How to Prepare for Your First Travel Conference
I’m fairly new to the travel blogging world, so I’m always looking for new ways to take my skills to the next level and expand my brand. I decided to attend ITB Berlin, which is the world’s leading travel trade show for the travel & tourism industry. My intentions were to make new connections and contacts with hotels, tour operators and tourism boards. It was important to me to “get in the room” and take my blog to the next level. With over 109,000 people in attendance and 10,000 exhibitors representing 184 countries, ITB Berlin was a monster on its own.
Now that I’ve had a chance to digest what I saw and heard, here’s a few tips about how to prepare for your first travel conference.
9 Tips for Bloggers Attending Their First Travel Conference
1. Research the Conference and the Exhibitors
It may seem obvious, but you should read as much as you can about the conference, so you know what to expect when you arrive. The worst thing you can do is invest money in flights, hotels, registration fees and other expenses and not find value in the conference. I learned about ITB Berlin just one week prior to the opening sessions, so it was a last-minute decision. But after researching, I found it to be a valuable conference to meet tons of new potential business contacts.
Be sure to ask yourself these questions:
- What is the focus or theme of the conference?
- Is there any early bird or reduced fee?
- What types of exhibitors and vendors will be on-site?
- Are there any workshops or panels that would interest you?
- Are you eligible for media/blogger credentials?
- Are any exhibitors open or looking to work with bloggers/influencers?
- Are you able to set appointments with exhibitors or other bloggers before the conference begins?
- Will all the programming take place in one building or will it take place in multiple locations?
- Are there any organized tour opportunities before or after the conference?
Be sure to sign up for meet-and-greet sessions, blogger speed dating, special workshops, happy hours, or blog tours as there is typically limited space and on first-come-first-served basis. Tip: Registering early can increase your chances of getting spots at the events you want to attend.
2. Update Your Media Kit
All bloggers (that want to be taken seriously, at least) should have a media kit or press kit. Your media kit should be visually appealing and reflect you and your blog, so you’ll definitely want to put some time into it as it could be a factor in whether a potential sponsor decides to work with you or not.
If you don’t have a media kit, I would spend some time looking at some examples and create one of your own. Don’t fret if you’re not a Photoshop wiz-kid, you can create them in Microsoft Word as well. Blog Maven offers some great tips for creating a kick ass media kit. Media kits should include an introduction section that briefly describes yourself and your blog, your blog statistics, readership demographics, social media reach and links, any blog awards or press features, your contact information, services you offer, and any past partnerships (if you have them).
If you already have a media kit, review it and make sure there are no grammatical or spelling mistakes. Carefully update any graphics, blog stats, social media follower numbers, contact info, etc. Be sure to bring along a few physical copies to the conference and also have a digital copy that’s readily available. Tip: I found that having my media kit open on my iPad mini was the best tactic.
3. Invest In Quality Business Cards
Why does a travel blogger need business cards? Most people might think that handing out business cards is an antiquated practice, but they are still the most convenient way to get your contact information into the hands of professionals at the conference. It’s a good idea to invest in a good set of business cards for your blog and keep these handy at all times during the conference. Tip: I kept mine in my event lanyard to avoid digging in my purse each time.
Generally speaking, your business card should list: your name, your contact information, blog name, and website URL. However, it’d be a smart choice to also include: blog logo, a photo of you, your primary social media accounts, and any other vital information. The design of your cards should match your blog and be visually engaging. I used MOO, which is a great website for high-quality, affordable, and fast cards. You can choose your own design or customize one of their templates. I love Moo’s online system because they allow you to use up to 100 different visuals on your cards without an additional charge. It’s a brilliant way to highlight some of your best travel photos and Instagram pics!
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4. Organize Your Schedule & Be On Time!
Before the conference, you should print off the conference schedule and decide what parts of the program you plan to attend as there are often many events going on at any one time, i.e if you are interested in “ecotourism”, be sure to visit those booths! It’s also helpful to make your own spreadsheet in Excel that just includes the events want to attend and exhibitors you plan to visit. Be sure to also include social events and any meetings you have set up that may not be on the main schedule.
Head to the conference website and begin researching who else will be there (bloggers, speakers, exhibitors) and make a list of the people who you would like to meet and why. Learn a little about the person, destination, or tourism board before the conference. Come prepared with how you think you might be able to collaborate with them. You need to think about what you can realistically offer a business partner and how you can help best promote their product, service, or destination.
Try to set appointments with the exhibitors you REALLY want to partner with. This is where registering and preparing early goes a long way. Some exhibitors book their schedule months in advance. Also, be realistic when setting up your schedule as back-to-back meetings may not be a good idea in some cases as the distance across convention centers can be extensive (and exhausting!) and some events may be in separate buildings.
5. Prepare Properly & Dress for Success
Preparing ahead of time will prevent you from stressing out and looking unprofessional. As you pack for the trip, be mindful of the following:
- Bring along a professional looking bag or organizer that you can carry around and store all your daily essentials, like: water, snacks, breath mints, compact mirror, comb, aspirin, pens, notebook, laptop or tablet, travel charger, business cards and media kits.
- Be mindful of all the handouts, business cards, and brochures you’ll be collecting throughout the day.
- If you are planning to meet with travel industry professionals, dress in a professional manner. This doesn’t mean a suit, but you should dress in manner that makes you look like someone who can be taken seriously. A nice blazer, shirt, or blouse, paired with a nice pair of jeans will work fine. Be yourself while striking a nice balance between dressing up and being comfortable.
