Here Comes Everybody: TBEX ’10

by Chris on June 29, 2010

Here Comes Everybody: Lessons learned from the second annual Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) conference, held in New York this weekend.

On the long plane ride from Seattle into New York for TBEX, I grabbed a book that I had been meaning to read for years: Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky.

Turns out I couldn’t have made a better choice. The Travel Blog Exchange conference, now in its second year, personifies Shirky’s theory that social media has empowered like-minded people to interact and organize as never before. And when they do, they can bust up the existing paradigm, quickly.

I admit, I’m not always crazy about this trend. After all, the rise of the enthusiast has directly affected my ability to earn a living as a professional writer. The preponderance of travel blogs has forced down the wages earned by freelance writers and flooded an already saturated market. Why pay when you can get the milk for free? (or in the case of the Demand Media, $15 an article).

And yet, the traveler in me is thrilled. Never before has so much destination information been available for someone planning a trip. I read blog posts and become inspired by their photos and adventures. I scan TripAdvisor, Fodors and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree planet for boots-on-the-ground practical information. I can even talk to super-experts, such as Pauline Frommer and Wendy Perrin on Twitter. Ordinary people have extraordinary resources at their disposal.

For those people who worry about the quality of the travel writing out there, well, you haven’t been looking in the right places. The blog posts that were read at the TBEX community keynotes were as well-written and meaningful as anything I’ve read in glossy travel magazines lately. The quest for robust story-telling, across all mediums, dominated the conversation; bloggers are eager to up their game and push the envelope. I came away thinking that editors are missing out if they aren’t mining some of these blogs for talent.

Shirky says that once social network-based communities grow, they change the way that larger companies do business. That’s becoming true in the travel world, and you could see the evidence all over TBEX. Companies such as American Express stepped up as sponsors, destinations such as British Columbia were out in force, the savviest public relations professionals were attendees. Already I’m finding that TBEX rivals the mainstream Society for American Travel Writers in professional development (I’m an SATW member, and there were a few other members at TBEX). It will be interesting to see how those two groups continue to stack up in relevancy.

Overall, my biggest TBEX takeaway is that the travel blogging community keeps becoming stronger and more professional. The writers and photographers that I met this weekend aren’t afraid to reveal their opinions and develop their voice. And that’s great news for readers and travelers. Here comes everybody? To me, that means there’s ways that every body can benefit.

I can’t wait to read what everyone else learned at TBEX. Feel free to link your piece to mine, and I’ll try to do the same. Or just tell me below. And let’s get ready for TBEX ’11 in Vancouver!

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Everywhereist June 29, 2010 at 1:31 pm

I agree, that the new, online network of travel writers all at once makes things easier and harder – it’s a struggle to find people willing to pay for good content when there’s so much out there for free … on the other hand, there’s so much good content out there … for free! :)

In the end, I think you’re right – a stronger community is better for everyone!

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Chris June 30, 2010 at 10:35 am

Everywhereist, nice to meet you last night, albeit briefly, at the gelato meetup! Good example of a strong travel community right there. Hope to see you again around Seattle.

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Anny at BikeHike Adventures June 29, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Great post Chris! I wish I could’ve attended TBEX10 this year, but at least Trish from the office was able to go instead. She was surprised that we were one of the very few companies that had attended. I was telling some of the other adventure travel companies they ought to reach out to the TBEX community, but I think by the time they considered it, the event sold out!

I’m really looking forward to TBEX11 in Vancouver (that’s where I am)!! :D

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Chris June 30, 2010 at 10:37 am

That means that your company is ahead of the game, Anny. Blogging is so relationship-focused – and the companies that are there in the beginning will definitely be ahead of the game. Looking forward to seeing you in Vancouver!

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Mary Huff @MaryHuff June 29, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Chris, Good post about TBEX. I am a longtime PR prof’l who’s been working w/bloggers for three years, so was excited to attend and learn more. We PRs feel the pain of writers who can’t generate a decent income these days. I encourage your blogging readers to click on the link to the post on your PRSA presentation where there are more ideas on making the PR/blogger relationship work. Speaking of PRSA vs TBEX: at TBEX, I was able to mingle with 200 bloggers for $120, and met many. At PRSA, I would have been able to meet a handful of travel blogger panelists and mingle with hundreds of PR people. For three times more money. And, the PR people I met at TBEX were all congenial and collegiate, vs competitive. TBEX=value!

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Chris June 30, 2010 at 10:39 am

Mary, thanks for highlighting the economics here. I feel the same way about the value that I received from the professional development sessions. They were much more targeted to the skills that I need to improve, rather than things I already know. The PR professionals who get involved with TBEX early will see dividends down the road, in the form of stronger relationships.

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Stephanie June 29, 2010 at 4:54 pm

I don’t have a ton to add except I’m bummed that I somehow managed to miss meeting you this weekend!

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Chris June 30, 2010 at 10:39 am

I know! At one point, I asked Dave to point you out, but he couldn’t find you. Next time for sure!

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brian June 29, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Well I’m sorry I missed you. Funny how I felt I was walking by people I SHOULD know but didn’t find out until after I left. Alot of people feel that way. Bigger name tags with bigger font next year!

In another blogger’s TBEX wrap, he felt like it was 70-30 women to men. Did you feel that way too? I’m not sure if the ratio was that high but perhaps because I wasn’t paying attention.

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Chris June 30, 2010 at 10:45 am

I know! If I knew you were there, I would have asked around. And yeah, it was hard to see the nametags – hope the font is bigger next year!

