TBEX Jerusalem is making a buzz in our community. But let’s hear it from the travel bloggers who attended the pre-trip
Last November, 21 travel bloggers from Europe and Asia & Pacific were brought to Jerusalem in the hopes of eradicating the negative connotations of the world about Israel. The city of Jerusalem recently won the bid of hosting the biggest travel blogging event in the world called Travel Blog Exchange Conference (TBEX) which will be happening in March 2017.
TBEX is the largest conference and networking event for travel bloggers, online travel journalists, new media content creators, travel brands and industry professionals. Each year, TBEX partners with fantastic host destinations in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific to bring the travel industry’s most creative minds together to learn, network and do business.
From the ramparts of the old city to the best culinary experiences in the famous Machne Yehuda Market, the 21 travel bloggers who attended the pre-trip were able to have a tangible and firsthand experience of the best of the best of Jerusalem. Pre-trips are made in order for travel bloggers to have a feel of what the host city will be like. For a country as misunderstood as Israel, they need all the powers of the travel blogosphere in order for their TBEX hosting to succeed. These bloggers were expected to market through their social media platforms, hoping that their fellows will find the reasons to attend the conference in Jeruse. However, is Jerusalem really ready to host something this big?
Related Post: Things to do in Jerusalem – a guide for first timers
Points of view from a travel blogger who moved to Israel
Last September, I was one of the 6 influencers who was invited to go to a media trip by Vibe Israel, a non-profit organisation igniting a new conversation in Israel by eradicating the negative connotations about the country. The trip ended in Tel Aviv and from there, only 5 out of 6 influencers flew out — I chose to stay behind because I would love to try living in Israel. There is an energy here that I was being drawn to. I couldn’t say no.
I met a lot of people in the tourism industry and was offered projects left and right. Although some would pay for a particular campaign, the rest were just expecting I would do free work just because I fell inlove with Israel.
You see, in Israel, having a blog is like a school project. A “dear diary” thing. You might wonder how it’s called a start-up nation if they are not open to the idea of blogging as a career. Well, that makes the two of us. Up to now, I still can’t find the sense in that title when bloggers are not treated as well here.
Anyway, you can read about the blogger-company relationship in this link as I would love for this article to focus on the upcoming TBEX Jerusalem, which Israel is hosting. My experience in joining the pre-TBEX trip was not as remarkable but I don’t want to put into details because I am totally over it. I’ve already discussed my wildest sentiments internally, in the hopes that the Ministry of Tourism in Jerusalem will try to find it in their heart TO LISTEN.
Related Article: The Sad, Strange Story of NMX
Okay, just to give you an idea: I went mad. I went crazy. Something that never happened to me before. Most of you know me as a person who has a lot of patience and never gets mad but I roared like a fecking Tiger during this trip. I was actually surprised with myself. I never expected that I will lose it.
I am starting to think they don’t really like me after what happened but I also want to help them. If they don’t want to listen or be open to my suggestions (as an honorary citizen of Israel and a travel blgoger), maybe they will listen to the others who attended the trip with me.
I gathered all my friends and asked them about their experience. Without bias, here’s what they said:
Inma Gregorio, A World To Travel
Being this my second time in Jerusalem, I was so much looking forward to exploring the city beyond its walls. This means, leaving behind all the religion-packed city centre and adventuring into the newer neighborhoods of Jerusalem. And, gotta say, this wish was pretty much fulfilled with really interesting additions like a film panel lead by a well known Israeli film director (couldn’t help it and watched one of his movies the minute I landed home) and a visit to Ein Karem, a kitsch area away from all the madness. Getting introduced to some locals was also key. Overall, I had a blast and hopefully I will be able to reflect that on my upcoming article!
As it happens, this was just another rushed up press trip. Sleep-deprived with two red eye flights, I could only take in so much. Also, I feel like we were shown just one side of the giant puzzle Jerusalem is. Although this feeling kinda went away when, after requesting it, the organizers pulled out a last minute visit to a place that was not on the schedule in the first place that lots of bloggers wanted to check out. Well played!
Allowing bloggers to craft their own schedules and activities is key. As no two blogs are the same, everyone is looking for a different experience. But I believe this will be already a reality in the upcoming TBEX as bloggers are usually able to pick their pre and post conference tours!
