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Monday, 03 June 2013

Social Media & Travel Marketing: 'There Are No Rules'
TBEX takes over Toronto this past weekend; brings new generation of marketing approach together with industry reps
Terrilyn Kunopaski
Rick Calvert, CEO, TBEX
Rick Calvert, CEO, TBEX
It's possible that Instagram has never before seen so many photos of the Toronto skyline uploaded in one weekend as it did June 1 and 2, but this is what happens when you bring nearly 1,000 travel bloggers – social media aficionados by default – to the city.
 
An annual event since 2009, Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) took over Canada's largest city, bringing together a new breed of travel writers with industry suppliers for an estimated 1,300 attendees total.
 
"The mission is to help travel bloggers create, distribute and monetize content. We want to help them reach their travel blogging goals," Rick Calvert, CEO of the conference told THN. "Our secondary mission is to help the travel industry understand how to deal with travel bloggers, and how to incorporate social media with their current media and marketing plans."
 
Throughout the event, attendees had the opportunity to participate in sessions designed for their professional development – from utilizing various social media platforms properly to lessons on how to pitch story ideas and strategize effectively.
 
Keynote speakers included Vivek Wagle, head of brand stragey, Airbnb; Martin MacDonald, inbound marketing director, Expedia EAN; and Bruce Poon Tip, founder of G Adventures.
 
There was also a marketplace with various tourism boards, tour operators and other travel companies on-hand to speak one-on-one about opportunities with the blogging community.
 
"TBEX is a sign of what social media is doing within tourism boards, destinations and travel brands all over the world," Calvert said. "People’s jobs aren't what they used to be…Obviously the DMOs who understand this opportunity are here."
 
G Adventures representatives at TBEX
Expedia Inc. and G Adventures are two companies strongly involved in the travel "blogosphere." Both were sponsors of TBEX this year, in addition to Tourism Toronto, the Canadian Tourism Commission, the province of Ontario and many others.
 
G Adventures' social media manager, Andrew Hickey, said the company has been tapping into travel bloggers since 2009, "way before it became the 'in' thing."
 
"We've grown with them over the years and continue to identify new and exciting ways to work together," he said.
 
In fact, with their Wanderers in Residence program, G Adventures collaborates with five industry-leading bloggers: Gary Arndt (everything-everywhere.com), Daniel Noll & Audrey Scott (uncorneredmarket.com), Jodi Ettenberg (legalnomads.com) and Nellie Huang (wildjunket.com).
 
That said, Calvert believes that it’s not always necessary for companies to align themselves with already well-known bloggers, for the sake of developing a brand together.
 
"[Travel blogging] is changing and it’s going to keep changing," Calvert said. "There are no rules."
 
"For some destinations or travel businesses, working with a smaller travel blogger may be the right thing to do so they can grow together and help develop their own voice and their own brand and their own destination, along with that blogger who happens to have expertise with that specific content," he explained.
 
And for those companies who have yet to get into the travel blogging junket, he stressed that it’s not too late.
 
"There are a tonne of new people here, there are a tonne of new travel writers here, there are a tonne of first-time destinations here," he said. "It’s not too late. Just because you haven’t done this year doesn’t mean you can never do it; it’s never too late to learn."
 
As of Sunday afternoon, Calvert reported that TBEX had made 140 million impressions on Twitter alone with 12,000 Tweets sent out, not to mention the Instagram posts, YouTube video, blogs, etc… that will come of the event in the days and weeks to come.
 
It has yet to be determined where TBEX North America 2014 will be held, but a European event also takes place on an annual basis. In October, TBEX Europe will make way to Dublin from Oct. 3 and 4, as part of The Gathering Ireland 2013.
 
Calvert expects attendance to be between 700 to 1,000.

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