I was startled upon receiving the following message from Ali, Travelblog’s Founder: “Hey Shane - any chance of a miracle recovery by 8th May? I can get you a public speaking gig in KL on travel blogging.” The timing of this invite to the Malaysia International Tourism Bloggers Conference and Awards
(MITBCA) sponsored by Tourism Malaysia was problematic. Still in the final phase of a six month recovery from debilitating scrub typhus, I hurriedly received approval from my doctor, my passport’s priority renewal was completed in an impressive 3.5 hours, and following official approval and confirmation of my attendance from the organisers, I was bound for Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
With only two weeks to prepare, I was still refining the presentation on the flight from Australia, and crammed 22 rehearsals of the 15 minute speech during the two days prior to the Conference. With 350 delegates from four continents assembling in the Ballroom at the Seri Pacific Hotel, the proceedings were opened by the dynamic YB Dato' Sri Dr. Ng Yen Yen
, the Minister of Tourism for Malaysia. In an enthusiastic keynote address she articulated her desire to protect, preserve and conserve Malaysia’s heritage, culture and natural beauty. Though Malaysia is the world’s ninth most visited nation, the Minister’s vision is
to increase visitor numbers from the current 24 million to 36 million by 2020, a goal partly facilitated through social media and travel blogging. I wish politicians in Australia shared the same passion for their portfolios as Dr Yen Yen.
During her presentation, the Minister proudly declared that “Mr Travel Camel” was in Malaysia, suggesting that I be provided with a camel to trek across the country – a most tempting offer. As with all speakers, I subsequently joined Dr Yen Yen on stage to accept a beautiful gift, an event accompanied by the sparkle of many dozens of camera flashes that seemed more appropriate for an A-list Hollywood celebrity strolling the red carpet.
I participated in the Conference’s first panel session of four speakers, and we seated ourselves on the stage. Chaired by the efficient Dr Mridula Dwivedi
from India, Ali
was the opening speaker, and his presentation about the founding and developing of Travelblog enthralled the audience. They were awed by Ali’s achievement and eagerly anticipated his every word. Travelblog is extremely fortunate to have Ali as its founder and he is an excellent ambassador for our community. The second speaker, Kiruba Shankar
from India, gave a highly entertaining
presentation that had the delegates laughing as much as it had them learning.
The speaker before me was the erudite David Hogan Jr
from Malaysia, but I hastily retired from the stage as he took the lectern, with most assuming my departure involved the receipt of the requested headset microphone. However, the very spicy and delicious curry I consumed the previous day was infrequently taking its revenge, with one such instance making itself known whilst on the stage. After resolving this emergency, I attached the microphone and excitedly waited.
My presentation was entitled “Promoting destinations and services through communities and travel blogs” and I introduced the premise that travelling and travel blogging are encapsulated by Mark Twain’s phrase, “Explore, Dream, Discover”. I articulated that better blogs usually involve unusual destinations, intriguing titles, beautiful photographs, descriptive language, interaction with the surroundings, and a human element – “effective blogs evoke emotions,” I declaimed.
Those 22 rehearsals were rewarded for the presentation felt poised, and the most gratifying part was the concluding quote, “Explore, Dream, Discover”. After stating the first two words, an audience member from my left exclaimed “Discover!” and I paused with immense satisfaction that the delegates
had followed the entire segment. After participating in a question and answer session, lunch ensued, and these breaks introduced Ali and me to a recurring occurrence during MITBCA, as we were swamped with requests for information and to pose for photographs. Business cards were so liberally exchanged that I acquired more in the space of 36 hours than in the whole of 2011.
The evening’s Awards dinner beckoned, and I was escorted to the VVIP table adorned with rose petals, where apart from the Minister (who again mentioned “Mr Travel Camel” in her oration) there sat Tourism Malaysia’s most senior officials, including their very hospitable Chairman, Datuk Dr Victor Wee. The other non-Malaysian present was Sheila Scarborough
from the USA. I could understand why she was accorded that VVIP honour as Shelia delivered two extended presentations conveying her expertise on tourism and social media in a natural, friendly and enthusiastic manner; whereas for me, travel is a passion rather than an income source – it was a trifle overwhelming to be in such esteemed company.
The final day of MITBCA began wonderfully when a young Malaysian attendee, Nurul Faiqah Mohamad Rahim, informed Ali and me that the
Malaysian Sunset in Kuala Lumpur
Allowed myself time to enjoy this moment during two solid days of rehearsals.
previous day motivated her to compose her first ever blog – there can be no greater endorsement of the Conference than this. At the conclusion of the plenary sessions, all speakers congregated on the stage for an expression of thanks, where the genuine gratitude of the audience was staggering. I glanced at Shelia, whose emotions appeared to reflect mine, so shifting towards her, I slung an arm around Shelia’s shoulder and questioned “What do you think?” and with the rapturous applause still echoing around the ballroom, the words “Wonderful!” and “Amazing!” collectively gushed from our mouths.
Afterwards, a High Tea was held for the Conference’s speakers and organisers, and I was again directed to the Minister’s table (who made further “Mr Travel Camel” references in her address) but this time the other non-Malaysian present was Ali. It was tremendous to occupy this circular table decorated with a silver sequined cloth and aromatic lilies, and to again discuss tourism, blogging and social media with Malaysia Tourism’s leaders. With High Tea and heartfelt farewells concluded, Ali and I opted to depart my final official MITBCA function by taxi due to the arrival of a thunderous Malaysian storm.
My time at
MITBCA 2012 - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The post-lunch session on the first day.
MITBCA was a whirlwind of dining, speeches, photographs, and conversations with delegates, speakers, organisers, and officials. This Conference hosted the most interesting group of people I have encountered by gathering together individuals of different nationalities, perspectives and experiences who shared a common interest in travel blogging; an affirmation of the Internet’s power to unite those of similar pursuits. I attended MITBCA seeking to inspire others, but instead I was inspired; and more importantly, I walked into a Conference filled with strangers, but left surrounded by friends.
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