Lee Rosales, Momma Lee Adventures
This country has so much to offer for tourist and for us travel bloggers who loves history and ancient stories. 4 days is not enough for me to see the whole picture of Jerusalem, thus give me a reason to be back here. . . . . . #ilovepaars #travelandmunch #travelblogger #travel #blogger #ancient #city #jerusalem #israel #tbex #tbexjlm #passionpassport #beautifuldestinations #travelgram #vscocam #vsco #photo #photography
Jerusalem is on my travel list, I was born Catholic and raised by a devoted Catholic parents and coming to Jerusalem and seeing the holy land is a dream come true. The city proper is somehow like Singapore – clean roads, clean alleys and pricey/high cost of living. As a parent, I love that Jerusalem has numerous of parks around the city and that isnone thing I always wanted to have here in our country – Philippines. A place where my kid can play safely.
Jerusalem as a whole – cant say negative about it. But as a Blogger, I am hoping that establishments like hotel, hostel, restaurants, etc will be more open for collaboration with bloggers because at this time, we are your number 1 help to boost your tourism.
Claudia Tavani, My Adventures Across The World
I thought I’d remind you all what I look like. This is me in the beautiful Ein Kerem, one of the areas of #jerusalem I liked the most. Thank you @itraveljerusalem for showing me around! #tbexjlm . . . #natgeo #natgeotravel #guardiancities #guardiantravelsnaps #ig_jerusalem #igersjerusalem #ig_israel #igersisrael #gadv #travelstoke #traveldeeper #traveldudes #liveintrepid
The pre TBEX Jerusalem trip was overall very well organized. Despite having spent only 3 days in Jerusalem, I got a good feel for it and it was enough to make me fall in love with it and want to visit again. The choice of attractions we were shown was interesting: we got to see some of the most popular ones; but we also had the chance to go a bit more off the beaten path and see the hidden sides of the city. I particularly enjoyed this contrast: a city that is so packed with history and traditions, that is so holy, can also be so modern. Who would have guessed, otherwise?
Needless to say, the choice of hotel and restaurants was spot on: the hotel was very comfortable. The places where we ate simply incredible: a good mixture of street food and upscale restaurants, and anywhere the food was delicious. We couldn’t have asked for more.
The organizers put together a good group of bloggers: we got along really well with each other, we enjoyed each others company and this ended up in the trip being a real blast and in having some great memories of the place – which will in turn result in some great posts.
A recurrent problem in press trips, anywhere in the world, is that tourism boards put too much on the agenda and the result is that we end up visiting too many places, in too short a time. This was the case in Jerusalem too. I wish we had not been so rushed all the time. Bloggers tend to give their best when they can take their time in places, or when they have enough freedom to explore alone, to get deep into the city. Most of the time, the best stories are the ones that come out of such moments – so it may be a good idea, for the future, to put less on the agenda and to let bloggers do their own thing. It may be a good idea to give bloggers half a day free, each day, and provide them with a city card for access to various local attractions. We all know what resonates better with our audience, and having the freedom to explore alone means that we have the chance to search for those stories.
It would have been good to have better internet access: we hardly had any reliable wifi throughout the trip, which stopped us from properly promoting via our social media. Having a portable wifi device or providing bloggers with local sim cards may ensure that regular social media updates get sent out in a more spontaneous and engaging way. The lack of free time and the lack of reliable internet access meant that we lost that spontaneity and this means that our social media campaign was somewhat limited.
Again, this is more of a generic comment than one specific for this trip. It may be a good idea to have several smaller groups going around the city, rather than a big one. Smaller groups are easier to manage, and people can be divided according to their interests – some bloggers may like to visit specific museums, others may be keen to go to the market, others may want to try all the food etc. This means that the trip may run more smoothly and that all bloggers to get to do what they prefer, which in turn means that they will be able to write better stories.
All in all, giving bloggers a bit more freedom means they will do an even better job.
Marco Allegri, Non Solo Turisti
I enjoyed some of the excursion as the night market and the city of David. The program overall was good but needed at least a couple of days more to take in all the places and experiences done.
Too many activities in a short time. Also didn’t fell the afternoon spent talking about the film industry in Israel was relevant for travel bloggers. Maybe 1/2 would have been more than enough.
Less activities or a couple of days longer for a program like this. Also I feel there were way too many bloggers, a bit of a problem when moving around the city and going in small places (such a cafe or shops), even if I enjoyed the company of every single one of them
Tara Povey, Where Is Tara?
I loved that we had a welcome pack with information when we arrived in the hotel. The executive lounge in the hotel was amazing too for snacks. All of the food tours were great and I really enjoyed the night market tour. It was nice to see the younger, less orthodox side of Jerusalem. Ein Karem was my favourite day tour, so bright and full of local culture. It was also great that Mordecai and Inbal were with us at all times, in case we had any queries. And, of course, I loved our wonderful group of bloggers.
