At times, I still hesitate calling myself a travel blogger.
When I signed up to come to TBEX North America held in Fort Lauderdale on October 29-30, 2015, it was a huge step forward for me to truly commit to the identity of being a travel blogger, and a better one at that. Just as I invested time, resource and effort on continuing education courses for my physical therapy profession, attending TBEX signaled the start of going in deeper into an endeavor that was once solely a hobby.
TBEX or Travel Blogger Exchange is the biggest conference geared towards gathering travel bloggers, writers, new media content creators, and travel industry professionals. This annual event provides an opportunity for professional growth for the bloggers through learning sessions as well as a venue to connect with representatives of tourism boards, hotels, resorts, travel tech companies and other related entities for meaningful partnerships. TBEX is held in three different locations each year: Europe, North American and Asia.
During the two-day event, I’ve come to truly own up to being a travel blogger. I have a lot of growing to do, but it was a refreshing experience to be among my peers in this industry. It also reinforced my big reason for starting on this journey: to inspire and equip women (and men) to travel the world. It was inspiring to hear other bloggers’ stories and struggles. I helped me realigned my focus and renew my drive.
As I reflect on the past week, here are 7 Things I’ve learned from my first travel blogger conference :
1. Travel bloggers are a friendly, supportive lot.
From the more experienced ones to the newcomers, there is a sense of camaraderie in the air. I had been afraid that it would be a cut-throat competition to see who could score the most free press trips or a pissing contest on who’s been to the most places on earth.
Instead, there was a warm atmosphere of encouragement and openness. No question was too silly or too basic. Everyone had to start somewhere and those who’ve been around for a while understand this. Sure, there may be a jerk or two in the crowd (there usually is), but thankfully I did not cross paths with any.
2. I had to be brave and put myself out there to move forward.
While support and advice are given willingly, I had to take the first step in asking for it. I received great insights and feedback from established bloggers and resource speakers who took a genuine interest in what I was trying to do.
I also gathered enough courage to talk to some industry people, to get my feet wet in pitching. I’m extremely thankful to Laurie Armstrong of San Francisco Travel for extending a gracious invitation to get to know her beautiful city.
3. The reader comes first.
I came to TBEX with a lot of insecurity about my page views and number of social media followers. I was embarrassed to talk about analytics and email subscriber count. Then I remembered: each view, each subscriber and each like meant that someone out there believed enough in what I was doing to take the time to read what I put out there. For that I am grateful. For them, I continue to improve.
4. Free trips are a responsibility to the host and to the readers.
One of the popular notions about being a travel blogger is that it is all about traveling the world for free. If a travel blogger is privileged enough to reach the status of being able to negotiate for or invited to press or familiarization trips, it comes with very serious responsibilities. Nothing is truly free.
First, there is an understanding that this trip has to have some return of investment on the part of the host tourism board, hotel chain or airline. While a travel blogger of good integrity does not guarantee a good review regardless of the experience, it is still typically a business transaction bound by certain expectations.
Second, the commitment to serving the reader necessitates that the blogger report objectively, in the way a traditional journalist would. Readers consider blog posts in their planning their travel. The blogger has a responsibility to provide information that would help the consumer decide if the supplier is worthy of their hard-earned dollars and vacation time.
These commitments aside, it is still a fun job to go around “road-testing” the world and writing about it.
5. I have to know myself, my market, my niche – and own it.
As a Filipino-American, I have always walked in two worlds. On one hand, my heart will always seek to serve Filipinos in one way or the other. That Filipinas around the world will be encouraged and inspired to travel more has always been my vision in starting Viajera Filipina. On the other hand, I have also developed close ties with the women of my adoptive country and found myself capable of answering their specific needs as far as planning their dream trips.
I’m still fine tuning my strategies to pursue these two distinct markets. However, I do feel at home with both and found that at this time, I don’t have to choose between serving one or the other.
6. I’ve learned to value what I bring to the table.
In an industry filled to the brim with different kinds of travel bloggers, I saw at TBEX how my particular set of skills, experiences and background gave me a unique perspective. Carol Cain of Girl Gone Travel‘s Opening Keynote address was full of encouragement to embrace who I am and to write with my own voice because no one else can.
7. Balance between the business and art of blogging is critical.
There is a need for me to continue to learn more about SEO optimization, email lists, page views and Klout scores in order to effectively reach a wider audience to deliver my work. But as a writer at heart, it was a joy to listen to multi-award winning travel writer and editor Don George read passages from his new book The Way of Wanderlust, a compilation of his best travel writing. It strengthened my deepest desire to be able to tell beautiful, moving stories that take my reader on the trip with me.
There’s still so much to learn and do. I’m thankful to TBEX, through the able leadership of people like Rick Calvert and Mary Jo Manzanares, for the opportunity to grow to be the travel blogger that I’m meant to be.