substantial quantitative evidence as to the effective ROI of sponsoring travel bloggers, either in cash or kind. Currently, such sponsorship represents the gamble of hope over cost-benefit analysis. This will not last.

    TBEX is correct in emphasising the business aspects of travel writing and blogging. The owners are not in the events industry for their health, they’re looking at profit growth. The money in travel comes from the travel business. If you’re in business, like it or not, business criteria apply. If that’s not acceptable to you, and you feel that the TBEX conference should be more like a writers festival, that’s fine, but even at writers festivals you’ll find business exigencies in the background. And expect to pay a lot more for your ticket.

    • Well said Tony.

      We only have room for 600 bloggers in Dublin so yes tickets are limited. That is a 50% increase from last’ year’s event in Girona. Dublin will definitely be sold out.
      TBEX is a 360 degree event that includes educational content for writing as well as the business side. We do not plan on changing that.

  38. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be smaller, however there HAS to be a criteria for attending, i.e.have had a blog for at least 1 year, 5000 visits per month, etc. When everyone and their mother can attend, it dilutes and diminishes the event for everyone. If we don’t maintain high standards for travel bloggers, we will get a bad reputation with PR/CVB/DMO folks. Also, the event needs to be much better organized. It was inexcusable that the breakout sessions could only hold 150 people and 300-400 wanted to attend. You knew how many people registered, so I don’t see why this was difficult. Also, I did not get to attend speed-dating because someone on your team was clueless. I was told I had to pay $700 to attend speed dating…I said I was a blogger and was told…”that’s the price.” I also didn’t think the break-out session speakers were that great…maybe for newbies, but not for folks who’ve been doing this full time for three years.

    BTW, these concerns I’ve listed are from the “minority.” I’ve spoken with a lot of people who attended…we all had the same concerns. Lastly, where is 2014 going to be held? I can’t believe it wasn’t announced at the end of the show.

    • I apologize for you having such a bad experience Mike. Whoever told you speed dating would cost you $700 to attend as a blogger gave you bad information. I would like to make that up to you with a free pass for the next show, or a refund of your ticket this year. Your choice.

      I can defend the size of the session rooms. The room capacities were from 85 people to 300 people depending on the room. We really can’t tell who is going to show up for which session in advance. There are registration systems that allow attendees to RSVP for sessions ahead of time, but people switch at the last minute all the time or don’t show at all and it is huge hassle controlling access to the rooms. Attendees hate the RSVP systems.

      We also didn’t know how many people would actually show up. For most events somewhere between 10 and 30% of your registered attendees do not show up for one reason or another. We had a 10% no show rate so we were at the very low end of that range. At most events attendees stay for half to three quarters of the event. Some come in and leave early, some come late. So if you have 1,000 people registered you rarely have 1,000 people in the building at any given time. Also you never have a 100% attendance to any hour of the conference sessions. People can be in the hallways, meeting with sponsors, or off site having a meal etc. If attendees were spread evenly there would have been room for everyone. We had some very popular sessions. That went far beyond our expectations. At the same time there were rooms that were half full. Mitch Canter’s session for example was only half capacity. His sessions are usually standing room only at NMX. So even with a history these things are hard to predict.

      We have never announced the next year’s TBEX at the show.

  39. I’ve been to TBEX Vancouver, Keystone, and Toronto and the change I see is not so much the size of the meeting, but the sense of entitlement coming from the attendees. I have been in destination marketing for a third of a century and helped thousands of writers with their stories by giving them free or reduced cost access so that they can write about my destination. That is a wise marketing decision and, I feel, an honorable occupation. I have helped thousands of writers to make a living by producing unbiased stories, and have helped my community from the resulting publicity. We have never asked for anything from a writer in return for sometimes great financial assistance except an honest attempt on their part to reach a reasonable audience with their stories. We never tried to influence what they wrote. In the old days, writers were paid by each sale, so they tried to reach as large an audience as possible, which made the system work for everyone.

    However, with the breakup of traditional media there has been a huge shift. Traditional writers who saw their paying markets disappear still feel “entitled” to free travel, without the obligation to try to market those stories to audiences. What initially made TBEX so inviting, was that bloggers were producing content out of passion and trying to reach large audiences But in a short time, a sense of “entitlement” has developed that anyone calling themselves a travel blogger is entitled to free travel, regardless how small or obscure or even poorly written their blog might be.

    Some tips? You want to keep the convention open to new 21st Century bloggers so they can learn? Fine. But stop teaching them the worst practices that are holdovers from the last century. New rules:
    1. No gift bags or gift items. If sponsors want to contribute, let them pay for bigger rooms or AV, not stuff that ends in the trash.
    2. Cash bars at the receptions. Why should the host city or anyone pay for these parties? Put that money to facilities and speakers. The simple truth: most of the TBEX delegates haven’t done the work to build the audience to deserve this type of treatment. You can still have people to a reception venue, but make it raise money rather than cost money. God knows I like to drink, but I can buy my own drinks. And so should most of these bloggers.
    3. Stop promoting travel blogging like it comes with some entitlement to travel the world for free. Destinations will work with any writer that reaches a reasonable audience. But merely registering for TBEX and having a blog does not meet that criteria.

