This past week I travelled to Leipzig, Germany to attend the first ever Social Travel Summit. Also known as #STSLeipzig across much of social media, this summit brought together a mixture of travel bloggers, writers, broadcasters, PRs, DMOs, and influencers in the industry for 2 action packed days of learning, networking, idea sharing, and yes, great parties.
I know most of you likely come here to read about travel destinations, however, I thought it would be interesting to write about the other side of the industry – not just the sun-kissed beaches and the lush green rice terraces – but the cool ideas that get thrown around when you bring a group of passionate travellers together.
While I’ve hardly been to any travel conferences (this was only my second!), I know that other events in the travel industry have grown rapidly to attract thousands of travel bloggers. This is one of the main reasons why I appreciated the small intimate setting of the Social Travel Summit; there were lots of familiar faces and it was also easy to casually approach new people.
So for any fellow bloggers or readers who may be interested, here’s a little sneak peek at what it was like at this year’s Social Travel Summit!
Workshops I attended and things I learned:
* Working with Bloggers and Measuring Results *
This talk was led by various industry members representing Costa Brava, Emilia-Romagna and MSC Cruises. Having had the opportunity to work with bloggers, they shared what they’ve learned from blogger-industry relationships.
One of the key points was the importance of an ongoing relationship – ie. you don’t just go on a press trip, chug out a couple of blog posts, and forget about the destination.
Tourism boards appreciate bloggers who follow up with e-mails and stay in touch through social media.
For example, say you went to Costa Brava and wrote about the destination – why not save the interactions you have with readers when they ask you about things to do in this destination over Facebook and Twitter? Or why not forward the emails you get from readers who were inspired by your article and decide to visit this destination for themselves? This is how tourism boards know that the time and money they are investing into bloggers is actually paying off.
Another quote I liked from this workshop was “Under-promise and over-deliver.” Many tourism boards have been burned by bloggers who promised the stars and the moon, but then suddenly went MIA after the press trip. Do the industry a favour and provide the coverage that was agreed upon. And if you can, go above and beyond to show that you value this working relationship!
* Putting your best foot forward with the Media *
Debbie Hindle from Four bgb spoke about preparing for speaking interviews. She drove home the importance of confidence, clarity and control, and made the point that an interview isn’t a conversation, therefore, you need to prepare for these ahead of time and know what you’re going to say so that when the camera is thrown in your face you don’t go ‘ummmm‘ and start rambling ever so inarticulately.
* Report from Navigate the Future Think Tank *
While I didn’t attend the actual Think Tank (I was in another workshop), I did attend the session in review which was led by Alastair McKenzie. The Think Tank was essentially a group of bloggers coming together to discuss issues like bottlenecks in the industry, transparency and ethics, how industry members can go about selecting bloggers for campaigns, the business of blogging, and the future of blogging.
A few of the key points to take away from this vociferous Think Tank included: (1) the importance of creating long-term relationships with the companies and DMOs you work with as opposed to treating these as one-off deals, (2) staying true to your voice and not covering activities simply because they were compensated (ie. if you blog about budget travel, it makes no sense for you to blog about a luxury spa experience that neither you nor your readers can afford), (3) setting clear expectations when you’re working with a DMO so that there are no surprises for either party at the end, (4) pitching creative campaigns because it’s time to start thinking outside of the box!, and (5) paying attention to video because YouTube is a growing platform that has massive potential for travel bloggers.
* At the Intersection of Influence and Purpose *
The closing key-note was given my Dan and Audrey from Uncornered Market. These two are great story tellers who tugged at our heart-strings and made us look back on why we started travelling in the first place. I think when you’ve been in the travel industry for years it’s easy to start taking travel and the exciting opportunities it affords for granted. Their talk made us recall our favourite travel memory and it was a subtle reminder about that initial spark that made us choose a life of travel.
Of course, this is only a (somewhat) brief sampling of some of the workshops I attended. There were other sessions focused on improving your presence as a public speaker, conducting better research on articles and interviews, using platforms like Instagram and Google+, learning to navigate the SEO world, and more.
What I did in Leipzig:
I have to admit that I owe Leipzig a proper visit. The majority of my 2 days in town were spent attending workshops, however, I did get to see a little bit of the city!
On Tuesday night I got to check out the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei. From the exterior this former cotton mill looks like a dated industrial building, however, once you go inside you discover a space that has been transformed by a new school of artists. They have taken this structure and turned it into both their studios and living quarters, where they can pick up a paint brush whenever inspiration strikes!
The following evening I took a very condensed version of Leipzig’s Eat the World Food Tour. This tour seeks to introduce visitors to the city’s culture, history and architecture through a guided walk that takes you to historic sites and local eateries. Of course, this tour was followed by an independent visit to Burgermeister for a Currywurst because as it turns out, gourmet dining doesn’t always satisfy my appetite.
It was at some point during this evening that I got to try Leipzig’s infamous drink: Allasch. Thinking this might turn out to be some kind of fruity beverage, I ordered myself a ‘tall’ glass, only to discover that it was actually a cumin flavoured shot. I’m pretty sure some kind of contorted clown face followed.
And my last evening of the summit wound up at a 70s-themed bar called Flowerpower. Umm, what can I say? There were floating cows, glow-in-the-dark paintings, and free-drink vouchers… It was a lot of fun but I still caught my early morning train the next day, so boom!
Things I hope to see in future summits:
The Social Travel Summit had a very casual networking session which in a way was cool because you got to talk to people without really knowing whether they were a blogger or an industry member right away – it was more about the person rather than ‘what they had to offer’. However, if you’re the kind of blogger who is hoping to walk away with a lot of contacts then a formal speed-dating session (say TBEX style) might be more to your liking. I’m not saying one approach is better than the other – I’m just putting that thought out there.
Secondly, I would love it if hotels offered their guests free Wi-fi! While a separate Wi-fi account had been set up to cater to bloggers for the duration of the summit, this only worked on the ground level and the first floor where the sessions were being held. In Europe, that means you pay through the roof for daily internet access.
And lastly, perhaps a little more time to explore the host destination. Leipzig seemed like a really cool city which I would have loved to explore further and share with you readers, however, my time there was limited. Then again, this gives me another reason to come back to Deutschland, and I can’t complain about that.
And that’s a wrap!