TBEX in Toronto – was it worth it?
Since September 2012 until now I decided to attend all the travel markets and travel blogger conferences I could – to compare them, to learn something, to meet new people, to have fun with my old friends and also to finally meet in person all those I’ve been in touch online for months/years.
So I attended TBU conference in Porto, TBEX in Girona (I compared TBU and TBEX already), TBE in Genoa, WTM in London, ITB in Berlin and now TBEX in Toronto. Since TBEX Toronto was announced I knew straight away you would see me there 100%. For me it was a sign.
Yes, I should finally visit Canada. And as traveling to Canada for just a conference was not worth it for me, I spent months in touch with the tourist boards working on my plan for 3 weeks in the Eastern Canada as part of my Adventure and Spa project.
It was my first time in Canada, my first time in Toronto and my first time at such a huge conference like TBEX.
Around 1,200 travel bloggers and PR companies, travel agencies, tourist boards etc. gathered for the weekend. To be honest, I hate crowds and if this was my first conference ever, I would have probably freaked out. Way overcrowded! I understand it would not be the best idea to put a limit to the number of attendees, but this was craziness! It was even difficult to find the people I wanted to talk to, or just my old good friends I could meet only at the conference. Overwhelming, for sure! But still, meeting new people is always worth it.
A few things were great at this TBEX. Like I said, the biggest reason for me to go to the conferences became the fact of getting together with other travel bloggers. Because believe it or not, some of them are my best friends and being all so busy traveling in a different way and doing our own thing, usually the only time we can meet is at conferences like this. Another big plus was it was my first North American conference so finally a chance to get to know those US and Canada based people (until then it was more European bloggers).
And as TBEX was so massive, it offered me more choices of meeting up with new people. I tried to force myself to take photos with many old and new friends just because I hardly ever do so and then I regret it. Uncountable hugging, kissing and smiling was on the table for 2 days of the conference, also before and after it. It’s my favorite thing about conferences – I get hugs every few minutes and we all know how hugs help us. Everyone needs at least two hugs a day to be happy, they say. One can never have enough of TLC, I say!
Location and sessions
The venue, Metro Toronto Convention Center were the conference took place was a good choice. Easy to get to, with good public transportation connections, enough restrooms, restaurants around and pretty good wifi too. But the rooms for the sessions themselves were too small for so many people and I couldn’t get into many sessions I would like to just because they were overcrowded and I couldn’t hear anything standing by the door. Unfortunately, I missed many sessions I wanted to see just because of this reason.
The thing I was angry about the most was that our advice was not taken seriously and all the sessions were NOT labelled by beginner, intermediate and advanced to know before hand if it was worth attending or not. It has to be changed! I know most of the bloggers are beginners but come on, how about us professional bloggers making living out of our blogs? We still have to pay the same amount for the conference so I believe there should be sessions for us too (there’s ALWAYS so much to learn!)
In the end I could only attend 2 whole sessions. It was my first conference ever so far when I did not attend all the keynotes and sessions possible. For me, the session is good if I’m taking notes and if after an hour I have at least 2 pages. Lola Akinmade Akerstrom’s Travel Photography session was interesting as usual and I love her speaking – very understandable and logical explanation. The Intersection of Marketing and Blogging by Nicole Petrak and Scott Adams was funny, full of details and interesting but I didn’t learn as much as I would like to.
If you know me, then you are familiar with me eating healthy and eating 5 times a day at least. It’s one of the reasons I started fit when traveling website and also why I look the way I do (I’m not gonna call myself sexy here, or should I?). I remember that the organizer of TBE conference listened to my feedback and we had fresh fruit at conference all day long, yes, during all the sessions, and also had a lot of vegan and vegetarian options.
But now at TBEX in Toronto it was not true. I am not 100% vegetarian yet I was struggling with healthy food as surviving on just a salad is not possible at such a tiring event. And what were all the sandwiches and wraps about? What if you can only eat gluten-free? People keep forgetting it I guess, and I completely understand it is not easy to please everyone, especially with food, but in the 21st century we should think of those with allergies/vegans/vegetarians. I felt like attending a conference in McDonalds surrounded by burgers, sandwiches and wraps. I was really not happy with the lunch options (and after a few conversations with some others they agreed on that) and I actually think all the food should be left there so we can grab something small in between the sessions too.
