I’d been hearing about the Travel Blog Exchange or TBEX ever since I got on Twitter a year or so ago. All the travel bloggers rave about it and talk it up on Twitter and Facebook group chats that I belong to. I had never been to a travel conference before as I have always just traveled and done my own thing and never really paid much attention to what others are doing.
I wanted to attend the North American TBEX in June in Colorado but had a friends wedding that weekend. So when the opportunity arose to come to TBEX Europe in Girona, Spain-I decided to attend.
I’m not much for organized events and certainly not much for sitting in boring presentations or listening to long speeches but I was excited to see what TBEX had to offer. I figured the worst that could happen was that I would meet a lot of bloggers, public relations people and sponsors that I might work with in the future-many of whom I knew already through Twitter and Facebook.
Plus, I had never been to Girona before and I was excited to be on the Costa Brava. Although, admittedly I knew nothing about Girona. As it turned out I should’ve done some research.
All the pre-TBEX emails and Tweets talked of the Costa Brava and there were always pictures/videos of beach scenes (see below) and talks of beach parties etc. This excited me but I never took the time to look up Girona. I just figured it was a beach city on the Costa Brava.
To my surprise it is actually a small city about 45 minutes inland and also about an hour and a half train ride from Barcelona after you take another train from the airport into the city. So getting to Girona is a bit of a chore, especially after a long trans-Atlantic flight and a connection on no sleep.
That said, I was still excited to get to Girona, have a look around, meet all the TBEX delegates, attend the parties and see what all the fuss was about.
The conference itself was very well organized. The people who run TBEX really do a great job running it, organizing, marketing and getting a solid program together. Also, I really liked the Girona Tourism people. They were all super nice and ran a great event.
That said, for me personally, I wasn’t enamored with a lot of the topics that were being covered. I guess as a traveler first and writer second (I don’t consider myself a blogger even though I obviously have this site) who focuses on doing television and media, I wasn’t too interested in a lot of the topics of the sessions.
I like to hear more hands on stories and tales of adventure and cool destinations as opposed to hearing about forming blogger-tourism board relationships to get free trips etc; making pitches; being more creative in your writing; or improving your photography. I think TBEX needed more travel talk to remind the bloggers why we travel and maybe get them excited and inspired and not worried so much about technical stuff like Google page rank, views, comments, SEO, alexa and klout scores. I think that ‘travel’ itself was lost a bit.
One of the keynote speakers who is widely traveled was asked by an audience member why he traveled. He was taken briefly aback by the question and then his reply was something to extent of he just liked to be in motion and transit and to be on the move. That struck me as odd and incomplete. Again it made me feel that the love of travel and the why travel is so wonderful was lost.
However, of the ones I did attend I thought the Facebook marketing session was the best I saw. Admittedly, this is likely because I do a lot of that and I thought the speaker, Amy Porterfield, made good points and gave me some new ideas.
A few others I attended such as the WordPress one-I didn’t get anything out of. The speaker went too fast with slides and actually only spoke for like 10 minutes. So I couldn’t follow along even with my WordPress site open on my laptop when WordPress is something I need to improve in. I was pretty disappointed in that. I wish they had more professional speakers who do this type of thing all the time.
Regardless, the best thing about the conference and the parties was seeing friends and meeting new bloggers, writers and just networking. That alone was worth attending for me. I made a lot of new contacts and like I said, put a face to the Twitter handle I’ve seen for a year now. I look forward to working with some people I met in the near future.
Speaking of the TBEX parties, the opening night party was fantastic. It was in a castle called Castell de Sant Gregori on the outskirts of Girona about 10-15 minutes from the center of town. We all took a bus over. It was an awesome castle and a great set-up. The Tourism Girona team did a great job and the setting was perfect. Not to mention great wine and the food was catered by the second best restaurant on Earth-El Cellar de Can Roca.