Our tour started on a bad foot when Ilanit said “You have chose blogging as your career. Well, if you can call blogging a career.” during breakfast. However, my main issue was with the packed schedule and not having much time to explore and take photos. There were also a few points in the tour when we were all starving. Some activities were more aimed at residents of Jerusalem or encouraging people to live there, not so much tourists. Hence, there were a few activities that I could not write about for my blog.
I would suggest smaller groups visiting attractions/doing activities that are more targeted to their audience. I would also suggest keeping bottles of water and snacks on the bus in order to avoid hunger between spots. If the itinerary could be changed to allow more time for the bloggers to explore and take photos that would be ideal. Also, be less pushy about how you speak to the bloggers. No one likes being told several times a day to post on social media. You will get a better ROI is you make sure your bloggers have an amazing time. All you have to do is make sure they know the hashtag and relevant accounts to tag, usually a spreadsheet is provided at the start of the trip.
Yulia Safutdinova, Miss Tourist
An incredible city where you can meet Jews from all corners of the world, Arabs, Africans, Russians… Jerusalem can play any city of the Middle East – Beirut, Amman, Tehran, but it is so unique in its combination! @itraveljerusalem #tbexjlm ❤️ _____________________________ Иерусалим это не только история, это ещё и то, как в этой истории самым причудливые образом сочетаются столько наций мира!? Это очень интересная вроде бы восточная, но в то же время и такая европейская смесь щедро приправленная историей! ?
The organizers really managed to show us the vibrant life of locals living in today’s Jerusalem. The city is alive, full of artists developing the city in different ways! I loved the food there – the Middle East cuisine is so delicious and we could try all variety of what the country has to offer! The market walk both by day and night and the crazy restaurant with its dessert presentation – all these was amazing! Walking around the tiny streets of the old town and discovering in the tunnels under the city of David was so much fun, too!
I would really like some more time walking around the ancient sights that made Jerusalem what it is right now. The organizers tried to fit everything about the city in 3 days, that is why the program was rushed. I’m sure many will mention, the internet connection is quite essential to do our job properly.
Every single person I met in Jerusalem described the city as the melting pot of nationalities to me. There are Armenians, there are Russians, Jews of course etc. While I believe it is true, unfortunately did not manage to feel that diversity during our stay.
Even if I learned so much in my trip to Jerusalem, there are always ways for improvement.
Next time, if organizers make the program less rushed, give an opportunity to participants to share their content “on the go”, that will definitely make it much easier for bloggers to generate interesting content. Last but not least, I know that the conflict that is going on at the moment is a very sensitive topic for everybody. But I felt like it is hard to omit it when you are right there – in the heart of the city where religions meet and things happened. I would suggest the next time organizers at least mention about the conflict and maybe show some sights that are related to that part of the history of the city.
I was very happy to be invited to the pre TBEX Jerusalem trip. I think the idea of showing the modern side of Jerusalem is great and I guess the organisators had the best intention in showing us as much as possible. Unfortunately the schedule turned out to be very stressful. I know many sponsors were invited but it would have been better to offer options. This way everyone would have seen and would have had the time to enjoy what they were interested in and the schedule would have been more relaxing. This way sponsors would have also had people interested in what they were showing. I also felt pressured about posting on social media. Which I did not like. As a blogger I like to post about what I want and in my own rhythm.
AMANDINE HACH, Les Berlinettes
Olga Rabo, The Russian Abroad
For anybody who is in Jerusalem for the first time (like me), you don’t have to really do too much to impress. The city has everything for you to work with: the history, the colours, the food, the atmosphere. Jerusalem — and Israel as a whole — has A LOT of touristic potential, despite the small size. So I was happy to get a sneak peek into the Israeli culture, to educate myself a little, and, of course, to meet all the amazing people that were on a trip with me.
But then again, for anybody who is in Jerusalem for the very first time (like me…), you really want to take your time to explore, to breathe in the atmosphere, to absorb the vibes around you. You want to travel slowly and learn something on the way. Rushing through tours and activities is like eating cheap fast food in McDonalds: you don’t enjoy it, you don’t process it, and there are very little nutrients and very little food for thought that you get out of this experience.
So my general advice is quite simple, really: CHILLAX! As many cultural, historical, religious layers as Jerusalem (aka the Big Onion) has, it’s impossible to show them all in just three days. You can’t tell a complete story of the city that has novels written in history. Instead, choose a few main angles, stick to them, divide a big group into smaller ones based on different interests and categories, and let people find their own Jerusalem. Then each and every one of them will tell their own story.
