Given how much much Andrew and I spend on the internet it is always nice to meet real live people. Andrew and I had the opportunity to meet lots of other travel bloggers from various parts of the world at the Digital Innovation Asia (DIA) Tourism Conference that was held in June 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand.
This was the first DIA event to be held but there will hopefully be many more. Andrew and I were really lucky to be in the first group of travel bloggers to be part of this conference. Thank you.
What did we get up to? Way too much!
We arrived in Bangkok on the Sunday afternoon and headed to our hotel - the Amari Watergate Hotel in the Pratunum Market area of Bangkok. Shoppers paradise. We checked in and had a look around before climbing into a really comfortable bed to get some rest. The conference started the next day. Here is our review of the Amari Watergate.
- 1 Day 1: DIA Blogger - Match Up
- 2 Night 1: Digital Innovation Asia Awards
- 3 Day 2: DIA Forum: Speak Out Asia
- 4 Night 2: Missing Late Byte Party at Kinki
- 5 Day 3: Travel Bloggers Multi-Transport Day Tour of Bangkok
- 6 Night 3: Missing out on the closing DIA Pop-Up Party but going elsewhere instead!
- 7 Done And Dusted, What Did We Think Of Our First Travel Conference?
Day 1: DIA Blogger - Match Up
This would be our first time at a Travel Conference of this kind so we were both a little nervous. We arrived at the Lebua Tower. The same Lebua Tower that appeared in the Hangover II. The rooftop bar in the movie is the Sky Bar on the 63rd Floor. We had a massive stack of business cards in our pockets and a digital camera to take photos of us with other travel bloggers and tourism providers of every kind.
Big Tip: When someone hands you a business card, take a photo of you, the business card and them so you can put the face to the business card later. We had a lot of fun taking candid shots with people!
The day officially started off with a welcome speech from the founder of Digital Innovation Asia (DIA) - Jens Thraenhart.
First Session: Bridging expectations from Bloggers and Travel Suppliers, and how to form creative supplier-blogger partnerships
A panel moderated by Amy from Google Thailand (Oh mah gawd, Google!); three travel bloggers - Samuel (NomadicSamuel), Audrey (ThatBackpacker), Matt (FlightNetwork); and Phansiri, the Marketing Director form Dusit Thani in Bangkok
Many travel bloggers provide reviews in exchange for complimentary or discounted products. Unfortunately it can be difficult for the company involved to tell who is serious and who just wants a freebie before disappearing never to be heard from again.
Professional networks such as the "Professional Travel Bloggers Association" are beginning to take shape to help the situation. Regardless, travel companies thinking of dealing with a blogger should make sure to check the social media / readership statistics of the travel blog in question. They will no doubt supply you with traffic, membership numbers etc on which you kind of have to talk their work. You can however verify their facebook and twitter numbers for yourself.
Travel Bloggers and Travel Suppliers can work well together just as long as both parties are honest with what they want from each other and what they are able to provide.
Second Session: How to calculate the ROI of Blogger Engagement and create effective campaigns
Speaker: Ben Jones - CEO of Big Blog Map
We had hoped that Ben would be able to provide us with a concrete plan to allow us to determine the ROI for posts on our blog and our social media pages. It would be awesome if we were able to say that a given post provided $X of value to a sponsor. Sadly, he only confirmed what we already suspected. This stuff is very difficult to quantify and almost impossible to assign a specific dollar value. It seems like this will have to change some day. Hopefully, it will be very soon.
Third Session: How to organize effective Blogger Trips (Case Study)
Speaker: Mr Tanes Petsuwan from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)
The Tourism Authority of Thailand has taken a number of Travel Bloggers from around the world, travel agents and other tourism operators on numerous Blogger Trips.
In past blogger trips people were able to choose from six different Thai themes for their trips: Thai Wellness (massages, art); Thai Food (cooking, eating); Thai Muay Thai (sport); Thai Life (culture, life); Thai Muay Thai (art); Thai Elephants (nature, wildlife)
Guests arrive in Bangkok and are transported to various parts of the country to explore each theme. Local communities in both popular tourist destinations and in areas that do not normally see tourists benefit from this arrangement.
The organised Blogger Trips certainly seem to have worked well for TAT. It seems like most of the trips still focus on established tourist destinations like Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Koh Samui. It would be nice to see the next few Blogger Trips organised by TAT focus on less well known places like the Issan region in north east Thailand. That would benefit the region and also the bloggers. Us bloggers love to have something unusual to write about.
Fourth Session: Speed Dating - Not for the faint hearted.
After lunch the travel bloggers sat on one side of the table and the travel providers sat on the other. We had eight minutes to introduce ourselves and to talk business. It is amazing how fast eight minutes goes by when you have a lot to talk about!
We received quite a few business cards, took a lot of photos, and learnt a lot about other people's businesses - Hotels, Tours and Restaurants were the main suppliers although one airline did make itself known.
Three hours went past very quickly. We chatted non-stop and discussed the importance of only reviewing things that fit us. For example, five star hotels aren't really on our list to review because we don't normally stay at them. It's not a good fit for us. We tend to run into difficulty with their dress codes... Something like a tour of a lesser known corner of Vietnam would be far more our speed.
All in all, the speed dating event was a heap of fun.
Night 1: Digital Innovation Asia Awards
It took eight years of standing outside the famous Bed Supperclub in Bangkok wishing I had the proper clothing and footwear before I finally got to go inside. A month before it was to be closed!
YAY! Bed Superclub!