I did notice the ratio. The PRSA conference was even more tilted toward women (PR is a female-dominated field). I found the trend strange at TBEX because men are equally represented on press trips, at least the ones that I’ve been on. Maybe men aren’t as networked-oriented? Or maybe the economics of travel writing force more men into a breadwinner role? (it’s very hard to raise a family on travel writing, unless you are one of the absolute best out there. At least that’s my opinion).

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Conner June 30, 2010 at 8:40 am

Hola Chris. Thanks for the post – very informative for those of us who couldn’t attend.

I share your “take the good with the bad” outlook on the rise of travel blogging and the availability of free (quality?) content. it’s a trend that you see in guidebook writing too – not free content, but cheaper, making it harder for us old(er) hands to earn a living.

I really hope your head’s up to commissioning editors is heeded! One tip I would offer to travel bloggers is proofread your posts. Ive been reading a lot of great writing lately thanks to TBEX and it’s jarring to come across typos and grammatical errors.

Happy travels!

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Chris June 30, 2010 at 10:49 am

Conner – One thing that I didn’t know before I wrote my post: most of the keynote entries were edited for brevity, according to Pam’s post at Nerd’s Eye View. And Spud Hilton did say that he ran a shorter version of one of the pieces in the San Francisco Chronicle. It goes to show that everyone could use an editor (I often wish I had one for this site!) But yes, lots of quality writing out there…if I still ran a section, I’d be looking for talent there.

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Gary Arndt June 30, 2010 at 1:35 pm

I think we maybe in the 2nd inning of where things will wind up in the world of travel media.

The old system is falling apart faster than the new system is being built, as such, no one really knows how everything is going to end up.

The fact that the SATW requires an approval process I think will hurt it in the long run. The internet is open and the future of travel media will include hobbyists. A closed organization open only to a shrinking breed of professionals will have to change or die.

Just for illustration, I can’t see a need to join nor am I even sure I would be approved.

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Chris July 4, 2010 at 11:53 pm

@Gary, good point here. You’d certainly have the numbers to join SATW and if you ever do want to apply, I’d sponsor you as I think members in the group could definitely learn from your success. I’ve enjoyed the group – as a way to meet colleagues back when I was at USAT and now as a way to build better relationships with people in public relations.

That being said, I’m not so sure that I’m going to be able to qualify next go-around. I’m confident that I’ll reach the 10,000 unique viewers threshold soon, but the group also wants you to prove that you make part of your living from your travel writing. And I’m not there yet.

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Mariellen Ward June 30, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Hi Chris,

I was hoping to meet you this weekend at TBEX as I admire your site (in fact, I am redesigning BreatheDreamGo this summer and I sent a link to your site to my WP designer to give her an idea of the direction I want to go in).

I also make my living, such as it is, as a professional freelance writer so I too have mixed feelings about the rise of the hobbyist writer. But I love the creativity of blogging — which was really manifest at TBEX. I loved seeing so many creative, energetic people. The thing I liked best about TBEX was how people express themselves in such unique and inspired ways.

Thanks for the thoughtful post, cheers.

Mariellen

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Chris July 1, 2010 at 1:33 am

Mariellen – Wow, thanks so much for the compliment! I wish that I had been able to meet you as well. Let’s continue to “talk” online until TBEX next year.

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Authentic Seacoast Resorts June 30, 2010 at 5:57 pm

I’m glad we were able to connect at TBEX, Chris. Your article captures the enthusiasm that was present and the quality of people in attendance. We agree that the travel blogging community will continue to be stronger and more professional and we’re delighted to be working with people in the community to share travel stories from our part of the world. Doug

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Chris July 1, 2010 at 1:32 am

Doug, it was great to meet you as well! I admire how Nova Scotia has been able to develop a serious social media presence. I hope I can get out there someday to see it all for myself.

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Kara @ The Vacation Gals July 1, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I definitely appreciate the grassroots movement of TBEX, as well as the upbeat, energetic nature of travel bloggers in general. I can’t wait to see this young conference/community grow!

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JoAnna July 1, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Hi Chris ~ I wish we would have had a chance to meet. The book you read sounds interesting – and very fitting for the occasion.

Perhaps we’ll cross paths in Vancouver.

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Lisa Gerber July 4, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Chris,
Interesting dilemma you pose regarding the rise of social media and how it impacts freelance writers. Hopefully it will work itself out in phase 2.0!!
I’m glad I literally tracked you down at TBEX if only to meet briefly. I hope to see you here in Idaho before Vancouver next year.

Lisa

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Chris July 4, 2010 at 11:49 pm

@Lisa, I’m glad you tracked me down as well. I read through some of the posts on your site, and I really like how you document how social media is transforming PR and marketing – I always love hearing that perspective. Let’s continue to talk Idaho; I’m looking forward to exploring the Pacific Northwest now that I’m out here.

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Meryl Pearlstein July 28, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Chris, as always, it was great to see you and your significant other! This was an interesting conference, especially for those of us who have attended many other “traditional” media conferences in the past year. Yes, there’s a lot of merit to the travel blogger community, and, yes, I agree that the blog posts that emerged from TBEX were as eloquently written as a lot of the traditional media pieces we’re accustomed to. It will be interesting to watch the evolution of this cottage industry. And, I hope to make it to Vancouver next year. Sadly, it’s right on top of PRSA/SATW in San Antonio. How to choose? Too long a time to be away from the office. Let me know what you decide to do.

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Chris July 29, 2010 at 10:07 am

Meryl – Great, as always, to see you. I’m signed up for TBEX in Vancouver next year, in part because it’s so close to my new home Seattle. It’s hard to say which conference I enjoyed more. I learned quite a bit from PRSA and made some fantastic contacts. If they invite me to speak again, I’d certainly go. I am going to SATW in Germany in October – will I see you there?

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