Mike Huxley, Bemused Backpacker
The trip in general was truly enjoyable and given the fact that it was a very large group must have taken a lot of work to organise. It included some truly incredible bucket list sites that I have wanted to see for a long time, and I am extremely appreciative of the opportunity to do so. I genuinely loved Jerusalem and Israel as a whole and definitely want to return at some point.
The trip was extremely tightly packed and very rushed. Apart from the practical aspect of organising a 17 hour day for the first day and keeping everyone out until 0100 in the morning when some in the group had not even slept due to late arrivals, this posed a problem for many of us who could not take the time to get a feel for each place, extract the stories that we want to tell to our audience or even take photographs and curate social media, all of which are essential to our work and the entire reason we were there. So much was rushed through on the trip in general that by the end of it any chance of real storytelling had been missed.
A lot of this is down to a fundamental misunderstanding of what bloggers do and how to work with us. We are not tourists who need a tour guide to rush us through each place, we need time to work in each location and then free time each day to write, take photos and post on social media.
A bigger problem was the fact that whilst a lot of the trip was amazing and worthy of sharing with our audiences, a good portion of it was also completely irrelevant. A volunteer carpentry workshop may be great for the ‘dynamic, enterprising Jerusalem’ that can be sold to the business world, but frankly it is of no interest to travellers, we really didn’t need a photography workshop – especially since so many important sites were missed off the trip – and in a decision that is frankly shocking move we were rushed through seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls – one of the most significant historical artefacts anywhere in the world and something that should be being promoted heavily for tourism in the way Egypt promotes the Pyramids – and then taken to a cinema to have a chat with the manager and a couple of directors! If we were film bloggers that may have been interesting, but we are not. Again this is down to not understanding who we or our audiences are and it felt like an agenda was being pushed onto us instead of allowing us to see Jerusalem and show it to our audiences in a way that will resonate with them.
Travel blogging is a real profession now, and those of us who work hard at it are very good at what we do. We know our audiences, know our styles and know how to market destinations to them. We are not tourists out for a few freebies. By listening to us, listening to what we need to do our jobs and giving us the time to do it, brands, DMOs and tourism boards can maximise the potential exposure they get from us, and they can learn that investing in travel bloggers as marketing professionals can give them far greater ROI than any traditional media can.
Franzi Reichel, Coconut Sports Blog
On the positive side, Tourism Jerusalem really made an effort to show us the different and innovative ways to see the city. Since I`m not the biggest fan of „standard“ sightseeing tours, I very much enjoyed the segway tour, the scavenger hunt and also the various food tours. Our guides were great and they thoroughly answered all of my questions – even the slightly critical ones. My favorite part of the trip was the tour to the night market which – in my opionion – showed us the true heart of this exciting city.
On the negative side, I didn`t receive any information about my flight or what airline I was flying on until a couple of days prior to departure. We received no information about immigration, visa regulations or how many hotel nights were actually covered by Tourism Jerusalem. Even though I loved the idea of our tours and activites, the schedule was just too packed to actually enjoy them. We were too tired on the segway, there was no time on the scavenger hunt and we were rushed through the food tour.
When I was trying to get footage of the City of David on our first day, I was told that „There is no time for that now“. This is not only a pity for us bloggers and our audience but also for the partners, who obviously were told that we would mention them in our articles. Unfortunately though, I am not able to recommend or write about anything that I couldn`t fully try out and experience myself. Also I have to say that certain remarks like „We only expect you to write good things about Jerusalem.“ or „…if you can call blogging a career“ left a sour taste in my mouth.
Bloggers and influencers are no machines and they need time to experience a place and let all the impressions sink in. It would have made much more sense to reduce the number of activities and give everybody more time and space to roam around, take pictures and just absorbe the energy of a certain place. Not all bloggers have the same interests and niches, so if a group is this big and diverse, it always makes sense to just split people up and have them sign up for different tours and activities.
As for social media exposure, in my opinion you can expect at least twice as much if you give people a sim card with data on. Last but not least I want to say: Israel is not Mallorca or any other regular holiday destination. Be prepared for critical questions, be honest and try to explain as much as possible instead of asking people to „only write positive things about Jerusalem.
Margherita Ragg, The Crowded Planet
I loved being shown an unusual side of Jerusalem. Some of the things we did (like the Scavenger Hunt, City of David underground tour and night tour of the Mahane Yehuda Market) allowed us to see a side of Jerusalem that most tourists don’t see, away from the touristy atmosphere of the main sights. I also loved having locals like Mordecai, Yuval and Shuky show us around, and the food was always really really delicious.