When it comes to parties and the catering there, the first night had some good food, but long Q’s for veggies. Will never forget the biggest gummy bears I’ve ever eaten in my life (I grabbed a piece each time I told someone about them. I know, cheeky!) But the second night party could have had more meal options. I got food poisoning after the Saturday night food, not sure if from something I ate at the party or it was the poutine with cheese I had then at 3 am but it messed up with my stomach for a week. And I am a person with no stomach problems usually.
I have to admit that this speed dating was out of the conferences I attended the second worst after the ITB speed dating in Berlin. The biggest reason for that is that around 80% of the brands did not bother to reply to messages nor invitations at all. And I am not speaking about myself only. Every single blogger I talked to had the same experience. I know it is impossible to meet everyone but hey, be professional and at least reply! You could have set up a different time or just have told us to stop by anytime.
I did spend a lot of time walking around the brand tables and the people I chatted to were all nice, that’s for sure. Many brands had a lot of useful goodies to take too!
However, I still found that many brands had no idea how to work with bloggers and seemed they didn’t understand the blogging idea at all. I believe TBEX and other conferences should not just get all the possible brands as sponsors paying a lot of money to the organizers to keep the conference going, but the organizers should explain the brands how the whole blogging world works. I mean, offering ridiculous discounts to bloggers or other media rates? This is for journalists who work in a completely different way (the explanation is so long I’d need another post for it). Or just speaking about the destination saying you should visit it, but with no big help from the tourist board/local brands? Don’t think that’s appropriate.
Anyway, my point is that if a tourist board/brand does NOT understand the most important thing about blogging – reader demographics are essential and NOT the nationality of the blogger – then I don’t know what that brand is doing at a travel blogger conference. Getting a message ”Sorry, you are not from US or Canada”? The biggest FAIL ever! This has to be fixed!
The opening party was fun, the location was good and the food tasty. The live music was too loud though and no matter how great it was, during the Serena Ryder’s concert it was impossible to speak. The second party had unbelievable views of Toronto skyline, but we ended up beaten by mosquitoes, wet after random showers, kind of bored, and not with satisfied stomachs. With my blogger friends we came to the conclusion, there was just something missing at that party, and it was not the view!
And many of us hated the fact there was no closing party on the last day of TBEX in Toronto. There definitely should be! It’s the last night for many of us and after the closing keynote people make groups and just disappear. I had to attend 4 different smaller parties the last night just to say bye to at least some people and still missed many that were spread around the city of Toronto!
Pre and post-TBEX activities
I was on 2 half-day tours in Toronto on Friday before the conference. The paddling tour was amazing and I got a completely different perspective. Silence, peace and quiet, nature, birds singing, water and paddling around the islands. Yes, just a few minutes from Toronto overlooking the beautiful city skyline. I would not know about this possibility and never done it on my own, if not pre-TBEX trip. Really grateful! Thanks James and Matt!
The Toronto first timers was a bit rushed and even though we did visit and photographed some important spots, I don’t remember much about them. All the running around was way too quick and we were tired/jet lagged after our flights to Toronto.
My post-TBEX 3-day trip was awesome! I had never heard of Peterborough and Kawarthas until the trips were announced but now I am really happy I was chosen to be part of the group. It was well planned, not stressful at all and the mixture of adventure and relax was just right. Good memories were what I left with.
– no matter what you do, there is NO way you can meet every single person you would like to
– there’s just never enough time for everything at a conference
– there’s never enough hugging and other TLC. Smile is the key.
– giving away your business cards is a must. Collecting those of others too.
– many people look different in person than on the photos, including me. Sorry, no bikini at the conference!
– gays are amazing! I fell in love with their personalities, honesty and random hugs on early morning (however, please don’t fall in love with a gay guy if you straight!)
– the best conversations about blogging happen after 2 am :)
– there’s just a few ”professional” travel bloggers making living out of their blogs. I am happy to be one of them!
– at TBEX in Toronto I learned that the best place to stay at is to rent a house – together with a bunch of other great bloggers and friends we were staying at a luxury Flipkey Victorian house and got to know each other well after the conference sessions and all the parties. We had unforgettable fun. #rwtbex complete me!
PS: If you see me at the next conference, you know the drill. HUG me :)