TBEX Toronto highlights (and one lowlight)

Canada's own Dave and Deb of ThePlanetD give the keynote at TBEX Toronto

Canada’s own Dave and Deb of ThePlanetD give the keynote at TBEX Toronto

The biggest travel blogging show on earth comes to Toronto

When I started travel blogging seven years ago, the profession didn’t exist. When I founded Breathedreamgo four years ago, I called Toronto’s first travel tweet-up and three women met for tea (you can read about it here in my post From Tea to TBEX). When I went by MegaBus to the second TBEX, in New York City three years ago, I was amazed to see about 300 travel bloggers congregating. And Saturday morning at 8:45 am when I sat in the second row of a huge Metro Toronto Convention Centre Auditorium and stood up and looked back, I was too gob-smacked to take a photo: 1,300 people, a mammoth sound and lights show and an electric feeling of excitement in the air. Travel blogging has arrived, I thought, and it’s happening here, in my beloved city, Toronto!

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when Toronto won the bid to host TBEX 13; or how flushed with pride and satisfaction I was when David Whitaker, president of Tourism Toronto, gave credit to the Toronto travel blogging community for making this possible; or when the dynamic duo, Canada’s Adventure Couple Dave and Deb of ThePlanetD, in their keynote speech, thanked Alicia Taggio and me for organizing Travel Massive. I have had the privilege of having a front row seat as travel blogging as evolved and grown into a real, viable and professional pursuit and it’s been one of the most exciting rides of my life.

TBEX Toronto

So, the first highlight of TBEX of course was that it was here, in Toronto; that TBEX chose this city for their first 100% organized conference; and that the Canadian, Ontario and Toronto tourism boards got behind it 100% and made it happen. I thank ALL of you with all my heart. You did a great job in just about every way (just one lowlight, below). Toronto Tourism made me proud, as a fourth generation Torontonian, to see the city’s rich multicultural heritage on display at the showcase Roy Thomson Hall. That was a great opening night party Toronto! And thanks for posting my piece Nostalgia, Toronto Style. But there’s more. Here are just a few of the other things I thought were TBEX highlights.

Indian food and culture on display at the Tourism Toronto opening night party at TBEX

Indian food and culture on display at the Tourism Toronto opening night party at TBEX

The emphasis on storytelling, community and finding your unique voice

I gravitated to the content sessions because writing is my passion, and it was quite well represented at this year’s TBEX. I loved Mike Snowden’s session “Using Storytelling to Hook, Frustrate and Torment Your Readers.” Mike, of Fevered Mutterings is funny, sweet, talented and self-deprecating and he had the audience in stitches in his session. He explained that readers like to be held in state of delicious tension and advised writers to “tease, lie, and delay satisfaction.” Here’s a summary of his storytelling tips:

  • start in the middle
  • delay your answers
  • end your stories
  • focus on details
  • fess up when it sucks
  • write less
Mike Snowden and me "nestling" at TBEX Toronto

Mike Snowden and me “nestling” at TBEX Toronto

Likewise, Spud Hilton of the San Francisco Chronicle takes every opportunity he can to extol the importance of good writing and storytelling, and I was uber pleased to see the closing session This Week in Travel podcast start with this topic. As always, Spud underlined the importance of good writing for the sake of good writing — but he also said it’s the key to long-term success as a travel blogger. He gave this Good writing advice: read your story out loud or get someone objective to read it.

In a session that could have been better — especially given the caliber of the presenters — I really appreciated Vivek Wagle of Airbnb and Andy Murdock of Lonely Planet emphasizing finding your purpose and passion as a blogger in “Content Strategy” session. Vivek said, find the intersection of your purpose and what the world needs. He said to ask yourself, what problem are you solving; how can you make people’s lives better? And he suggested writing a short promise statement to your readers (they don’t need to see it but you need to know what it is).

It’s not about you

TBEX TorontoThe other two sessions I enjoyed at TBEX both stressed values that have nothing to do with “I want to travel for free and write about myself ad nauseum.” Jodi Ettenberg and Annemarie Dooling’s session on “Rethinking Your Audience: Turning Readers into a Thriving Community” was probably the best one I attended at TBEX; and local entrepreneur Bruce Poontip’s session called “The Noble Purpose of Travel Blogging” was truly inspiring.