There was entertainment in the form of a flash mob; which was great. They had human pyramids too and good live music. They also broke the castle down into different rooms of different types of food and drink. Plus they had a massive outside area. There was plenty of space and it was easy to meet people. It was excellent and to me it was the highlight of the whole conference.
The next night the party was thrown by Expedia at the beach. This was a 45-minute bus ride from Girona which was pretty annoying. The ride out was fine but it’s the ride back that sucked after the party. The party itself was fine as well but it started too late to really see the beach and the water. The food wasn’t that good and it was also hard to get the food, as the lines were quite long. The event space was long and skinny so it made it feel crowded. I think it was pretty universal that the castle party buried the beach party.
The last night was definitely the worst night and seemed very disorganized. After the conference ended we were bussed away to the old part of the city for what was supposed to be a party of some sort organized by Travel Massive; which is an organization that arranges travel meet-ups in cities around the world. I attend them in New York if I’m around and always enjoy them.
Basically it turned into a small disaster because nobody seemed to know what was going on and Girona had some re-creation of the French invasion of Girona or something like that. That’s the problem; we had no idea what was going on because we were given no background on the show. It was just a lot of loud shooting of guns by people dressed up in 18th century war uniforms and it was really annoying.
The show took place in the center of the old city near the cathedral and then there was supposed to be a party of some sort as I said. Nobody knew where it was and then all of a sudden one of the TBEX employees said it was off. So that was pretty annoying. Then everyone kind of broke off into small groups and got dinner on their own.
Many people that were still standing after a long few days ended up at the same bar we had ended up at each night in the old town. It was fun but by the end of day three, I was exhausted between jet lag, late nights and early mornings.
I have to say I really wasn’t that impressed with Girona itself. It’s a nice city, good for a night or a day trip but there really wasn’t much to keep my interest. It wasn’t that pretty although it had some nice areas. There is an old town, a cathedral and some cool things to see but to be honest-it was a generic European smaller city. Maybe I am a bit jaded but that’s how I felt.
However, the hotel was the biggest source of disappointment for me. I stayed at the NH Hotel; which is a nice hotel chain in Europe and is where a majority of the delegates stayed. This was great because it was a 5-minute walk from where the TBEX conference was actually held but I had several problems with it.
First, they gave me a smoking room; which reeked like smoke. I hate smoking and cigarettes more than anything. Obviously, I asked to change but they were full because of the conference so I was stuck and I was not pleased.
Second, the air conditioning in my room didn’t work and it was hot as hell. I asked them to fix it and they didn’t of course, so I was stuck in a hot, smelly room for 3 nights.
Third, the shower handle was broken and it was one of those ones where you have to push the lever in to get the shower to work. So each time I wanted to shower I had to disassemble the lever and stick my thumb in the inside of it to get the shower to go on. So each time my thumb would be covered in grease and you guessed it, they didn’t fix that either.
Fourth and worst, the free Wi-Fi barely worked. It worked sporadically throughout the day. I assume it wasn’t good because so many bloggers were using it at the same time but it didn’t work even in the middle of the night when I was wide awake with jet lag. So I couldn’t get any work done, couldn’t use Skype, email or anything. I was stuck using data on my blackberry which I am sure will cost me when I see my bill next month.
So basically, I am not really sure what I thought about TBEX Girona overall. I know the tone of this story is fairly negative which I hate being. However, I didn’t love Girona so what can I do? I likely won’t go back and wouldn’t recommend it. I hate sounding harsh like that but again, that’s how I feel.
I also wish the morning sessions of TBEX started later, especially with jet lag and if people are going to be out late each night. Then everyone would make it or wouldn’t be so exhausted the whole time. A lot of people went back to the hotel during lunch or early sessions to take naps.
So for my first travel conference experience, I would say the jury’s out. I keep hearing the TBEX in North America is going to be much bigger and better and I would attend in Toronto next June. I also happen to love Toronto as a city and have some good friends that live there. It will depend on my schedule obviously but I look forward to seeing new friends again.