TBCAsia’s done and dusted, and I’ve finally gotten back to work. For those who haven’t heard of it, Travel Bloggers’ Conference Asia was an event put together by Cinnamon Hotels and the might of John Keells; it brought together some of the world’s most popular travel bloggers – into a single conference room.
But perhaps more important was the tour, held before the conference. In it, they took some 40-odd bloggers to Colombo, Habarana, Polonnaruwa, Beyruwala and Galle.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to harp on how awesome Sri Lanka was. It is, but that tale is perhaps better told by others – travelers with a more experienced eye, perhaps, and more lands in their wake. Instead, I’m looking at the conference as a whole.
Firstly, few people in Sri Lanka understand content, and how to leverage content for pushing something. Sri Lanka, as a whole, is still stuck in 1999. Banner ads, horrible, overcomplicated marketing copy, pompous dressing up of even the stupidest of affairs, people trying to pay for higher review scores – yes, that’s good old Sri Lankan marketing at work.
Cinnamon went about this in a very smart way. Get down a whole bunch of people with massive digital reach. Give them a really good time – on Cinnamon properties, with Sri Lankan hospitality, at Cinnamon’s expense. Give them something useful so that everybody benefits (the conference). And when they start talking, on their own channels, it’s a tidal wave of content reaching out to millions of people, pushing both Sri Lanka and the hotels.
All of this is honest. It’s honest, believable content – real stories, real tweets, real photos – delivered by people who’ve spend years crafting online reputations, and it’s entirely free of the automatic knee-jerk suspicion one directs to a press release written by an ad man.
It clearly worked. Notice how many times I’ve mentioned Cinnamon in this post alone?
Secondly, travel blogging. It’s an amazing field, one dynamically at odds with the tech blogging I indulge in day in and day out. The techscape changes fast: something’s interesting only as long as it’s news, unless it’s an interview. In contrast, travel blogging is much more laid back: a destination is a destination and it’ll be the same today, tomorrow, a month down the line. The velocity of information is much, much less, which means there’s more time to experience the subject and craft meaningful narratives around that.
I envy that. I envy the fact that you can sit down by the sea and let it sink in until the perfect sentence forms in your mind. There’s a strange beauty in that, a sort of stillness miles apart from the hyperconnected now-now-now information mill that we live in everyday.
Somewhere along the line I also picked up some great advice by Allison Busacca, editor of BBC Travel: look at the traffic, find your audience, find your voice, and write. That seemingly-simple piece of advice is something I needed – both for work and for more personal forays like this blog. It’s a conformation of the old Sri Lankan proverb – you can’t build your house to please every man’s wishes: at the end of the day you have to pick one path and stick to it.
(I’m not sure if that makes sense to you, the reader, but it certainly does to me).
I certainly did enjoy the TBCAsia tour: it was hectic, it felt rushed and my rear acquired more familiarity with a bus seat than I’d ever thought possible, and allocations certainly could have been much smarter – but at the end of the day, one cannot lightly brush aside the hospitality and facilities that Cinnamon brought to the table.
As one blogger pointed out, this was the very first travel blogger’s conference, and they didn’t have it in a hole in the wall in the middle of nowhere – instead, they really went for it lock, stock and barrel, and they did a good job highlighting how powerful one guy with a good blog can be. It was really something to see CEOs and marketing department heads walking up to bloggers and trying to get their attention instead of vice versa. That, I think, is progress.
And also, I’d never been to Galle before, so kudos to TBCAsia for getting me out there. I think I’ll pay those shores a visit – soon.