- Treat it like a job interview. In the end, you are interviewing with potential business partners. Put some effort into your physical presentation.
- Comfortable shoes are a must as you’ll be on your feet a lot during the day and covering a lot of ground if the conference is massive. No one will judge you for wearing a nice, clean pair of sneakers.
6. Be Your Own Biggest Fan (And Statistician)
When selling yourself and your blog to potential business partners, you should be aware of what sets you apart from every other blogger (and blog) out there. You’d be amazed by how many bloggers can’t give a concise description of their blog’s demographics, mission, or their statistics. You’ll need to come up with something called an “elevator pitch.” An elevator pitch is a concise description of yourself, your blog, your niche, and what sets your blog apart from the others. It should be less 1 minute. The best way to get comfortable with it, is to practice, practice, practice with friends and family.
Trust me, PR, sales, and marketing managers will ask you these types of questions over and over. Be sure you can answer these questions like second nature:
- What is your blog about? Do you only focus on travel?
- What’s your niche?
- What’s the mission of your blog?
- What are your audience demographics? Where are you readers located? Ages?
- What is your Google Page Rank?
- What is your average monthly page views and unique visitors?
- How many social media followers do you have?
- What types of services do you offer?
Think of yourself as a one-person marketing-sales-cheerleader team for your blog as you will need to promote your blog and yourself throughout the conference. If you can’t answer these questions, I’d suggest you do some heavy research or postpone attending a conference until you’re properly prepared.
7. Sell Yourself, Your Blog & Project Confidence
Most people feel anxiety about approaching strangers (which is completely normal!), but once you get
over the first few awkward conversations you’ll begin to feel a lot better. I found that starting with vendors you’re not really interested in or ones that don’t have a lot of foot traffic, works well to build your confidence.
During your talks with travel professionals, remember that you are there to sell your blog and promote it. Remember to project confident and point out the strengths and unique aspects of your blog. Highlight what you can offer them and what you bring to the table. Don’t let yourself get bogged down into saying things like “I don’t have that many followers yet”. It may be true that you don’t have a huge social media following yet, but try to focus the conversation on the highlights and what you can offer rather than the areas of weakness. If you get a sense that the person is not interested, start ending the conversation, hand them your business card, and thank them for their time. Move onto the next person and don’t dwell on conversations that don’t go as well as you planned as you’ll likely be surprised by how well most conversations do go.
8. Take Breaks! Your Mind (And Feet) Will Thank You!
Once you find your groove, it’s hard to the stop. You just want to keep going. I found myself going from booth to booth, hall to hall for hours at a time. Barely stopping for lunch or breaks. Listen to me: take breaks. Hydrate by drinking lots of water. Rest your feet. Eat a proper lunch. Use this time to mentally reset and process the information you’ve taken in. Jot down notes about things you want to remember and who said them. Once you’ve rest, get back out there!
Also, don’t forget to have fun! Most travel shows and conferences are packed with musical and dance performances, food & wine tastings, demonstrations, test trials, and interactive displays. At ITB, the Indonesian tourism board was giving out free Balinese back massages!
9. Follow Up… Follow Up… Follow Up!
It’s over! Well… not quite. Actually, this is where the real work begins and those notes come in handy! Conferences are a whirlwind of moving and shaking, and you’ll be exhausted by the end.
Once you’re back home and settled, go through your notes and send out thank you emails, follow-up on business ideas you pitched , and get in touch with new blogger friends. Remind these busy industry folks of the potential projects you discussed. Stay in touch with new blogger friends by following them on social media. Follow the accounts of the companies, brands and destinations you met. They’ll likely return the gesture which can help you stay in touch.
After these big conferences, everyone is busy, so it takes being proactive on your end if you expect a return on your investment. It’s up to you to take the initiative to further the business partnership. Remember, close mouths don’t get fed! Tip: When emailing, be sure to attach you media kit, so they’re aware of your stats.
My overall impression of ITB Berlin is that is it very well-organized trade show with a great range of vendors and exhibitors, which can make it feel overwhelming, by sheer size and magnitude. I was one of two female bloggers of color, so even amongst the crowds, I felt I stuck out like a sore thumb. I found that I got the warmest and most helpful discussions at the booths where there we
re also people of color represented. I can’t tell you how nice it felt to get ushered over with genuine smiles (and even some hugs!) from the ladies at the Caribbean island stands.
Even if I didn’t get a “warm and fuzzy” feeling from a booth, I learned that if you just sit around and don’t take the initiative to go up and talk to people, you’ll likely find yourself missing out on a lot of potential relationships and collaborations. So don’t be timid, hold your head high and approach the booths with confidence.
I admit ITB Berlin is not the best conference for new travel bloggers, but most exhibitors took the time to hear me out. I’ll definitely attend future travel blog conferences, but those that are catered to bloggers and influencers.
If you’re interested in attending travel trade shows and travel blogger conferences, check out some of these:
- Build Your Blog Conference
- Southern C Conference
- Travel and Adventure Show
- Women’s Travel Fest
- TBEX International
- New York Times Travel Show
- TBEX North America
- Arabian Travel Market
- Travel Bootcamp
- World Travel Market- London
- Women in Travel Summit
- Skift Global Forum: Europe
- B Connected
- Eye for Travel Summit
- Travel Classics Writer’s Conference
- International Pow Wow
Have you attended any travel trade blog conferences or travel trade shows? How did you prepare? What was your greatest takeaway? Leave comments below!