Travel Bloggers Unite Umbria

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Posted on / by Alex Berger

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

I’m delighted to say that I’ve just returned from an absolutely fantastic trip to the Umbria region of Italy.  As long term readers may recall, the last time I was in Italy was in 2007 as part of my three month European adventure that started in Scotland and ended in Greece. To be frank, since that trip I felt like I had covered most of the major parts of Italy during that trip and that my travel funds, time and energy were better spent exploring new destinations elsewhere in Europe.  Historically, I’ve also had a fairly sub-par opinion of Italian food – particularly as someone who is lactose intolerant and not a huge pasta fan.  After this trip to Umbria with a stop in Bologna and the associated press trips I’m happy to throw both conclusions out the window.  The food I sampled was absolutely amazing and the taste of Umbria  I got while attending TBU (Travel Bloggers Unite)/during the post-conference press trips has left me with a strong desire to rent a motorcycle next spring and to spend several weeks wandering from Italian hilltop village to Italian hilltop village.  I’ll be back and sooner rather than later.

Helicopter Ride Over Umbria - Near Assisi

The Conference

TBU Umbria was held at the Valle di Assisi resort located just outside of the city of Assisi.  The resort was a beautiful sprawling facility situated in the midst of a number of fields, olive groves, and a local vineyard.  It offered a mixture of options: the main resort building and small stand alone apartments.  My room fell in one of the outlying stand alone apartments situated near a picturesque vine covered well and with a view over the vineyard back towards Assisi.  While the location was several miles outside of Assisi which made trips into the town a bit more challenging, it worked out perfectly for the conference.  Located as it was with meals on site it made it much easier to socialize and network with all of the other attendees in a very inclusive fashion which is often fairly challenging at conferences where people splinter off into small sub-groups to socialize or eat as soon as the day’s sessions wind down.

I personally got a lot out of the talks which to be quite frank surprised me. Not because I didn’t have high expectations for the speakers – they were all high caliber experts in their fields – but rather because I usually find conference material to be fairly redundant if you are active in industry/community groups related to the content being covered and have made a decent effort to self educate.  Which isn’t to say that I don’t get a lot out of conferences – I just find it to be more about the people in attendance and the small group/one-on-one conversations than narrated powerpoint talks.

Not so with TBU.  One of the things I really liked in particular was that the presentations were identified by experience level allowing me to easily target and skip presentations which were not likely to be relevant for me.   This was a huge frustration and time saver for me. Over the last few years I’ve probably sat through 10-15 talks about Search Engine Optimization.  Out of those maybe 2 have been worth while and had new information. I got a lot of new information, and key questions answered in the advanced session provided at TBU – a very pleasant surprise.

As I reflect on the various talks I attended, I was quite happy with each.  The Travel Blogger, Industry, Public Relations and SEO experts that gave talks were all extremely candid, skilled in their field, up-front, approachable, and eager to put together a great presentation. I took a lot away from the nuggets of wisdom they shared, and have already begun implementing a number of key changes here on VirtualWayfarer.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the keynote speeches by Jeff of Career Break Secrets and Jodi of Legal Nomads which offered great information, and compelling arguments for how bloggers and industry experts in the travel niche need to re-frame the way we communicate, interact, exchange social capital and do business.

A fairly common thread throughout the conference was embodied in the “bloggers and business a year on” panel discussion which focused on the maturation of the industry.  I’m a firm believer that we will see drastic changes in the role travel bloggers play in the travel industry over the next year.  As with most new industries there was an initial “wild west” style explosion in popularity where there were few rules, few guarantees, and virtually no industry standards for engagement, interaction or professionalism. Over the last few years savvy businesses have been able to get a lot of amazing deals, content and press from travel bloggers for virtually nothing. At the same time, however, the lack of standards and rules for good practice have also created a caveat emptor situation for those brands. As the industry starts to organize, settle, and differentiate between casual 1-trip bloggers, and long-term semi-professional/professional travel bloggers I think we will finally see viable revenue models emerge.  While this means that advertisers interested in engaging travel bloggers will have to start paying monetary compensation in addition to the current practice of trading freebies, it also means that the quality standards and reliability of the bloggers brands end up working with will increase and professionalize.  It is an interesting time, and I am very curious to see if 2012 finally becomes the year where travel blogging becomes financially viable as something more than a casual hobby.  I’d like to especially thank the panelists; Melvin (Traveldudes), Kash (Budget Traveller), Debbie (Four BGB), Wilde und Partner and Ryan (Housetrip) for a great session. Also of note was Deb and Dave of The Planet D‘s advanced workshop on how to engage with, seek out, and partner with brands.

