Several months ago, I decided to take my career in a new direction and focus on my love of travel, and actually use my journalism degree. I had an opportunity to attend the TBEX Travel Blog Exchange Conference, a blogger conference in Manila. What better way to dive head-first into the world of travel blogging than to attend a conference specifically for this industry. Below are some helpful tips for making the most of the TBEX Travel Blog Exchange Conference.
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- 1 Make the most of the TBEX Travel Blog Exchange Conference
- 1.1 Book flights early for the cheapest options
- 1.2 Watch out for flight discounts
- 1.3 Book the Conference Hotel
- 1.4 Look out for new hotels
- 1.5 Prepare to network
- 1.6 Sign up for Free Events
- 1.7 Be strategic about the sessions to attend
- 1.8 Attend all the lunch and dinner gatherings
- 1.9 Check out the Speed Networking session even if you are new
- 1.10 Sign up for everything, even if you don’t feel qualified
- 1.11 Make new friends
Make the most of the TBEX Travel Blog Exchange Conference
Sign up during TBEX ‘Early Bird’ timeframe
I was keen to hear what industry experts had to say about the life, management and travails of owning/operating a travel blog. But in reality, I was pretty non-committal about this conference. Manila, nor the Philippines, was not one of my must-return-to destinations since I had a crappy experience there in 2011, but frankly, the cost of the conference was a ‘throw-away’ at only $157 for a 3-day event. Even if I didn’t go, it wasn’t that much money out of pocket. So I signed up, paid and was going – at least on email. Had I known about the conference earlier, I could have saved a bit with the ‘early bird’ discount. It’s usually good up until about 4 months before the conference.
You have the ability to sign up for a free pre-conference event, and the more experienced bloggers can apply to attend a post-conference FAM trip. Wow, what a dream that would be.
Involve a friend
I mention the conference to a blogger-friend who says she may be interested in joining. She knows nothing of the Philippines and what I experienced previously. Her enthusiasm is over the top, kind of like when you say to your dog, “Wanna go for a ride in the car?” She is psyched! Ok, so the thought of going once again was taking shape in the name of ‘career advancement.’ If you are sitting on the fence, but you know you should attend a conference, try and encourage someone to go with. That way, you will not back out.
Book flights early for the cheapest options
Flying from London may or may not be expensive depending on how you plan it. Philippines Airlines is the only carrier that flies direct from London to Manila. They dominate the market and charge what they want. Otherwise, you have to connect first, usually in Singapore, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur.
I’m a big fan of online discount travel agencies, and I gladly spend days searching the cheapest flight using a number of different city combinations. Anyway, it’s not time wasted, as the thought of grabbing a cheap seat and going somewhere exotic is always appealing.
Watch out for flight discounts
Trolling one site, I came across what is called an Error Fare – someone or some machine missed adding the cost of fuel, or a tax, and it is mega cheap. But you have to book quick; like that same day. The dates coincide with the conference perfectly, and I say, ‘Carpe Diem’ and book a round trip for $339. It is an amazing deal for a 17-hr flight. Fine. The flight is 5 hours longer with the layover and change of planes, but I have nothing but time, anyway. Typically prices are double that, so the Gods are in favor of me going.
Ironically, I came across another error fare that week, but this time in Business Class on a Middle Eastern carrier for my blogger-friend who only flies Business. Middle East airlines are some of the best and safest in the world, and their cabins and seats bar none. Trust me. In this political climate, I trust Emirates, Qatar and Oman Air more than others, even though it may take longer!
Any rate, well done, me! She books, saving easily $1000 and I am guaranteed to know someone there. Keep track of those websites. If you are flexible, you will save a ton of money, which means you can splurge elsewhere.
Book the Conference Hotel
Based on the conference dates, I would be in Manila six nights. I like to arrive a few days ahead to acclimate to the time zone and chill a bit. And with that amount of time, I always split up my stay. I never book a hotel for more than three nights if I’ve never been there before. If I hate it, I’m not too screwed. On the other hand, I can review more than one hotel. So I needed two hotels.
I have attended a ton of conferences, and I now stay at the main conference hotel itself during an actual conference. That means three nights at the Sofitel Philippines Plaza Hotel. TBEX offers a variety of options in different price ranges – all with transport to and from the conference hall. However, having learned from the trip in 2011, I wanted to be within walking distance to the conference. That means spending more to be at the main hotel. Yes, you can certainly find something cheaper, but then you are spending more on cabs, time in traffic, and missing networking opportunities. It’s simply not worth. Always book one of the conference hotels.