    • Great points, Rich! I can buy my own drinks, too… and I already have way too many travel mugs.

    • Excellent feedback Rich and that would definitely save on costs for us, host cities and sponsors as the event continues to grow in size. We are definitely guilty of #s 1 and 2, but until you just explained it, I never thought of us encouraging this sense of entitlement. You are really making me think about this. I don’t think we are guilty of #3 but if we did that anywhere inadvertently we need to fix it immediately. In fact we are trying to educate attendees exactly the opposite. That’s why I wrote this post during ITB this past march after hearing horror stories from so many exhibitors about their experiences with some travel bloggers: https://tbexcon.com/us/2013/03/05/you-are-not-a-travel-blogger/

      Obviously I didn’t articulate what I meant because quite a few people took it the wrong way. You explained it much better in your comment. Thank you.

      • Valid points, but if you put yourself in a semi-successful blogger’s shoes, you might see that “entitlement” is really “trying to make a living as a writer.”

        Most of those print freelancers you hosted in the good ole days were not trying to reach “the largest audience possible.” They were just trying to get an assignment that would both justify the trip and put some money in their bank account.

        But I do agree on the swag mostly being a waste of money. I went to a luxury travel show recently where exhibitors were explicitly told not to hand out anything. Open bars were all day all night though. Social lubrication makes deals happen…

  40. As a blogger with a limited amount of traffic I am looking forward to my first TBEX as a way of (hopefully!) learning a bit about how to increase visitor volumes. Restricting the conference to people with a certain amount of traffic might turn it into a club that’s hard to break into. On the other hand, it might not be unreasonable to say that attendees should have been blogging for a particular time period (perhaps one or two years). That way you wouldn’t get anyone who knew nothing at all about blogging.

  41. This is a great a great discussion thread as it helps people that are not yet registered to decide whether or not to attend TBEX this year. Of course with few tickets left I’ll have to make a quick decision. I do want to offer two simple suggestions for the organizers to consider.

    1. Make Speed Dating a conference add-on for an additional cost.
    Some of the newbies and other types of travel bloggers are not looking for this industry benefit. So consider charging a bit extra to make appointments with sponsors as one way to limit who participates.

    2. Consider the Un-Conference (often called BarCamp) format for half a day or one entire day.
    With an unconference you ask the attendees to volunteer to run small discussion groups which are decided upon the day of the event by vote. I’ve attended a couple of wonderful Product Management unconferences. They encourage everyone to share their unique knowledge and experience with others and make it easier to connect with people that share similar interests. Lectures are great for general topics and inspiring speakers, but require larger spaces and are not always as impactful for experienced people.

  42. I wasn’t at Toronto but I definitely prefer smaller, more manageable events like the Girona one.

  43. The size was definitely an issue. My first TBEX was Girona. Second was Toronto. Before and after I attended the World Domination summit that also went from 1000 to 2500 or so attendees. While I was not happy about the attendance increase for both events, the WDS team managed to handle it better in my opinion. In Toronto, I felt constantly being overwhelmed by the amount of other bloggers out there. It made it even worse when it came time to talking to companies that were there, which is the main point of TBEX. WDS does not do this (at least not in this sense, it’s a different type of networking that happens there) so it felt as if many were let down by the promises of contacts with the industry and then running into the folks not being available (especially during the open networking time on Sunday).

    How do you solve it? I simply don’t know. I don’t have any even planning experience (at this scale) so I am not sure what would be the best way to limit attendance, but it does need to be limited. Obviously there is demand, so increasing the cost of the tickets would be one option BUT only if this increase in price also translate into increase in quality of the event and the industry contacts present.

    A better option would be to limit the total amount of attendees and do multiple round of ticket sales. This will allow some people to jump on early while also allowing some people to make their mind later, close to the conference time.

  44. Rick,

    You’re a brave man to open this up for discussion and the fact you’re reading and responding says volumes.

    I privately heard a ton of “too big” comments before and after the conference, with some saying it was fun, but not very useful because it was so overwhelming. For me the two main issues were that sessions were too crowded (mine barely, others impossible to get in the door) and the speed dating/marketplace thing blended into one and became a total mess. It was next to impossible to have any kind of meaningful conversation with a sponsor–even if you managed to get an appointment—and I heard this echoed by most of the sponsors I talked with. Neither side got what they wanted. They didn’t get quality time with bloggers who were a good match; we didn’t get quality time with sponsors we should be working with.