The itinerary was too packed and sometimes it felt like we were being marched from one destination to the other without being allowed to enjoy the experience. We also had no free time whatsoever, not even enough time to post on social media properly. Also, Jerusalem’s peculiarity is the mixture of religions and cultures, but our visit mostly included Jewish sites and a couple of Christian ones – nothing Islam related whatsoever. I am aware of political issues and I understand if the visit to Islamic sites couldn’t be organised by the tourism board directly, but I would have appreciated having time to explore by myself.
Definitely allowing people more time and packing the itinerary less. Also it would have been good to have data sim cards or a mifi device to do social media on the go. It would also be nice to offer some activities to specific niches – like adventure tours to adventure bloggers, fashion and design tours to fashion bloggers and so on. Other than that it was a nice experience and I’d love to return to Jerusalem.
Marco Buch, Life Is A Trip
The 3-day TBEX Jerusalem press trip was great to get a first impression of the city of Jerusalem. I really liked most of the activities as well as the great food and the luxurious hotel. I felt very well taken care of. What I especially enjoyed were the activities that gave us the opprotunity to connect with locals and understand everyday life in Jerusalem a little better. However, there was never really enough time to dig deeper.
Many of the activities were good for everyone on the trip. However, a few activities had no relevance to several bloggers, best example being the film panel. In general, I believe that these activities should never be mandatory. What is the point of someone joining who already knows that this does not fit into their topics on the blog? If you give the participants the option of choosing from various activities some weeks beforehand, you also get a good idea of which activities make sense and which don’t. In general, I believe it was too many activities per day.
One very important thing that could have been organized a lot better was mobile wifi. If you expect bloggers to constantly share on their social media channels, you definitely have to provide wifi in the form of a mobile router or individual sim cards.
Another thing I suggest for a future trip is splitting up a gigantic group of 22 people into at least two or three smaller groups. Giving the people various options for activities like mentioned above, these groups can easily form all by themselves. One thing is a no go: If there is no real agreement beforehand about what and how often participants should share content, then there should be no complaining later on about people who seemingly do not share enough. That simply makes you feel like you are not communicating on the same level which leaves a bad aftertaste.
Kara Mudler, The Flight Attendant Life
What I did like about the TBEX Jerusalem trip was the contact and interaction with the other bloggers. Each one of us brought a different strength, energy, and presence to the group, and were able to build relationships with each other while touring. I also was such a fan of the night Ben Yehuda Market tour with Karen and Shabo. It was really cool that TBEX put that experience together for us.
I think that I was expecting something completely different in the TBEX press trip. This doesn’t mean that the resulting experience was negative, but overall, I would have liked to see more freedom for creative expression, more emphasis in our abilities as ‘travel bloggers’ to ‘travel’ through Jerusalem, and more time to absorb what an amazing culture, city, and experience we were presented with. As a blogger, I value time, conversation, freedom, exploration, and expression. I don’t think any of these aspects were encouraged in this press trip. Maybe I am naive to think that press trips allow for this, but by not giving the opportunity to do what bloggers do — create around meaningful moments in foreign places— I will never be able to create the great story that could have been created.
Overall, this was a learning experience, but I leave Israel slightly disappointed and completely exhausted. I’m really glad I came to Israel before this press trip as I think that this trip otherwise would have overshadowed the country and Jerusalem in a negative way. I feel like I didn’t really see or understand anything, but leave sick and tired, wishing I had a meaningful and more positive story to tell.
I came to Israel just for a week to begin with, but I’ve ended up staying over a month now, this country captured my heart very quickly and I knew it was a place I needed to spend more time. However, when it comes to being a blogger in Israel it is all very alien. And I get that, blogging is still not accepted as a career in many countries. But companies in Israel really don’t seem to get it (with the exception of a few amazing organisation; Abraham hostels, Aqua Sport Dive centre to name a few) and don’t understand the value a blogger can have to their business. I’m not slating the people at all, I understand it’s still all new, but there are some tourism boards out there that are successfully working with bloggers who in return are providing huge results. Israel, maybe more than many countries, needs more positive media. The most effective way of making this happen is to work closely with bloggers. I hope we can start to educate companies and they will realise the enormous impact bloggers can have on their business. Not to mention how much cheaper this advertising technique is compared to buying magazine/website/to ads. As Trisha says, together we are stronger.
SARAH RICHARD, Coffee With A Slice of Life
Planning to attend TBEX Jerusalem in 2017? You know I live in Tel Aviv and I would be happy to meet you! If you need anything, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking forward to welcoming you in Israel!