We were there for the first ever Digital Innovation Asia Awards. There were five awards to be given out at the celebration.
We drank lovely wine from Siam Winery (really good!) and ate delicious very hot Thai tapas provided by Bed Supperclub and then watched the awards been given out.
- Most Engaging Website - Tourism Malaysia
- Most Impactful Campaign - Tourism Authority of Thailand – The Little Big Project
- Most Creative Use Of Technology - e-Visa Cambodia
- Most Inspiring Content - Air New Zealand - Safety Video
What a great night! Well done to all the winners!
Day 2: DIA Forum: Speak Out Asia
Day two at Digital Innovation Asia was aimed more at the travel industry than at travel bloggers.
The day consisted of many forum sessions outlining:
- The Latest Trends In Digital Innovation - SoLoMo (social - local - mobile) trends and visual content.
- Pushing the barriers of traditional Online Sales and E-Commerce to drive true profitability - Social Media as a major player in e-commerce sales.
- Challenger Types: How to drive innovation in organisations - how organisations can leverage the many different types of innovative people.
- Start-Ups that are changing how consumer consume travel - AirHelp.com; PocketLab.com; HotelQuickly.com; TripShow.com
- Blogger Panel: The consumer is king - are we always listening to the voice of our guest? - bad press is not always good press!
- Digital Aid Asia: How can technology, digital and social, drive responsible tourism development and capacity building in emergency destinations? - PATA foundation projects
Night 2: Missing Late Byte Party at Kinki
It is rainy season in Thailand, and oh my, did it rain. It rained so hard and for so long that we had no chance of getting to the DIA party at Kinki.
Instead, we opted for a delicious spread of street food with some of the other travel bloggers that we were fortunate to meet in person. With the rain still pouring and slowly seeping through the worn, old blue tarpaulins over our heads we ate everything that was put in front of us.
Day 3: Travel Bloggers Multi-Transport Day Tour of Bangkok
Smiling Albino and Bangkok 101 provided all the travel bloggers with a fantastic day tour of Bangkok using various different transport options - BTS, canal boat, tuk tuk, and private boat. We missed out on riding a local bus but had an awesome time checking out all things off the normal tourist hotspot list in Bangkok. We even got a surprise treat from Central World shopping centre!
We have written another massively long post about the tour. It was great despite the rain. A Bangkok tour with Smiling Albino.
Night 3: Missing out on the closing DIA Pop-Up Party but going elsewhere instead!
By the time we got back to our hotel we were already late. We'd just walked in the door of our hotel and still needed to shower and change and we were meant to have arrived at an entirely different hotel 15 minutes ago. It had been raining non-stop, we were soaked through, the roads were jammed with buses, trucks, cars and taxis, and the sky train wouldn't get us there any time soon. By our estimation we would have arrived just in time for the end of the event. We had to forego the Pop-Up Party at Pullman Hotel G - BOOOOOOO!
But, we did have enough time to head to another event at the hotel - Aloft Bangkok on Sukhumvit Soi 11. Here, we got to check out their special "Touch Rooms". What is that you ask? Well, they are rooms that are centrally controlled by an android phone.
Upon check in they hand you a phone that acts as your room key, a lighting controller, air con controller, food service ordering device, a TV remote and a free wifi hotspot for your other devices. It even works as a telephone. For now you have to use a smart phone which the hotel lends you. An app that you can download and run on any smart phone is in the works. The ability to turn on the aircon and to order some room service while you're in a taxi on the way back to the hotel sounds fantastic.
To top all of this off, the rooms at the hotel are awesome! They may not be especially large but they are designed really well to use the available space. There's even a power point inside the safe to charge your electronics while they're locked away. I so want to stay here... for a month!
After we checked out the rooms we then headed up to the hotel bar where we had the most delicious molecular cocktails. Innovative techniques are used to create cocktails that taste like food ("It's like drinking apple pie!") or to turn normally liquid ingredients into foams or gels. It's all very odd but wonderfully delicious.
Next stop, Le Derriere at Q Bar in Bangkok. It's out the back of the main bar hence the name. While here Andrew had a delicious Absinthe cocktail I had a soda water. All those molecular cocktails had gotten to me. The interior of this bar was originally a bar in France that was disassembled, shipped to Thailand and reassembled. It's worth visiting just to check out the decore. Stepping through the doors from the main bar into Le Derriere feels like you've been transported to the other side of the world.
The setting was lovely and the company was very interesting. Thanks to Mason from Bangkok 101, Justin from Aloft Hotel and Derek from Smiling Albino for a very enjoyable evening.
Done And Dusted, What Did We Think Of Our First Travel Conference?
Andrew and I had a great time in Bangkok. We were very busy and, annoyingly, didn't get to spend much time at our lovely hotel before returning to our regular lives. It was great fun and it was wonderful to get to meet so many people who have a similar life to ourselves. Living on the road full-time can be a solitary existence, except there's two of us. I'm not sure there's a word for that.
We would have liked to be able to spend more time with our fellow travel bloggers but we were scattered all over town. That made it a bit difficult to arrange informal social events. We're all constrained by the availability of accommodation but it is nice to be able to hang out with people outside of structured getting to know you events.
This is the first time we'd heard of professional travel blogger associations. We haven't joined any yet but may in the future. For now we just focus on being ourselves and being honest.
Any other bloggers reading this, I'd recommend going to one of these. You'll meet lots of interesting people.
For suppliers reading this, you should think about going too. The world is changing very rapidly. People like Andrew and I do not generally bite. We'd love to meet you.