Perugia - Rooftop Textures

Other Fun Stuff

The conference had a lot of secondary perks that added to the experience. While several had minor scheduling issues (what conference doesn’t?) I found them to be a fun added bonus, and a fantastic boon to my experience at TBU.

1. Conference attendees had the opportunity to sign up for a series of half-day photo and video workshops.  These included an hour long presentation by the likes of Ken KamineskyKristen Alana, Rachelle Lucas and Yvonne Zagermann and then post-talk walking tours of Assisi or Perugia. I owe Ken a huge thank you for finally helping me figure out and get straight in my head how to use ISO, Aperture, AV and TV modes.

2. A Q&A session and short talk by Steve McCurry, the famous photographer who is perhaps best known for his National Geographic photograph of an Afghan Girl.

3. 10 minute helicopter rides around Assisi with stunning views of the Umbrian country side (more in a future post).

4. Six post-conference press trips with varied itineraries setup through the Umbria Tourism Board and Umbria on the Blog to showcase one of Italy’s most beautiful regions (more on this in future posts).

5. A bunch of great prizes including a series of fantastic trips via Intrepid Travel, several iPads and a spectacular competition for a trip to Churchill, Manitoba to see wild Polar Bears in their natural habitats near the arctic circle via the Canadian Tourism Commission.  I’m thrilled to announce that I won the Polar Bear trip w/ iPad 3 and am now very excited to share the experience with you later this fall when I’m able to make the trip (more details to come soon).

I had an absolute blast at TBU, and look forward to keeping in touch with everyone I met. I apologize to anyone I left out of this summary and to those of you who attended and had a favorite part I may not have mentioned, feel free to share it in a comment.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

15 Comments

  • Ryan at Travel and Graphs
    April 29, 2012

    I would love to hear more about Mr. McCurry.

    And the helicopter ride sounds downright heavenly.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      April 29, 2012

      Thanks Ryan! It definitely was a blast – amazing way to see the countryside. Especially given the weather which was partly sunny – rays of light hitting the green/multi-hued fields…fantastic!

      McCurry’s talk was somewhat brief, however I had the chance to ask him what goes into building the intimate rapport necessary to capture a photograph like the shot he took of the Afghan girl. His response was great. He shared several tricks, including techniques for striking up conversations and getting them to relax a bit (by fiddling with his camera and settings while they get more comfortable) before snapping a series of shots. He noted that many of the portrait shots he takes are usually pulled out of a series of photos and come from interactions that are usually at least several minutes long. He also mentioned that he absolutely loves shooting digital and where digital photography is going.

      Reply
  • Jeff
    April 30, 2012

    Alex, Great to meet finally. Thanks for the kind words about my speech. Talk soon!

    Reply
  • Linda
    April 30, 2012

    Excellent post. I would so love to go to one of these one day, and you fueled that desire!

    I saw Steve McCurry speak a few weeks ago, and I loved his attitude; no nostalgia for film and so natural, talking as if the audience was his equal – even so I was too shy to go tell him afterwards, and I regret that SO much now!

    Your opening remarks about Italy made me smile. There is always a decision between returning to somewhere you’ve been or discovering somewhere new, isn’t there?! I recently read Peter Moore’s very entertaining book “Vroom with a View” – about his travels around Italy on a restored Vespa. I promise it will make you want to return even more so! I’d be happy to pop it in the post for you if you like?

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      May 1, 2012

      Agree completely. I was quite impressed about how approach to digital. He actually mentioned that he made the switch from film to digital in the midst of a photo trip a few years back. I’d love to see it, sounds great.

      Reply
  • Deb
    April 30, 2012

    Thanks for the Shout Out Alex. And congratulations again on winning the trip to see the Polar Bears! We’ve always wanted to do that and can’t wait to see your posts on it. We had a blast too, great to see that so many people enjoyed their time in Umbria. See you at the next one! Deb and Dave

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      May 1, 2012

      Thank you, and thanks again for all the great discussion and information!

      Reply
  • The Last Word: A Wrap-Up of the TBU Blog Trips An Opportunity to Play With Polar Bears in Canada - VirtualWayfarer — VirtualWayfarer
  • Michelle
    May 3, 2012

    Great round up. It was great to meet you at the conference. Hopefully I will be in Denmark soon and you can give me some insider tips!

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      May 4, 2012

      Definitely! Let me know. Would love to connect and show you around!

      Reply
  • Dan
    May 6, 2012

    Sounds like a great time Alex 🙂 That trip to Canada sounds amazing!

    Reply
  • Staying in Umbria region of Italy in October, What are the best places to visit in the area? | travel the world deals, world travel guide, holiday travel deals

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