This is a slight departure from what I normally write about, but having recently attended my first TBEX, I wanted to share my thoughts on it.
But First– What Is TBEX?
If you’re not in the travel blog industry, you may not be familiar with TBEX. TBEX bills itself as “the largest conference and networking event for travel bloggers, online travel journalists, new media content creators, travel brands, and industry professionals.”
I would say this description is entirely accurate.
TBEX has been around since 2009 and in that short time has grown to be the industry standard for travel blogging conferences. Events are held around the world three to four times a year. I attended the October 2016 conference in Manila, Philippines.
I had initially considered attending another conference but ultimately decided on TBEX. As it turns out, the other conference was recently abruptly rescheduled for months later, and people who had paid and were unable to change to the new dates were told they would be hit with a cancellation fee. I’m glad I decided on TBEX.
What Happens At TBEX?
There are pre-BEX events, talks, speed networking sessions, lunches, dinners, parties, afterparties, pre-parties, and post-BEX events. And all the while, you’re constantly networking, and not just networking with other bloggers, but brands and session leaders as well.
I will admit I wasn’t prepared for how fast-paced the event was. It was a very busy three days with very little downtime.
There were times when speed networking would end and we would immediately be shuttled to a dinner or party. It was exhausting in the best way possible. One highlight was being shuttled to a cocktail party in a line of transport vans complete with a police escort to get us through heavy traffic in Manila. A police escort. To a cocktail party. I feel a bit ruined now, as I don’t want to go anywhere without a police escort ever again.
For me, constant networking was the best part of the entire event. I made many new friends and connections, was given great advice and constructive criticism, and even met some great business contacts.
I also appreciated the variety of pre and post events. There were hundreds of bloggers in attendance, and although we are all travel bloggers, everyone has a niche. There were adventure travelers, solo female travelers, luxury travelers, drone photographers, travel couples, families, budget backpackers, and several other foodie travelers such as myself.
The available options made it easy to find something within your brand or niche. I signed up for a foodie-related pre-event and my post-event (a FAM or familiarization) trip was a culinary tour of the Visayan region of the Philippines.
I signed up for a walking food tour of the Chinatown region of Manila hosted by Old Manila Walks. The tour was a half-day combination of eating and exploring the city. If you’re ever in Manila, I highly suggest signing up for one of their tours. Our tour leader Ivan was funny, informative, and high energy. Other bloggers were sent on various tours, including spa days, but I felt this one best fit my brand, and I was ultimately very happy with it.
The actual conference-
Conference days were spent attending keynote addresses, breakout learning sessions, and speed networking with brands looking to work with bloggers.
One of the great things about TBEX session speakers is that they’re not just there for their talks and then gone. They stick around for the entire conference. I met Patricia Shultz, an acclaimed author, and keynote speaker, on my pre-BEX trip. Ajay Sood, an award-winning photographer and session speaker, was on my FAM trip, and I was also able to meet Tim Leffel, who I’ve been a fan of for years.
This access to and continued networking with experts was invaluable.
The speed networking sessions were a first for me. Brands and companies from all over the world attended these sessions to meet with bloggers. We were given eight minutes per meeting to strategize and hopefully learn how we could work together. I left with several solid contacts for future work and partnerships that I’m excited about.
There was an event (party) with food and drinks each night. The parties were epic. TBEX truly knows how to throw a party.
Travel Massive hosted a welcome mixer at Raffles bar, home of the world-famous Singapore Sling.
Another night, the Filipino Tourism Board hosted an event to highlight local culture with traditional music, food, dancing, and even a balut eating contest! If you don’t know what balut is, you should Google it, as long as you don’t have a weak stomach!
The final night was the biggest party of the event: a private Octoberfest just for TBEX participants. This was huge, and left several of us who had early flights were hurting the next day! The party offered an all-you-can-drink beer, table after table of food, an insanely awesome live band, and tons of networking. Hands down, this was my favorite party of the event.
I even worked with a local blogger Mark to host an unofficial welcome party for those of us in town before the event started. The welcome party was held on the rooftop of the truly awesome Z Hostel. We had an awesome turnout, and it was a great way to get to know everyone before the event started.
The FAM Trip
Even after the event, during our FAM trips, all costs were covered. Bloggers were sent all over the country to explore and help promote tourism in the Philippines. Our group was sent to discover Cebu and Bohol.
Flights, ground transportation, meals, tours, hotels– all costs were included. Even the hotel near the airport was covered for two nights– once before the trip began, and a night when we returned.
On the actual FAM trip, we stayed at places like the Amorita Resort:
Next we moved to the Shangri-La Mactan where we were treated to spa services:
Every night was a multi-course dinner, usually with wine pairings. Dinners were held at different hotels nightly. Meals looked like this:
We spent time snorkeling, touring heritage sites, trying local foods, and just getting to know the country better.
The diversity of bloggers was one of my favorite things about the FAM trip. Our group consisted of bloggers from all over the world- India, North America, Europe, and the Philippines. We completely meshed and had an incredible time exploring Bohol and Cebu.
What Does TBEX Cost?
I signed up on an early bird special and paid $125. This does not include your hotel or flights, which you will need to book and pay for separately. TBEX does provide a list of hotels that offer discounts for attendees. The hotels were mid-range to high-end, and some of the budget travelers/backpackers did remark that they wished there had been a dorm or guesthouse option.
Several of us remarked that once we had paid for the conference fees and hotel, we didn’t spend any additional money throughout the week. Breakfast is generally included with your hotel, and the conference provided lunch each day.
Even transportation was mostly provided via a shuttle service from participating hotels. In the few instances, transportation wasn’t included, or if we wanted to go somewhere additional, TBEX provided a solution. Discount codes with a local service called Grab Car, which is similar to Uber, were made available. In most cases the discount code fully covered rides.
So– Is TBEX Worth Your Time And Money?
For me, definitely. In fact, I’ve already signed up for a future event that will be held in Jerusalem in early 2017. The connections I made, both business and personal, were worth the price of the ticket. Then, when you factor in the value of the talks, the pre, and post-trips, and included meals and hotels, it’s easy math for me.
I’m looking forward to the next conference, where I’m sure I’ll take as much away as I did from this event.
Special thanks to the Tourism Promotions Board Philippines for the insane hospitality. Their entire team went above and beyond to show us the best of the country. Their efforts were appreciated and not overlooked.
Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.