For many years TBEX owned the travel blogger conference scene and put up conferences in North America, Europe, and Asia.
In 2018 a new conference came along, TravelCon by Nomadic Matt, and seeks to disrupt the standard.
I attended both conferences in 2018 (TBEX in the Finger Lakes, NY and TravelCon in Austin, Texas) and as a serial conference attendee thought it would be appropriate to put in my two cents on which conference is right for you moving forward.
Please note: I attended TravelCon in 2018 as well as TBEX North America in 2013, 2014, 2017, and 2018. I won my ticket to TravelCon in 2018 from a vendor and paid for my ticket to TBEX; however, I was a hosted speaker twice in the past. All comparisons in this post are between the 2018 events alone which took place one week apart from each other. I'm an affiliate for Matt's Superstar Blogging Course but I have no vested interest in steering you to one conference or another.
What is Included in TBEX and Travelcon?
On the surface, TravelCon and TBEX have very similar structures as far as conferences go. They each include several days of sessions, opening/closing parties, some lunches, and speed networking sessions with brands. Put them side by side and the inclusions are virtually identical at the highest level.
During its first year, TravelCon had two full days of sessions and a third day split between additional sessions in the morning and an intense 3+ hour networking schedule in the afternoon. TBEX traditionally has two days of sessions with shorter speed networking sessions at the end of each afternoon.
Both conferences have workshop opportunities as well. TravelCon includes these in the ticket price (more on price below) and wove their scheduling in with the sessions, and TBEX provides them on a day before or after the conference for an additional charge. For those who opt for this add-on at TBEX, expect an intense three day schedule just as with TravelCon. (Note, TravelCon's workshops require reserving a slot and they do book up- so we could envision a scenario where some ticket holders do not get to participate.)
Parties at both events vary in terms of how much food, alcohol, transportation, or entertainment are included. One party at TravelCon had an open bar with no food, another had limited food with one drink ticket, as well as a third that I unfortunately had to miss. Both parties at TBEX had open bars and free flowing food but were fairly disorganized (and the middle night had no party at all).
TBEX is known for including pre/post day tours and FAM trips at most conferences, and virtually all bloggers are able to access at least one day tour and many smaller established blogs can get on a FAM trip despite having fairly low blogging stats. TravelCon only added day tours on at the last minute for a “discount” which did not appear to be very much at all. Oops.
Purely from a conference setup standpoint, TravelCon and TBEX were virtually identical and are hard to differentiate. If you are visiting to explore the region as much as you are attend the conference (which if you're a travel blogger we're guessing you are), we give a slight edge to TBEX here for the day tour/FAMs alone. But this could also swing wildly based on the destination from year to year as well.
The rest truly are on an equal playing field.
Caliber of Speakers, Brands, and Target Audience
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As an advanced travel blogger, I get little out of talks at most travel blogging events and this is true from both TBEX and TravelCon. I can't say I got but more than one or two takeaways from any of the sessions I attended at either conference and often get the most out of simply talking to people in passing, at lunch, or at one of the many parties.
So for this one I'm going to focus on what it is like for those who are beginner or intermediate only.
TBEX has a reputation of targeting beginner bloggers and has had a hard time shaking the stereotype. Talks are oriented to beginner and intermediate bloggers, and most of the sessions are led by travel bloggers themselves. In fact, one of the downsides to TBEX is that they often get the same speakers to return year after year, and 2018 wasn't that different even if the topics are often fairly fresh.
TravelCon is attempting to move beyond this and had a larger speaker list of well known individuals both inside and out of the travel blogging industry. Talks were also oriented to beginners and intermediate bloggers, but felt like it shifted a bit more intermediate/advanced in certain sessions. A downside to all this, however, is that a few speakers were not in travel at all and could not speak to the specific challenges travel bloggers face as much as I would've liked even though they were highly regarded as experts in their fields.
From a brand aspect, TBEX attracts a lot of regional tourist boards close to the conference destination as well as many national and global travel brands (in 2018 the most notable were Booking.com, Sri Lanka, and South Korea to name a few). TravelCon attracted fewer regional tourist boards and more state / national tourist boards as well as extremely recognizable travel brands (TripAdvisor, Bluehost, Intrepid, etc.).
From a speed networking aspect, TBEX gets an edge for having a higher brand-to-blogger ratio. TravelCon had more time to mingle with brands outside of networking, but fewer overall from a big picture (part of this is likely due to being their first year, however).
So, how does this all work together?
