TBEX North America 2017: Huntsville, Alabama just ended. It was my first time attending the travel blogger exchange conference and here’s my review and thoughts on the event.
I want to commend the Huntsville community and CVB for their hospitality and organization during the few days. Everything was well organized, there were shuttles to the various venues and hotels, and everyone was super friendly and hospitable. I was a bit worried being Asian in the South, but I didn’t feel any ounce of racism or unfriendliness. The Alabama accent is cute too, sounds like how you hear it in the Hollywood movies.
The conference itself was held at the Von Braun Convention Center which is near downtown Huntsville. I stayed at the Springhill Suites which is across the street, but not very accessible for walkers. You need to cut through railroad tracks, a bridge, bushes, etc. It’s 5 mins walking but only 2 mins if there was a direct walkway/bridge across the creek. I tried to take the shuttle as the walk is lonely and unpleasant, especially in the rainy weather.
Apparently TBEX was a big deal in Huntsville. I saw the local news gave TBEX a 5 minute segment and it was featured as the top news story of the day. Guess not much going on that day, haha. I think if it was held in a big city it probably wouldn’t even be mentioned on the local news.
There’s plenty of tours to join for free if you’re a conference go-er. TBEX did a great job of arranging tours of local attractions for visitors. I chose the tour of Nasa’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Honestly I had no idea there was a big space center in Huntsville. I thought it was just Kennedy Space center, so that was really cool.
The tour was well organized, around 50 people attended and split into smaller shuttle vans that went around the huge space center. Learned a lot about the SLS, the rocket they’re testing to eventually go to Mars. It’s not something I’m particularly interested in but it was cool to learn about all of the space stuff. The information was a bit technical, but I suppose that’s to be expected if you are speaking to a bunch of scientists.
No time to attend any post-BEX tours since I left soon after the last seminar was over, but I did want to attend the trip to the Unclaimed Baggage center, where all of the unclaimed bags in the US end up. It’s apparently a store and they sell a lot of good stuff.
The parties were fantastic. Great venues and good networking opportunities to talk to others like yourself. Lumberyard is a neat Alabama feeling venue with tons of different rooms and spaces for live entertainment. I loved being able to walk around and check out the various drinks and food on offer. Best of all it was all free!
The next night they hosted a dinner at the Space and Rocket Center. Since I went on the Marshall trip it was similar feeling, but cool to be wined and dined under the Saturn V rocket which went to the moon, I think. They served German food which I thought to be weird, but after speaking with the catering manager he said it’s because Von Braun was one of the German engineers that came to Huntsville to start the whole rocket science industry. Would’ve been nice if they told us. I was expecting fried chicken, hush puppies, and collard greens, lol.
Onto the actual conference. I found the speakers to be hit or miss. Bruce Poon Tip from G Adventures was a good speaker who spoke about sustainable tourism, but I didn’t like how he was promoting his company so much. Others I spoke with shared the same feeling.
Samantha Brown was the “celebrity” speaker. She’s had tons of famous travel shows on the Travel Channel and had a more general speech about connecting when you travel and experiencing the present, not just seeing things from the past through museums and such. I found her very personable and just like watching her on TV. It was a hoot.
Last speaker, Destin Sandlin, was during lunch and I found it completely un-related to travel. He makes these YouTube videos teaching science which is cool, but why is he speaking at a travel conference? I was so confused and thought it was boring. He kept showing his own science videos and was a neat personality, just not a fit for the theme of the conference.
Seminars / Workshops
This is what I thought I would get the most value out of, wasn’t quite the case. Don’t get me wrong, I did learn a few things here and there but generally the seminars were geared towards those starting out blogging, not those that’ve been around awhile it seems.
The best seminars I felt were 6 Advanced SEO Techniques You Can Apply Today and HOW TO BE A SIX-FIGURE TRAVEL WEBMASTER WHILE IGNORING SOCIAL MEDIA. They were high on valuable information, and low on fluff. Also, these speakers had legitimate travel sites similar to HKTravelBlog so we can try to apply the same practices.
There’s plenty of classes though on photography, social media, where to start, etc. So you should be able to find something you’d enjoy. I did hop around a bit if I didn’t enjoy one of the speakers, the rooms were all next to each other so easy to walk around.
Networking / Attendees
Networking was the most valuable part of the conference. I met all of these people who did different things and we can share thoughts and opinions. We’re so insular behind our computers blogging all day, that we don’t interact with real people doing similar things much. There were supposedly around 600 attendees, though I felt there was a little less than that.
The negative was the crowd was extremely US focused. I barely met any non-Americans and certainly didn’t meet many people running sites that covered items outside of the US. Being hosted in the South, I met a ton of blond ladies writing random blogs about beer, cooking, family travel, pets, home schooling, etc. Obviously everyone has a niche, but I thought I would’ve met more general travel site owners interested in airlines, hotels, transportation, experiences, etc. That wasn’t the case. I did meet one pilot who flew for BA though which was cool.
I think if this conference was held in a larger city, particularly along the coasts they would’ve attracted a larger more global crowd. In fact, a lot of the attendees never been to Asia which I found a bit shocking for a travel conference.
By the way, some of the people I met was Ed and Jennifer Coleman. They have a post about Chattanooga, if you’re looking for a guide!
Overall the conference was cool for my first time. The whole Southern theme from the attendees and sponsors weren’t quite a fit so I don’t see myself going to another one that’s in that type of area. I’ll wait for the next TBEX in Asia before I attend again probably.
The next two announced are in Ireland and Zimbabwe. Africa sounds amazing, since I’ve only been to South Africa, so I might try to attend Zimbabwe, but it’s not until summer 2018, still plenty of time to decide. I hope they announce one in Asia soon, I missed the Manila 2016 conference.