[:en]TBU Rotterdam Recap – Storytelling, Knowing Your Audience and PR[:nl]TBU Rotterdam Samenvatting – Storytelling, Je Publiek Kennen en PR[:]

[:en]TBU Rotterdam, The Netherlands (home ground!) was my first ever travel blogging conference. On this Travel Bloggers Unite Conference, I not only found the truth about travel blogging (did anyone mention hard work yet?), but also a stream of never-ending inspiration and lots of like-minded people. I got home with so much information that my brain exploded a little. After a good night’s (or three) rest, it’s now time to collect my thoughts and put everything into action!


Here’s what I learned (at the morning sessions of Day 1 alone, can you imagine?!) and some action points I came up with that you can use to start a better blog today:


TBU Rotterdam - Morning Day 1



Take the trivial from life and turn it into something significant

The keynote speeches are held in the main conference room and everyone listens from behind their desks at the speakers most of us only knew as an avatar before. People take notes on paper, laptops, iPads and phones and tweets are being send into cyberspace at an unbelievable pace. The cable to the WiFi network of the Five Star Mainport Hotel in Rotterdam has really only been installed a couple of days ago and waves of connection seem to come and go at random. It shows just how much travel bloggers rely on a good connection in order for them to do their jobs well. And maybe a little to feed their addiction of being online every single minute of their lives as well (I myself am guilty as charged).


TBU opens this year with a bit of a non-conventional blogger. He isn’t someone who writes about his travel adventures, but a guy talking about his adventures in raising his kids and being a good husband. Mark Richards from Best Dad I Can Be became a blogger after getting complimented on a funny eulogy he once wrote and that really says enough. He is one of the best examples of someone ‘taking the trivial in life and turning it into something significant’, after his own words.


I love how Mark tells us to create characters of people you meet in your life, characters that people want to read about over and over again. He also encourages us to no longer wait for inspiration, but to actually get up and do something (‘amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work’ – quote by Stephen King). To just go and ‘make good art‘ (quote by Neil Gaiman). And of course his brilliant insight that Center Parks does not include experiences such as eating the beating heart of a cobra, as his son was hoping to do after reading a story on Adventurous Kate’s blog.


I meet him briefly after his keynote and he seems sincerely surprised by the amount of compliments he received from everyone, as he had never done this before. Armed with a notepad he then joins in on other sessions later in the conference and it is quite relieve for me to see that even the more ‘established’ bloggers come to TBU to learn… A great insight to start the conference.



Action Point: Find a topic that gives you most satisfaction to write about and write a post about it. Today. Make sure it is outstanding.




Do you truly know what your audience wants?

Gary Bembridge from Tips For Travellers held a survey under both travel bloggers and travellers to record what both groups exactly look for in terms of information on a blog. It turns out that these two visions don’t always match. People want real life, first hand advice and tips (such as budget tips, reviews and other helpful tips), while bloggers rather share their personal anecdotes and stories of places.


On top of that, his survey shows that most people don’t even read a blog (or know what it is, for that matter). Only 10% of all people has read a blog last year and 60% has never read one before (or, I guess, recognizes it as such). And to make matters worst (or interesting, what you please) is that most people don’t travel much anyway: 50% travels less than 2 weeks per year and a further 35% travel between 2-6 weeks a year. Bloggers are pretty much at the other end of the spectrum, with 71% of us travelling 6 or more weeks per year.


So people’s travel habits influence content needs. If people only travel in small amounts, they want to make sure their savings go towards a trip they will truly enjoy. And that’s where the travel blogger kicks in. Because we travel a lot, we can give very detailed information about the experience you can get in a variety of destinations. We can help people reduce the risk they take when booking a trip and if they’re not sure of whether or not it will suit them.


With the question if we truly know what our audience wants, Gary makes us think if we truly bridge the gap between what we write about on our blogs and the true wishes of our readers. This seemed to resonate with a lot of people. Gary suggests that we give people what they want. And to do it better than the available alternatives out there. Go slow on the ads, off topic and sponsored posts and focus on well-written, grammatically correct content delivered in a user friendly environment.


Readers trust their friends, family and sites like Tripadvisor the most (as they are familiar, proven reliable and are honest), so become that trusted source for them. As a blogger, you can deliver exactly what your reader asks for: Opinions (58%), Unbiased & Honest (48%), Real Life Experiences (47%) and New Ideas and Inspiration (34%). Have you asked your readers what they like to read about lately?


Action Point: Set up a survey to ask your readers what they like to find on your blog. Then find out where the gap is you need to bridge on your blog.


All slides and survey results here



TBU Rotterdam - Morning Day 1



Bloggers have great insights and here lies an opportunity for PR

In the following panel talk, a variety of online personalities are brought together to talk about their niche. TNT Magazine‘s Carol Driver,  Amy Skelding of Brighter PR, Gemma Seager of Retro Chick and Laurina Kennedy of One Year Of Fashion Fasting talk about opportunities for bloggers.


