When I made plans to come home for my sister’s college graduation, I was elated to see that TBEX was taking place the next week in Toronto. Last year’s TBEX in Colorado was one of the highlights of my year, and I vowed to make it part of my 2013 travel schedule as well. To be honest Toronto was never really on my bucket list but in terms of timing and distance — a mere seven hour road trip from Albany! — I couldn’t complain.
And road trip we did. Early Thursday morning I picked up Luke and Trish from the train station and after quick stops raiding my costume closet and having the best bagels Albany has to offer, we set off for Toronto. I was so happy to have these two along for the ride, and we made it just in time for the Thursday evening Travel Massive event.
One of my favorite parts of last year’s TBEX was staying in a big condo with a bunch of other attendees — I made so many dear friends that weekend! But with this year’s event being held downtown in a major city it just wasn’t possible. I ended up at the HI Toronto, a wehostels sponsored stay that I really enjoyed.
I had hoped to spend Friday exploring Toronto, but by the time I settled into the hostel, picked up my conference registration, had a secret business meeting and headed to one Pre-BEX event sponsored by Matador, the day was almost over.
Photo via Kelley Ferro
I was exhausted, but giddy with excitement over the TBEX opening party. Last year’s event had us riding gondolas champagne in hand up to Keystone’s Summit Lodge where we listened to live music and sampled a dessert tent that would make Top Chef contestants weep. So let’s just say there was a lot to live up to.
Toronto Tourism did a good job considering the number of people. There were some nice local touches — Toronto-based musicians and local delicacies like maple syrup reductions and Niagara valley wines. But mostly I was overjoyed to reconnect with friends from last year like Chris and Tawny of Captain and Clark, and finally meet longtime online buddies like Kent and Caanan of No Vacation Required. If you heard rumors that either of these two lovely couples was being held hostage by a short blonde who yapped like an unloved Pomeranian anytime they tried to leave the conversation — I deny any involvement.
Photo via Kelley Ferro
The conference kicked off Saturday morning with a flurry of bloggers trying to decide which of the possible five breakout sessions to attend during each time slot. The three I chose were How to Make Your Blog Usable: Live Blog Critiques, which was a step up from last year’s design breakout but still not quite what I was hoping for, Creative Pitching for Experienced Travel Bloggers, which was one of the highlights of the conference for me, and Using Storytelling to Frustrate and Torment Your Readers. While I was happy to see much more content-based material this year, the storytelling breakout was more of a keynote-level presentation and didn’t inspire me to take a single line of notes.
In the afternoon, I skipped the “Speed Dating” sessions which I had attempted to register from in Indonesia — where the internet connection just laughed at me and said no.
Saturday night was Expedia Party at Centre Island. Again, I had high expectations based on the fabulous event they put on last year. I loved this party before it started for two reasons — one, we had to take a ferry to get there, providing fabulous views of the Toronto skyline, and two, it was a theme party. Which meant costumes.
We were instructed to dress up like a celebrity. I took one look in the mirror and then in my closet and went with the most obvious of all choices — Micheal Jackson.
While I did not win a trip to Vegas again (wow last year really was awesome!), I did get yet another chance to reconnect with long-lost blogging friends. Expedia also unveiled their new Viewfinder program, an exciting new model for ways bloggers and brands can work together.
And then, the view that launched a thousand iPhone shutters and Instagram uploads.
Photo on left via Kelley Ferro
One benefit to holding TBEX in a major city? Fantastic after-party locations. When I looked at the clock and realized I was still dancing the night away at 3am, I accepted that I wouldn’t make the morning keynote speaker (come on, TBEX — let’s have a later start Sunday!)
I did manage to get myself back to the conference center in time for the breakouts, of which I chose to attend Inspiring Traveler’s Decisions, a highly mislabeled session that was basically a Google sales pitch, Turning Your Audience Into a Thriving Community, which was nothing short of excellent, and How to Build an Effective Instagram Strategy, which was probably my most anticipated session and unfortunately was not what I expected. After a few meetings in the afternoon I was already on my way out of Toronto and on to Rochester to visit my sister — it was truly a whirlwind weekend.
So overall, what were my impressions this year?
The content of the breakout sessions was improved, and they served free lunch at the conference this year. Those were the improvements. Unfortunately, comparatively, I would say that this year was a downgrade from the TBEX’12 event. The bar was set very, very high at Keystone and it just wasn’t met in Toronto in my opinion — or in the opinion of many, from the chatter I heard at the conference.
I think most of the problem is size. When you nearly double a 700 person event to more than 1,300 attendees, some quality is going to be lost in that scale. I plan to provide TBEX with my detailed feedback regarding the events and the sessions when they send out their survey this year, because I still do love this conference and want the best for it. But while it was amazing to see some of my blogger buddies and do some valuable networking, I actually left feeling a little more panicked than inspired. Perhaps that is my insecurity shining through — this industry is exploding and I don’t feel confident in where I stand in it, and perhaps this conference was a metaphor for how small a fish I feel in this ocean of travel blogging. I still hope to attend TBEX’14 but I don’t think it’s as much of a priority for me as it was when I left Keystone. I’ll have to wait and see how my year shakes out, and what the location is.