“Please do write about your TBEX experiences once you are back”. I think I heard this from so many fellow travel blogger friends when I announced that I was going to Jerusalem to attend my first TBEX in March 2017. I know I am a few weeks late but between travelling, visiting family and falling sick multiple times, I have been away from my blog for a while. So here I write about my first-time experience at TBEX for travel bloggers.
So, what is TBEX for Travel Bloggers?
So, a little introduction for my non-blogger friends from the TBEX site: “TBEX is the largest conference and networking event for travel bloggers, online travel journalists, new media content creators, travel brands and industry professionals. Each year, TBEX partners with fantastic host destinations in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific to bring the travel industry’s most creative minds together to learn, network and do business.”
What was my thought process about going to TBEX Jerusalem?
I have been wanting to go to TBEX for a while now. The first one I heard of was TBEX Stockholm. But I had just gotten back from my 6 week trip across Europe and it did not make sense to go back to Europe. The next one in Manilla was right in the middle of my 3rd semester at IIMB.
Since I was too busy finishing my executive MBA, I had not heard of TBEX Jerusalem till the middle of January. That is when I first heard of it. It was during March and it was actually perfect. I would have graduated by then and it was just a couple of weeks before my birthday. I still hesitated since it was Israel and I took time until the end of the month to decide.
TBEX FAM Trips:
Since I was applying so late, that meant I could not apply to any of the post-FAM trips since the deadline for application was 15th January. Again, for the benefit of my non-travel blogger readers, FAM (familiarization) trips are conducted by the host country after the TBEX conference. You are split up into groups after selection and then you are sponsored for the next few days and taken to different parts around the country. But only around 10% of the attendees are selected for FAM trips. I know of people who didn’t attend the TBEX conference since they were not selected for the FAM trips.
Passport and visa issues:
Another concern of mine was that it was Israel. I am someone who frequently travels to UAE since my twin lives there. Since both the countries are not on amicable terms, many people warned me saying that it would be difficult to get a visa to UAE if I have an Israeli stamp on my passport. This is the point where I rant about how most of my fellow travel bloggers from other countries can go around the world without the need of visas and how some have the added advantage of having dual citizenship. SO NOT FAIR. Me and Lavi bonded just because we were two Indian travel bloggers who had to worry about our visas.
Also, the media news around Israel has never been good and that was another reason for my hesitation.
In the end, I still decided to go. (I have to renew my passport by the end of the year.) So how was the whole experience? Read on to find out more and was it beneficial attending TBEX for travel bloggers?
Cons of TBEX Jerusalem:
Let us start with the cons first since I always like to end on a good note.
- The opening party at TBEX Jerusalem was a major fail. When I am asked to come in my evening wear for an opening party, I would think that it would be a classy affair. But instead, we had to listen to two people, one an Israeli tv star and another a Hollywood actor I have never heard about, talk about anything other than travel in a cinema theatre. You have a hall full of 400 travel bloggers and then it does not make sense that you don’t talk about travel.
- There were a couple of instances I did not get enough food. I know it is the first time Jerusalem is hosting such an event and I hope they take this as constructive feedback. Please make sure that there is enough vegetarian food for all of us. During one of these instances, a bunch of us headed out to town searching for food.
- Speed networking constraints. Every TBEX conference will have time slots exclusively for speed networking. In this case, travel bloggers can have face to face meetings with potential clients like tourism boards, DMOS etc and is a major draw for most TBEX conferences. In the case of TBEX Jerusalem, there was a general complaint that most of the participating brands were from Israel.
Pros of TBEX Jerusalem:
- I am going to contradict myself from my last statement. Even though most people did not see any value add from this time’s speed networking, I, on the other hand, was able to secure few partnerships. I am hoping that these associations will be beneficial for me in the long run.
- TBEX Jerusalem was lots of fun. If you don’t count the sessions, then it was a never ending party. My schedule was jam packed the entire time I was there. So, if you are planning to go to TBEX, then be prepared to forget that you need sleep. I don’t think I slept for more than a couple of hours every night I was there. Who would have thought that Jerusalem has such a vibrant nightlife? There were so many pre and postbex tours arranged and I enjoyed all the ones I attended.
- Many of the sessions were quite useful. I am at a stage in my travel blogging journey where I have finally started making a steady income from it (not much but it is not that bad either). So, the next logical step would be to scale up my travel blog. I was clueless on what to do next but there were some sessions that definitely gave me good pointers on what to do next. I still have to work hard to achieve those goals but at least it was good to get some guidance.
- Networking with other travel bloggers: It was so nice to finally meet so many travel bloggers in person. Over the past 1.5 years, I have always been thankful for the support system of other travel bloggers. Even many of the big names in the industry are not at all intimidating when you see them in person. I was a little tongue-tied when I met Gary Arndt, one of the best travel bloggers in the world and all I could muster was a hello.
This is where I would like to share an interesting story. Me and Chris were staying at the same hotel. So, we had decided to cab pool back to the hotel after the pub crawl. Carol and Chris are good friends and since it was almost 3 in the morning, she asked us to walk her back to her hotel which was 5 minutes away. I thought she would not recognise me in the morning. She was one of the speakers and I was attending her session on the ‘Art of Pitch’. After the session, she comes to me and puts her arm around my shoulder and talks like we were long lost friends. So you see, even if you feel that they are intimidating, many of the industry greats are genuinely nice people.
- Who can understand you better than other travel bloggers? You are spending so many days with the people who can genuinely understand you. Who else will know how it is to sit and work on their blog at 2-3 in the morning? Who will understand why you do what you do better than travel bloggers? These people will have more travel stories than you and it would actually be a delight talking to people who love traveling as much as you do. The ones who are just as clueless as you but still know what to talk about when it comes to SEO, GA, DA, PA, MOZ, Affiliate marketing etc.
- I am glad that TBEX was held in Jerusalem this time. If it wasn’t for TBEX, then it would have been very difficult to convince my parents to let me go to Israel. Just imagine me trying to convince them to let me travel solo to Israel. I am really glad that I went and I saw with my own two eyes how normal everything is over there. The media blows everything out of proportion. But if it wasn’t for 400 other travel bloggers, it would have been very difficult to convince my family to let me go to Israel. I reiterate that I have Indian parents and they need a lot more convincing compared to parents from other countries.
So, what is the verdict? I really enjoyed my time at TBEX Jerusalem and I did end up learning a lot of things. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who wishes to pursue travel blogging more seriously other than as a hobby. It may not be that relevant for people who have been blogging for quite some time but it is still beneficial for both new and intermediate travel bloggers. Many of my friends have already registered for the one in Ireland in October. I am still contemplating since I never plan so far ahead when it comes to traveling and I am not sure if I can afford it.