    So as many have suggested, maybe don’t limit general audience attendance, but do limit meeting spots to those who are qualified. And perhaps require reservations for the sessions in advance. Don’t make the price as crazy high as your other shows, but it could probably stand to rise a little.

    I’ve been to huge industry conferences as well that worked, but those were usually buyer/seller marketplaces. TBEX is not that, so “bigger is better” does not work here like it does with ITB or other industry conferences. A better comparison is NATJA, STW, TMS, VEMEX, or ASJA.

    • Yeah we borked the open market place pretty good (. Our mistake was allowing sponsors to set appointments, but also having free table time instead of picking one or the other. We are back to one day of pre-set appointments and one day of open table time. That worked well before.

      You are right Tim your comparisons are more accurate.

  45. Such. A great range of comments.

    I would agree, Rick, that there should be at the very least a 50/50 split between the writing side and business/marketing side. Not interested in monetizing, then attend the other streams!

    I also think that just owning a blog shouldn’t mean than you are entitled to anything from a sponsor. Getting free/discounted travel, or even getting paid for promotion is a contract / partnership. When you work with a sponsor, you are working with, and in some ways for them. They are not working for you and are not there to give you stuff in the hopes you’ll maybe write about them if you deem it worth your time. This was an attitude I saw frequently, both by young and old bloggers (we’re newish ourselves).

    Sorry, not exactly on topic, but brings me to my point that as travel blogging grows, businesses looking to market and increase profit will want to attend as well. Which brings out more bloggers. Growth is a good thing. As long as BOTH sides realize that ROI is the goal. I’d love if TBEX got huge. It means more opportunities for everyone new and old who are willing to work hard at it.

    That said, I share the complaint from Toronto that sped dating / open market should have been more segregated, if for nothing more than making it easier and more valuable for folks on both sides of the table. I also see that you’re going to correct that for Dublin. Well done!

    If you do ever decide to limit Speed Dating or Open Market to certain tiers for bloggers, I’d suggest doing the same for sponsors. There seemed to be a lot of sponsors in Toronto broken up into a few classes (very generic and therefore sure to be wrong 🙂 ):

    1) Big companies, big budgets, big tourism looking for experienced “name” bloggers to promote a certain activity or theme.

    2) Smaller to mid sized agencies with a small/mid sized budget looking for a good fit to potentially work with.

    3) Third party advertisers, service providers, equipment companies

    4) Small or local tourism boards with no budget wanting to find people to come to them.

    5) Sponsors (size independent) who didn’t know what they were looking for, or didn’t get the industry; that might have benefitted more as attendees than sponsors.

    Just like I wouldn’t expect to be able to start a blog tomorrow and be spokesperson for Carnival Cruise lines by Friday, I would also think that Joe’s Van by the River Hostel shouldn’t expect to get Brad Pitt as a promoter for free just because they bought a sponsor ticket to TBEX.

    If you’re going to separate and classify the bloggers, you should do the same with the sponsors. Just a thought.

    For anyone wondering, we actually had the most success from Toronto with the smaller groups, who appreciated the creative ways we pitched to work with them and their partners. Smaller groups ARE worth working with. And enthusiastic. Just not on a huge budget. (Like most travel bloggers!)

    TBEX can get huge or tiny. As long as everyone knows up front that its about writing, but also about business. And, at least in Toronto, there was something there for everyone. I actually thought Toronto was better organized than some other massive conferences I’ve attended. Room for improvement? Sure. But pretty good overall once you saw thorough the minor chaos, anticipated it, and adapted to it. Had a blast.

    See you in Dublin!

    • I agree about business needing to be more clear on what they have in mind in working with our community . I also think the ticket prices should stay low. Unlike other conferences we are funding our air and hotels and raising tickets prices or charging for a marketplace or speed dating would cause me to think again before going again.
      Open to everyone.
      Have different tracks
      Have a separate but free registration for speed dating.
      Do not limit but encourage people to have a certain criteria for marketplace and speed dating.
      Encourage small invited groups, had a breakfast with one vender with 20 others and it was great use of my time and I hope theirs.
      When do we learn who the lucky city is in 2014?

  46. Firstly – I agree, it’s hard to connect with (let alone find) bloggers/industry people when a conference becomes so big. I’m in favour of keeping things small and close-knit – for the sake of quality not quantity. I think bloggers and brands will have a better quality experience that way. The best/ most fair way seems to be First Come, First Serve.

    Secondly – Thanks Rick for posting this and taking to the community for our input. I’ve been to large conferences where organizers only think about their bottom line. It really goes to show the people behind TBEX care about us ticket-buyers, and standby what TBEX was originally founded as – a conference that belongs to all of us, to share/connect and improve ourselves, and not just a benefit for corporate sponsors.

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