Jodi and Annemarie talked both in general and specific terms about building a community — not a platform, an important distinction — and they achieved their purpose, with me anyway. I am rethinking how to relate to my audience better, and all the ways I could do a better job. There were literally too many tips to list, but here are a few:

  • connect readers to both you and other readers (your job is to put yourself out of a job!)
  • be authentic, be passionate find your unique voice and tone and always provide value
  • use social platforms to have conversations and authentic interactions
  • listen to how your readers are communicating with you
  • reward your readers, do something nice for them; give them a platform; highlight success stories; meet them for tea!
  • ask questions very judiciously
  • try and turn trolls around by engaging with them and trying to understand the underlying issues (unless they are hateful and insulting)
  • use the “nice person” metric

I have seen Bruce speak before and I know his company very well. But in a small intimate setting I really saw for the first time that the G Adventures founder really does care about sustainable tourism. Previously, I was impressed with his business acumen, but after attending “The Noble Purpose of Travel Blogging” I am impressed by the man. In his session, Bruce underlined what travel bloggers could and should be doing for the planet and the tremendous power that we yield to send positive messages about spending locally and informing the world about other cultures. He said travel bloggers can help spread a message of peace and be a tool for the redistribution of wealth. The man thinks big. I LIKE. Here’s an inspiring and fun video Bruce showed — Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy:

I heart the Toronto travel blogging community

I openly admit it. The highlight of TBEX for me was hearing both David Whittaker and Andrew Weir of Toronto Tourism say that without the thriving presence of the local Toronto travel blogging community, they could not have brought TBEX to Toronto. Thank you for saying it, it means the world to me and I really appreciate it — especially when Andrew said it to my face, and made it personal, at the height of the rockin’ Toronto Travel Massive pre-BEX party at The Irish Embassy pub. Everything about that night was spectacular, including how hard the folks at the Irish Embassy — and especially Jamie Leitch — worked to make it memorable. Read Alicia Taggio’s wrap-up post about it here: Toronto, TBEX and travel bloggers, oh my!

At the Irish Embassy Pub for Toronto Travel Massive.

At the Irish Embassy Pub for Toronto Travel Massive.

It was of course also completely awesome to have my friends and heroes Dave and Deb of ThePlanetD personally acknowledge Alicia and me in their keynote speech for organizing and running Toronto Travel Massive over the past three years. (See the top picture.) They were at the very first TTM and they have always supported the local community, including by writing this post, Toronto Travel Bloggers: Who to Watch For.

Dave and Deb talked about travel blogging trends and as usual they offered a lot of value. They used their platform to try and encourage others with messages of positivity. “Let the competition elevate you,” they said. That’s why we love them. They also said there’s a big difference between page views and audience engagement — and audience engagement is becoming more and more important.

The lowlight: Where’s the CanCon?

The only thing that really disappointed me about TBEX Toronto was that we could have been in Cleveland. It was a great big American machine almost from start to finish. Most of the speakers were American, and many of them were the usual TBEX suspects. Two of the three big keynote addresses were by Americans. One of them was the grandson of Charles Lindbergh, which is cool, but we have Canadian travel-related heroes too.

If TBEX had been held in a picturesque destination like Whistler, or Peggy’s Cove, I might understand the need to “import” talent. But Toronto has a huge and thriving pool of people to choose from. For example, why was Evelyn “Journeywoman” Hannon not honoured for her role in pioneering travel blogging? Evelyn was called one of the most forward thinkers by Time Magazine. Bruce Poon Tip is a global leader for both promoting sustainable tourism and working with bloggers. The G Adventures “Wanderers in Residence” program was way ahead of its time and is still the shining model of how to work with bloggers.

(For the record, I tried to get more inclusion by writing to the organizers well in advance and suggesting ways local Travel Massive members could participate.)

But of course in the end, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that TBEX Toronto is probably going to turn out to be a game changer, and the Toronto travel blogging community is ready. We’ve all pitched in to create a community and help each other and … I heart you all!

A tale of four Toronto outfits

As a proud Torontonian, I added my own little twist to the weekend by wearing a different outfit every day, made by local designers who sell their clothes at the store Fresh Collective. Here they are, pictured below. There are three Fresh Collective locations in Toronto and you can tell them I sent you!

The four locally designed outfits I wore to TBEX Toronto from Fresh Collective

The four locally designed outfits I wore to TBEX Toronto from Fresh Collective

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14 Responses to TBEX Toronto highlights (and one lowlight)

  1. Shalu June 3, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

    The next TBEX show is in Dublin, Ireland. It’s tempting to attend this one. Do you think its worth going? You look lovely in those outfits. I particularly like the one on the right.
    Shalu recently posted..Your custom made holiday to IndiaMy Profile

  2. Tarun June 3, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    You summarized it well. I got to know about tbex through you on twitter. And I have been following all your updates. Thanks!

  3. pam June 4, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    As the moderator of that “session that could have been better,” I’d like to see you be more specific about HOW it could have been better. Don’t worry, you’re not going to hurt my feelings, I have moderated exactly zero sessions in my entire life before, so it would be good to know. I thought it was too short, honestly, those guys are packed full of knowledge and we could have got into a lot more detail with more time.

    I always think local talent is under-represented. In spite of the efforts to put euro speakers on deck in Girona, i thought that was a terribly US-centric event. But I also don’t know what’s in the speaker application pile. Language can’t be used as an excuse here for not submitting a proposal.

