What I Learned at the Getaway Travel Blogger Conference 2012

I was delighted to find out that South Africa now has its own version of TBEX in the form of the Getaway Travel Blogger Conference (more fondly known as GTBC). It took me all of 5 minutes to make up my mind to go when I read about it two weeks prior to the event, so I hastily reserved our seats and booked tickets for me and Gareth to fly down to Cape Town and stay at the hotel hosting the conference. I was so excited that day I could hardly concentrate on anything else.

The conference was this past weekend and I wasn’t disappointed. Although it spanned all of Saturday, from 8:30 to 17:00, with an after-party to boot, I had so much fun that I hardly even realised I was at a conference. The speakers were all incredibly interesting, even to Gareth who isn’t a travel blogger himself, and some of them were downright hilarious. Even before anyone had said a word I was impressed by the fantastic contents of the goodie bag (or “greatie” bag as someone rightly tweeted).

There have already been some fantastic write-ups of the event and the key information presented by the speakers, so I will just give a brief overview of the points that were applicable to me and this blog in particular.


The Speakers 

The CEO of Cape Town Tourism, Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, spoke about travel in the digital age and what I found particularly interesting was that she said that the unique selling point nowadays is no longer the destination, but rather the personal story told about the destination.

Keith Jenkins from Velvet Escape expounded on that thought by noting that readers follow certain blogs because of the personality of the blogger. Although readers like to read about travel, they will return to your blog because of your personality. Of course, quality content and powerful images are the most important aspects of a good blog, but posts should be written from a personal perspective and never be generic. He also emphasised the importance of social media for travel bloggers, not only for marketing purposes, but also to have a personal connection with your readers.

Cameron Ewart-Smith, Editor of Getaway magazine, humorously explained that good ideas do not always come with a flash of insight in a Eureka moment, but are the results of hard work, collaboration with creative people and daydreaming.

Guy With Camera’s Andrew Brauteseth inspired me to see, feel and experience more. He passionately explained why good images are so important and why even the best sunset photo is just another sunset photo unless you can present it in a unique way. Your work should always be full of emotive content, and you should create first and analyse later. He also reiterated that social media is about being social, and that platforms such as Twitter and Facebook should be used to connect with others.

Melvin Boecher from Travel Dudes astounded me with his information on the impact that tweets can have and gave some very helpful hints and tips on how to manage and leverage social media to connect with readers and market your work.

The lovely Nellie Huang from Wild Junket gave a very helpful and informative talk on how to write well to drive traffic to your site. Some important points highlighted were picking your niche and using certain writing techniques to keep interest and increase readership.

SA Tourism’s E-Marketing Global Manager, William Price, also highlighted the importance of building strong connections in the digital era through personal story writing and building trust.

“Bloggers are brands,” said Matt Long from Landlopers. He urged us to know our own worth as influencers and trend setters, but to remember that our readers trust us. He also noted the importance of personal story writing in gaining, and keeping, readers.

Joseph Lawrence from Qlickshape managed to make the technical side of Google Analytics interesting, helping me to realise how I can use it to get to know my readership better. Importantly, he also mentioned that we should ensure that our blogs are optimised for reading on all platforms, most notably mobile phones.

The side-splitting Mike Sharman from Retroviral had us all rolling in the aisles while explaining the importance of the three R’s: Remarkable content + Relevant influencers = Results.

Dave Duarte from the Ogilvy Digital Marketing Academy showed us how to make our blogs awesome by creating interesting content, allowing readers to participate and then responding by communicating with them.

The talks were ended off by a particularly inspiring message from Jacqueline Lahoud, Getaway’s publisher, urging us to write, share, lead and educate and not to be afraid to lead or be the first follower of something that we believe in.

Personal Lessons

After listening to all these talks and considering their advice, I have come to the following conclusions:

  • I do not want to make travel blogging my full time job. I am not interested in marketing myself and this blog as a business, but would rather focus on writing good content and improving my writing skills.
  • I need to use Nellie’s writing tips to create better posts and although this blog is a personal travel diary, not all posts have been good stories about my personal experiences. This is an area I can improve upon.
  • Like Andrew from Guy With Camera, I need to focus more on the details that make my travel experiences special and unique.
  • I endeavour to eventually get a better camera (and learn how to use it properly) so I too can share beautiful pictures on this blog.
  • I need to engage more with other people using social media. I intend to create a Facebook page for this blog and more actively use Twitter.
  • I am considering migrating to Word Press, or at the very least, obtain a personal URL.

So, as you can see, GTBC was a very fruitful event and I hope that I will be able to use some of what I learned to make this blog better.

Were you at GTBC? Did you find it helpful and interesting? What have you taken from the conference?

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