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Published: October 13th 2013
Travel blogging in a solitary existence. Writing is a solo endeavour and so is my usual travel style. It is rare to meet any number of travel bloggers in one place for travelling usually involves meeting many local people, a varying number of tourists, and the occasional travel blogger.
However, travel bloggers can and do congregate in numbers. The world’s largest gathering related to travel blogging is held by Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX). I was honoured and excited to be chosen as a speaker of the prestigious TBEX Europe
which would attract more than 600 people. The very professional way the speaker invitation process was handled (such as submitting biographies and receiving conference information) gave me confidence about the success of the event.
Being a speaker meant that I attended the Speaker’s Night at the Old Jameson Distillery
. Since I abstain from alcohol, it meant that my appreciation of the experience was probably not as full as others, but likely to be more lucid. I found the complex process of making whisky fascinating and it gave me a real appreciation of the former distillery. The food served afterwards in the green-illuminated bar was excellent and it was a fine way to finish
an interesting tour.
Our group then headed to the Guinness Storehouse
for the Opening Night Party. This was the most spectacular event space I have ever seen. Level upon level of areas dedicated to Irish music, cheese tasting, bars, and copious amounts of food brought at regular intervals – including ice-cream served in wheelbarrows filled with ice. Being a speaker I observed the Guinness Connoisseur Experience, where a Connoisseur explained the fineries of pouring the perfect Guinness pint. The Storehouse was comprised exclusively of TBEX attendees, and everyone I spoke with were also in awe of the venue.
These functions allowed me to meet some of the most esteemed figures in the world of travel blogging, including Johnny Jet
, Melvin Böcher
, and Gary Arndt
. The energy that surrounded both venues was palpable and positive, and it started from the moment we boarded the bus that took us to the distillery. This energy continued the next morning when the foyers and function areas of the conference venue (the Doubletree Hilton in Dublin) were alive with the sounds of travel bloggers finally meeting each other in person after maintaining online friendships for weeks, months and even years.
The opening keynote address was given
by Chip Conley
who cleverly incorporated Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs into the hospitality industry and blogging. Chip explained three levels of blogging – to entertain (which meets expectations) to move (which stimulates desires) but the most important is to transform (where unrecognised needs are realised). My favourite quote of the entire conference came from Chip when he relayed advice he received from the late Steve Jobs “Be curious”
which he related to travel bloggers: "One thing we need more of in this world is cultural curiosity."
There were five speakers programmed for each breakout session: one each for content, commerce, community and two for TBEX business. My intention was to attend every session, but I was occupied with four video interviews (one can be seen on the Irish Independent
). Thus, I observed far fewer sessions than originally anticipated.
After a frenetic session in the marketplace where I met providers of travel related products, I retired to my room and absented myself from the evening party to rehearse my speech for the next day. Pacing and rehearsing the same words dozens of times would be a real bore for anyone to witness so isolating myself during such periods is better for
TBEX Marketplace - Dublin, Ireland
Where bloggers and travel providers can meet.
I wore my trademark Indiana Jones hat on day one so people could find me (I wear it on my twitter profile photograph) and was supposed to wear my suit for the presentation, but I was dissuaded from doing so by bloggers who told me that I would unrecognisable without my hat, so again I donned my hat and strode to my presentation. The session commenced at midday and my co-presenter was Natalie DiScala
with our topic being ”How to Nurture and Grow Your Community”
. Combining the knowledgeable and glamorous Natalie with my offer of shamrock shaped chocolates to any who asked questions, we secured a full house. People were sitting on the floor or standing in the back of the room to hear our words.
Natalie spoke first and held the audience’s attention for the full 15 minutes with her wealth of information, and she deserved the appreciative applause she received. Now came my turn, I had requested information from my fellow Travelblog community managers (or as Travelblog terms them, Moderators) and their input was invaluable for crafting the presentation.
I use analogy, alliteration, and assonance to inform and inspire an audience. The first part
of my presentation stated that an online community is like a garden. The flowers are the diverse bloggers who need to be encouraged and have the ability to interact and be social with each other. The weeds are the spammers and trolls who need to be removed through constant monitoring by referring to a terms of service, in addition to established members displaying model behaviour and maintaining the integrity of the site. Finally, there are the community managers who are the gardeners, and they need to be supported through instilling respect, providing them with information and allowing them to specialise.
At this point, I commenced my conclusion, the inspiring part of my presentation, and delivered the following: ”Packing your bags and travelling to a country where you don’t understand the language, and are unfamiliar with the culture, is for many people, an idea more foreign than the country itself. Whilst our friends and family may not understand this wanderlust, those in the travel blogging community will. For many of us, the online community is the only support we have. Flowers are delicate. Blogging can be difficult, travel can be difficult, life can be difficult. If you see a
fellow flower wilt, you can reach out your hand to give a virtual touch and comforting word. Flowers never need to feel alone. You never need to feel lonely.”
At this point applause flowed around the room. This was a pleasant surprise for it meant that people understood the importance of this last phrase as it referred to the recent suicide of a travel blogger (not a member of Travelblog). I lowered my head to shield my gracious smile whilst shifting position to continue my conclusion. ”When aspiring travel bloggers join an online community, they are tiny tentative seeds, anxious about their first forum post, first blog or first step on foreign soil. Please encourage and help them to create that confidence to express themselves in writing and to soothe fears as they stride forth into new lands. Travel bloggers need to be nurtured to reach their full potential and when this occurs the wide world will witness small seeds sprout shoots of green that will grow and grow and grow and grow – until they finally bloom.
The response to this presentation was very positive – the applause was sustained, it took an hour to respond
to all the tweets about my speech, and TBEX delegates would approach me afterwards with such comments as “I’m a flower!” and “How is your garden?” and these words were even uttered by delegates who never attended my session.
The closing keynote address was by a remarkable couple, Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott
. They discussed integrity of travel blogging, and their quote [i["Travel bloggers are interpreters of an experience" shows both the responsibility and respect needed by those who pen their thoughts for the world to see.
With the conference concluded, attendees filled the bar with the undiminished energy that had consumed the conference. The following morning, I met some fellow travel bloggers in the breakfast room to reminisce about our conference experience, but at Sunday breakfast, I was the only TBEX attendee present, so I readjusted to my usual form of travel – that of travelling and eating alone.
TBEX allowed travel bloggers from across this planet to realise the enormous size and vibrancy of the travel blogging community. Though TBEX lasted barely three days, its impact will last for years, for solitary travel bloggers felt that they belonged to a global community. But TBEX’s greatest legacy was to allow
brightly coloured flowers of differing hues to bloom brilliantly in a most magnificent, nurturing and inspiring garden.
Thanks to Vanessa Workman
for informing me about TBEX and encouraging me to submit a speaker application, and to Sheila Scarborough
for her support. Finally, many thanks to TBEX, nobody at TBEX had even seen me speak before, so sincere thanks for putting your trust in me.
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