Look out for new hotels
Aside from knowing I will stay at the venue hotel, I personally like staying in new hotels or those that have undergone a renovation. In Asia, book western hotels. I’ve learned the hard way over the years that a 5* local hotel is not a 5* western one. After a quick search on, “new hotels in Manila,” I discover the 5* Conrad Hilton has just opened and it is also on TBEX’s list of recommended hotels. Sweet! A discounted 5* and a brand I know and love. Fantastic. The first three nights will be at the Conrad and the last three nights at the 5* Sofitel near the conference. All set.
These hotels, while discounted, are still expensive by Filipino standards, but I do not want to risk staying in a crappy place. Some friends who booked a great, but cheap condo, said that while their stay is nice, the next time they will book a venue hotel for the convenience and networking. Another benefit of staying in a venue hotel is that they shuttle you from your hotel to all the after-hour events. Safe and easy to get home and to meet more people.
Prepare to network
While I am generally an extroverted introvert – yes that term does exist, conferences like these are no time to hide, especially if you are there to learn something. You have to suck it up, get out there, introduce yourself and throw caution to the wind, at least for a few days. You will find time to recuperate later.
Sign up for Free Events
As part of the conference, you choose a free pre-conference experience. We can choose from riding through Manila on a bamboo bike, touring the historic Old Town, a luxury shopping experience, visiting a traditional village, or a spa treatment.
Scour the options ahead of time, make notes of what is interesting, and put a note in your calendar to sign up the week bookings open. Do what you need to, but keep track of things, particularly since a conference like this starts taking on quite a financial investment. The conference is inexpensive, but you have to add flights, 6 nights in hotels, meals and any post travel. Make the most of it.
I decide on a traditional spa treatment. I’ve had some funky spa treatments in India and Asia, and wanted something for comparison. Once my email reminder appears, I check back every day to secure the spa treatment I want. I have no idea how many people are vying for this, so I stay on top of dates and book it. Well done, me!
Be strategic about the sessions to attend
A few weeks ahead of the conference, carefully review all the material to plan out your days. I am on a mission to make the most of this. There are quite a few simultaneous sessions, so I need to be realistic about what is most important. They even have a session on being a newbie. But TBEX has a newbie section on their website. Read that and skip the session.
Attend all the lunch and dinner gatherings
Next, attend all the lunch and dinner events offered. They pack so much into this conference. There is an opening buffet and show on Friday night with folk dancing, beautiful traditional costumes and a free bar. On Saturday there is breakfast, a break, lunch and a party in the evening. On Sunday we have breakfast, a break, and a traditional ‘Boodle Fight’ lunch where you eat with your hands. Then, we have another coffee break and an Oktoberfest-style closing ceremony in a huge venue with really great German food. Plus free beer all night long! The night ended up with people dancing on the tables. You can sleep when you get home. Do everything you can.
Check out the Speed Networking session even if you are new
We have the ability to set 8-minute meetings with tourism bureaus, hotels, and travel booking engines. Since my blog wasn’t live, and I’d never done this conference before, I didn’t sign up. I linger around the break out area and pick up useful brochures and info, so it isn’t all lost.
Sign up for everything, even if you don’t feel qualified
The FAM trips are quite interesting, but since my blog wasn’t live, I didn’t bother signing up. But who wouldn’t want a 3-day, all-expense paid trip to an island destination, like Palawan, Cebu or Iloilo? Three of my blogger friends whose blogs are live for less than a year are accepted. I kick myself knowing I should have launched my blog before the conference. The next time I will definitely apply for a free FAM trip.
Make new friends
I believe that powers greater than you put you in situations where you need to be. As I wait for my spa treatment, I meet a few other American bloggers doing the same treatment. Our treatment consists, in part, of being in a Jacuzzi together wearing nothing more than paper panties.
You know, spending time with women you don’t know, in nothing but a pair of skivvies, is quite unnerving. But you are also connected on a different level since you are literally, exposing yourself. While we are bobbing around in a Jacuzzi listening to one another’s amazing stories, I feel a strong bond to these fun and crazy women. I gravitate to them throughout the conference. We spent an impromptu experience of being nothing more than bodies with well-traveled histories.
TBEX is a great conference. You get 2 days of conference, a free pre-conference event, a potential 3-day FAM trip, and meals for $157. It’s a great price to pay, but also allows those with limited funds the opportunity to get a lot for their money. I am definitely be going again. For more information, go to the TBEX website. Hope to see you there!