    • Mariellen Ward June 4, 2013 at 10:28 am #

      Hi Pam, thanks for wanting to improve. That’s why you are such a good writer and such an inspiration.

      I do not lay the blame for the shortcomings of the session at your feet. I think the presenters should have been better prepared. There was too much in-group talk amongst yourselves and not enough solid, specific advice. I think, more than anything else, the audience felt almost left out.

      Afterwards, I felt like a minor celebrity because so many people tweeted me and came up to me and said they loved my question (the one about the time it takes to find your voice and build your audience). I don’t think it was the actual question itself they appreciated, but that I brought the session back to the reality of the newbies in the audience.

      When I compare it to the seminar on Rethinking Your Audience, the big, big difference was that Jodi and Annemarie put in a lot of work, and wrote lots of slides, about specifically what people can do to build community. I came away with a list of actionable items. There was nothing vague about it.

      So I think that’s how it could have been better. Hope this helps!

      Mariellen Ward recently posted..From Tea to TBEXMy Profile

  4. Prasad Np June 4, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    Wow… it seems travel blogging as an accepted and respected writing is finally getting its place under sun. All the best and hoping we will get to host one in India. I would love to participate in one if it happens closer home….
    Prasad Np recently posted..Hyderabad Polo And Riding ClubMy Profile

  5. Gaurav Bhan Bhatnagar June 4, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    Hi Mariellen. I was looking for some kind of meaningful summary of what happened at TBEX from someone who attended it . Thanks for sharing exactly that.

    I am attending TBEX Dublin in October and excited to expand further into this community. Would you be there?
    Gaurav Bhan Bhatnagar recently posted..Bhutan – Hiking to The Tiger’s NestMy Profile

  6. Lesley Peterson June 4, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    Terrific summation, Mariellen. And BTW those Fresh Collective clothes are gorgeous.
    Lesley Peterson recently posted..ArtSmart Roundtable: Deciphering Dalí’s The Hallucinogenic ToreadorMy Profile

  7. Andrea Rees June 5, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    I agree with your summation of TBEX and was really inspired by Bruce Poon Tip’s session, would love to see more like his. I also gravitated to the sessions you mentioned. I wish there had been more CanCon. I would have especially loved to hear a keynote from Bruce and not just a session, he’s done so much and especially for responsible tourism. I, for one, would have loved to attend a session or keynote or anything by Journeywoman! Am glad Dave & Deb of the Planet D did a keynote & Bruce had a session, I believe that was the extent of cancon?

    • Mariellen Ward June 5, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

      Yeah, there really wasn’t much more than that. Jodi Ettenberg is Canadian… but considering the number of high-calibre bloggers, writers, travel companies and travellers in Toronto, it’s a bit shocking. I keep thinking of more and more Canadians who could have been included, like Commander Hadfield, Alex Tilley, Karen Connelly, Janice “SoloTraveler” Waugh ….etc
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..WeGoSolo Dream Destination ContestMy Profile

  8. Sergey Wain-Fellowes June 5, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

    Great post, very interesting points made. Nice to hear what happened, since I have been following the event, as I wasn’t able to attend this years event.

    But it’s nice to hear that you had such a good time. I totally agree with what you had said about being too American focused (with the speakers that where there). Wish I could have attended, as TBEX ’13 sure sounds like it was great fun and a big success. Anyways, thanks for sharing your experience at TBEX ’13.
    Sergey Wain-Fellowes recently posted..Photo Tour of Kensington Market, TorontoMy Profile

  9. Charli l Wanderlusters June 6, 2013 at 6:52 am #

    Such an informative overview of the conference. As someone very new to travel blogging, so new in fact I only found out about TBEX when it was too late to change my itinerary, it is wonderful to hear your report of the event. Thanks for sharing.
    Charli l Wanderlusters recently posted..Solo Travel | Love, Loss and Life LessonsMy Profile

  10. Helen Suk June 6, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Oh, I echo your sentiments. As a Torontonian, I stood tall and proud throughout the whole weekend, and just posted my love letter to Toronto: http://notwithoutmypassport.com/2013/06/05/to-toronto-with-love/. Thanks for all your efforts!

  11. Deb June 13, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    Great round up Mariellen, Congratulations on all your success this weekend. For the record, We made sure to mention Evelyn in our Keynote address and the Wanderers in Residence and we’re Canadian! I’m glad that TBEX included us and there were a few of us representing. I think that we could have more Canadians on panels though for sure. I know HIgh Road Communications here in Toronto is one of the best agencies we’ve ever worked with. All of your outfits look great! You were beautiful all weekend long.

    • Mariellen Ward June 13, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

      Thanks for dropping in Deb! Your keynote was one of the highlights of the weekend for so many reasons — including the fact that I love to see people who deserve success achieve it. Like you and Dave. You never cease to support your community even though you are very busy. You are leaders in every sense, cheers.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..Why content is king and story is queenMy Profile

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