I give the edge to TravelCon on this one as while the largest chunk of participants are truly beginners at each, TravelCon had a refreshing feel and more categories covered by experts- from a big picture at least. However, they do not have a track record of continually doing so like TBEX does, so that aspect remains to be seen. If they attract even more brands in the future, the content aspect of the conference will be even stronger than it was in 2018.
Organization of TBEX and TravelCon
I normally have high praise when it comes to organization of TBEX conferences, but 2018's conference was fairly disjointed and communication was a big issue.
The opening night party had different buildings to walk/shuttle between, and no one knew this until well after the party started. One day of lunch had food trucks with meal tickets, but we only later found out that each ticket had a $6 maximum (and the lines were insanely long). The speed networking tables were organized at random, and not so easy to figure out where to go. I could go on, but let's just leave it with communication wasn't the greatest and it showed many times over.
TravelCon bypassed a lot of this with an app that sent push notifications about what was going on. Speed networking tables were organized alphabetically, and one lunch was spaced out by time slots to go eat with minimal crowds (however day-of communication on where to go was a bit less than polished). As I did virtually no preparation for each conference before visiting, I was pretty impressed with TravelCon especially when considering this was the very first conference.
From an organizational aspect, TravelCon gets a large edge for 2018. I was skeptical that they'd pull it off well on the first try, and I am still a bit stunned that they did. This sets the bar high for them in future events.
Price of TBEX and TravelCon
The price point of TBEX begins with an early bird rate of about $157 and last minute / highest pricing of $297 per blogger (and a sliding scale as time goes on). Workshops are generally $150 more per session, so if you get an early bird rate plus one workshop you're looking at about $300 all-in before accommodation/transportation/select meals/etc.
TravelCon's early bird ticket begins at $399 and has a highest price point of $499 per blogger with a similar sliding scale over time. Workshops are included in this price as well as photo walks and meetups. Day tours and FAM trips are not included in this price so if you are looking to experience a premium tour before or after this could drive up the cost a bit further as well.
From a price point alone I would give TBEX the edge as the pre/post travel opportunities are a great added value for those who can access them. For those who do not, TBEX offers only a nominal edge on TravelCon given the number of sessions. But if you plan to add on a workshop into TBEX and not take up the travel opportunities, the pricing is more or less a wash.
Overall, TBEX or TravelCon?
When it comes down to it, I have a hard time making a distinction between the two events (and the fact that I did not rush out to buy an early bird ticket for either in 2019 speaks to this).
On one hand, TBEX offers a huge amount of networking opportunities with brands, pre/post trips, and FAM tours all included in the relatively low ticket price (some tours pending acceptance based on blog metrics, of course). On the other hand, the first TravelCon had a wide array of topics covered by the best in the industry as well as other unique features like included writing and photography workshops that are an extra charge at TBEX.
For you, it boils down to what you are looking to get out of the event.
For those who are interested in exploring the destination as much as taking in the conference, TBEX still has the edge insofar as the destination is a spot you actually wish to visit for a while. Pre/post FAM and day tour opportunities are a big sell for those who can get accepted and the talks/networking opportunities will provide value for bloggers of all caliber (even if it skews towards new bloggers).
For those who are are looking for something a bit more robust, more networking, or perhaps have been to a TBEX or two before and want something new, TravelCon offers a nice alternative and did not disappoint. It is a premium price upfront, but if you are interested in workshops over the travel opportunities the price point is fairly similar. Still great for new bloggers, but perhaps has a bit more oomph for the more established crowd out there who are still working towards being full time.
For me, I have to wait for the schedule / brand profiles to be posted.
I'd like to think of myself as a relatively advanced blogger (I make a living off of it and am close to six figures revenue, after all), and I didn't get much out of the sessions at either conference in 2018. I really only look at networking, proximity to my home, or travel perks when picking a conference like this to attend, and I got enough out of both to justify the costs.
TravelCon's first year attracted more advanced bloggers to network with which gave it a slight edge for me personally, but whether the crowd will continue to return remains to be seen (they were almost all speakers and got paid to be there, after all).
What I do know is that competition is never a bad thing, and I expect both to conferences to put their best foot forward in order to grow their market share and out perform each other moving forward. Otherwise, one will have a real problem, real fast.
The future of travel blogging conferences will be quite interesting indeed.
Final note- It was not my intent to avoid make a clear choice when writing this post. To be honest, it more or less happened after writing out the main category topics above. I would like to believe the above provides enough detail for all cases to help you pick based on what you would like to get out of a conference. But if it does not or you have any questions, do not hesitate to comment below and ask!
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