Some of the attendees felt there couldn’t be a world further apart than fashion and travel bloggers, but even as I agreed in some part I still feel we can learn from all bloggers in general, not just bloggers within your own niche. I once found this really cool Google+ hangout, where a SEO specialist talked with a couple of DIY bloggers about blogging as a business and it was so interesting (see them on YouTube: 12345). Sure demographics are totally different, but there is still so much we can learn from each other! That’s why I enjoyed listening to the panel talk on TBU.


The thing that struck me most in this talk was the fact that we have this great privilege as bloggers to pass on knowledge in a personal way. We have all these insights that we can share with our readers and here lies a true opportunity for PR people. We have to keep using different angles to keep people coming back to our site and because of that creativity we can turn posts that would normally be ‘dead’ in these really ‘alive’ stories. And if we combine that storytelling with the issues our readers have, and solve that issue, blogging becomes a powerful tool.


Looking a different metrics, such as views, engagement, most comments, most clicks on certain links, shares, etc. we can approach PR companies and tourism boards and form a (long-term) relationship that is mutually beneficial. Destinations that are confident about what they have to offer should not be worried about inviting bloggers.


Action Point: Ask yourself: What issue do your readers have? How can you solve those issues? What makes you interesting for people to come to you for help?



The first day of TBU Rotterdam started on a positive note. We are doing something special here and if we just get to work, keep creating great art and at the same time answer to the needs of our readers, there are fantastic opportunities to grab. Of course, blogging isn’t always so easy as I make it sound here, and I’ll go a bit more into that when talking about the other sessions, but these are definitely exciting times for the blogging world and I cannot wait to tell you more about what else I learned at TBU Rotterdam.


You can read all tweets from TBU Rotterdam back under the hashtag #TBURTM

Stay tuned as my recap of the afternoon session and the rest of the days will come online in the next days! Please leave a comment with any questions or insights you might have on these topics.



Read all my posts about TBU Rotterdam 2013:


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  • Hello Nienke! Interesting post! I didn’t even know of the existence of a conference for travel bloggers… I just started blogging about 3 months ago on want2discover.com. I was writing my stories about my adventures in Asia. But lately I am wondering what my potential audience really wants to read and what they are interested in. Your article gives me some insight in that.

    I started off by just writing for myself, to keep my memories alive. But lately I am more thinking about making it more professional and really start writing for an audience. With my nomadic lifestyle I’ve probably got load of tips for people who want to travel ;-). Sometimes I notice that I take certain things for granted and I think it’s obvious for other people to see. But then I start talking to people who want to travel and I discover that they don’t have the knowlegde I have. I just have to find out what and put it nicely in a post!

    thanks for sharing your experience at the blogging conference and I’ll keep following your blog!

    Cheers Bastiaan (also Dutch by the way)

    • Hi Bastiaan! Leuk je te ‘ontmoeten’ hier. :) Your site looks great! One of the key things I learned at TBU was to have a specific audience in mind that you write for. Think about what these kind of people/travellers are looking for. What problem do they need solved? And how can you give them the answers they’re looking for. Another thing people strongly advised me, was to start thinking about writing in Dutch. There aren’t many blogs in Holland that are both professional & personal, so there is a real market to explore there. Have a niche and have a personal story, and you’ll see the difference! (working on that myself now :)) I can really recommend visiting one of the conferences out there (tbu, tbex, traverse, wtm, itb) and catch up with other travel writers to have a great time and learn a lot! Good luck with the site! tot ziens!

  • Thanks for that, Nienke – glad you enjoyed it. And yes, I was genuinely surprised at the comments!

  • Hi Bas, zou je zeker aanraden (ook) in het Nederlands te schrijven. Er is veel vraag naar en er is weinig concurrentie. Backpackgek lees ik ook en ik heb een tijdje meegeschreven aan aroundtheglobe.nl. Die houden nog steeds jaarlijks meetings, erg gezellig!
    Ik ben zelf net begonnen tweetalig te schrijven, werkt prima als je niet te vaak per week wilt posten, anders is het best veel werk. Waar woon je in Australie? Heb zelf 2 jaar in Sydney gewoond!

    • dat ga ik zeker doen! Ik probeer alleen eerst mijn engelstalige site van de grond te krijgen. Als dat loopt dan begin ik met een NLD talige website! Ik ga een guestpost schrijven voor theplanetD. Volgens mij de beste manier om in contact te komen met je doelgroep. Heb jij al een nederlandstalige website??

      Ik woon op dit moment in Perth. Erg leuke stad en ik heb hier mijn vriendin ontmoet. Ik blijf hier nog een maand of 4 en dan gaan we samen naar nieuw zeeland :-). En waar woon jij op dit moment? Nederland?

      • Ik woon nu in Amsterdam. Perth is inderdaad erg leuk! Mijn site is tweetalig, als je bovenaan de pagina op de Nederlandse vlag klikt zie je de NL versie. Ik ben nog bezig oude berichten ook te vertalen! Groetjes!

  • Great overview. Thanks for sharing this :). I really love your site. I am a noobie travel blogger as well (Only been blogging since late last year) so find all these insights really helpful. I cant wait to go to my first travel conference at TBEX Dublin this year :)

    • Hi Brendon, thanks so much! Loved the conference and will try my best to get to Dublin this year too. Hope we’ll meet there!

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