Podcast #085 – Meet Rick Calvert, The Man Behind TBEX

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We take a small break from the regular travel podcasts to bring you another interview with an interesting person in the travel media industry.
So if you’re interested in the nomadic lifestyle and thinking of becoming a travel blogger, YouTuber or travel podcaster, you might find this interesting.

Palle Bo: “Rick, you’re the head honcho of this game.”

Rick Calvert: “Grand poobah, is what we like to call it.

Palle Bo: “How long time have you been with the TBEX. Because it wasn’t from the very beginning, as far as I understand.”

Rick Calvert: “Since 2012, when we bought TBEX. I actually started another event before that, called “Blog World” in 2007. So I’ve been actively involved in blogs since 2000, with travel blogs since 2007 and with TBEX since 2012.”

Palle Bo: “What’s your background? How did you get into the whole game of travel blogging?”

Rick Calvert: “I was a conference organizer. It was my job, I’ve done really really big events like a hundred thousand people. I used to work for a place; you may have heard of, called Comic Con. And I was a political blogger. I started a blog about politics, and this was again very early days, there weren’t a lot of people doing that, and I wanted to go to a blogging show, and it didn’t exist. So I started doing the research, and I’m like ‘oh people would go to that?’ And I created what we called Blog World. But we knew from the very beginning we identified these different segments that would be really important and political blogs was one of them and travel blogs were one of them. And we had a track for travel at Blog World. But Kim it started TBEX. And she’s a travel blogger. So all the travel bloggers were going to TBEX. And in 2012 it was Gary Arndt the told me you should talk to Kim. You know I think Kim wants to sell TBEX and that’s when we got involved.”

Palle Bo: And in recent years a few other similar or somewhat similar conferences have propped up…”.

Rick Calvert: “Imitators we call them.”

Palle Bo: “Do you see them as competitors or just extra angles on what you’re doing?”

Rick Calvert: “There are there’s no other event that’s the size of TBEX, that has the history of TBEX, that has the breadth of education is TBEX. So no, in that way no. Of course, there’s always competition. You can only take so many trips a year, you’ve only got so much time. So yes that’s competition. But we’re friends with all those people and a lot of them got their start at TBEX.”

Palle Bo: “I didn’t get the memo, that you can only do so many a year. I think I’m doing four this years. Plus two Nomadic Cruises. Yeah, I’m going all in this year. I don’t know exactly how that happened. But for people who’ve never been to a TBEX, can you describe what goes on? It takes place in two days.”

Rick Calvert: “Yes, the conferences two days. You know, it’s education. We have breakout sessions, some keynotes like today with Cory Lee was an incredible inspiration. And then there’s speed networking where there are business meetings between the bloggers and the DMOs and the brands and very short eight minutes sit-downs. Who are you? What do you do? Do we have a good fit? Yes. Great, let’s talk later. No. Nice to meet you. See you later. So you’re not wasting time. And then there are trips that happened before the conference that the tourist board organizes, there are trips that happen after the conference of the tourist board organizes and then people apply to go on those different trips so people are on average for a TBEX attendee at a destination is ten days for the two-day conference. And obviously, a lot of people do stuff on their own. So like maybe you’re planning a trip to New York already, said I’m coming there for TBEX, and I’ll go to Niagara Falls while I’m there or whatever else.”

Palle Bo: “And there are around, as far as I know, 700 attendees?”

Rick Calvert: “650.”

Palle Bo: “Is that is that the biggest?”.

Rick Calvert: “No, it’s the biggest in North America in a couple of years now, were sold out. We couldn’t have any more people here, and you can see how busy it is. Toronto was the biggest ever. That was 1200. But that was a bunch of Canadians because we were in a really big city and that was when everybody like just went “TBEX Crazy” that year too. But everybody said it was too big. So we’ve never wanted it to be that big again. We like this size. 650 is a good size.”

Palle Bo: I remember my very first travel bloggers conference was in Stockholm a week into my travel. And I thought “oh my god, I’m with my people.” And since then I’ve been traveling fulltime, and now I’m one of the old guys here.”

Rick Calvert: “That’s right. You’re one of the grandfathers of travel podcasting”.

Palle Bo: How do you see the whole industry evolving from where we were five years ago, and where are we going?”

Rick Calvert: “Well the first thing is that more creators are making a real living. There are a lot more people being successful that way. So that is fantastic. A lot more tourist boards and brands understanding the value and really wanting to work with them. By the same token, there are more new people all the time who are inexperienced and really don’t know what to do. We help teach them and obviously that’s a big challenge for tourist boards to figure out, who are the right people to work with. Even if a blogger is new doesn’t mean they’re not good. And so how do you determine if this person has good content and then that content is a good fit for my brand. And again that’s kind of what we teach people here. It’s not always the biggest numbers that are the most important thing”.

Palle Bo: “Right. Mike Huxley said that as well in the in the panel debate, and he was actually on one of the episodes, I did in TBEX Ostrava, talking about the whole thing that you should put a price and you should sell yourself. You shouldn’t just take a free trip even though you only have maybe 5000 visits a month on your site.”

Rick Calvert: “Yes, Mike is one of those people, that are pushing in that direction is just for professionalism in the space, and I would say as a whole, that travel bloggers are far more professional than they were five years ago, and that will continue to happen. And the travel brands have a more of a system of measuring “who do I work with, how do I measure it, was it was a good deal for us in the end.” So I think, that professionalism on both sides is continuing to improve.”

Palle Bo: “You get to travel a lot for these events as well. But you’re not a travel blogger. But I’m curious to know, where are you going next year.”

Rick Calvert: “Haha, everybody wants to know…”.

Palle Bo: “I remember actually in Ostrava in the Czech Republic, we shared a taxi, and I was pushing us, and you said it was very close to being published and I still don’t know where we’re going.”

Rick Calvert: “It’s still very close for Europe. We are going to announce North America tomorrow. So yeah. And Europe any day. Any day. And I’ll tell you this is a country where they like to do things slowly. So that’s why it hasn’t been announced yet.”.

Palle Bo: “Is it a place where they say Manana.”

Rick Calvert: “Haha. It’s not Spain. I can tell you that it’s not Spain. Although we love Spain and in particular we love Costa Brava Catalonia.”

Palle Bo: “But we also like Greece?”.

Rick Calvert: “Love Greece. I’ll tell you, this it’s a country we haven’t been to yet. It’s a country and western Europe. So there’s a couple of tips.

Palle Bo: “OK. Interesting. It’s, but it’s already been announced that we’re going to Zimbabwe sometime next year.”

Rick Calvert: “Yes. There is a conference going on in Zimbabwe right now while we’re here. So you know. They had a government change – a coup basically, then an election which went well – as well as you could expect to think. But we’re actually dealing with a private group in Zimbabwe called Rise Zimbabwe, not the government. This is a collection of hotel owners and tour operators who do business in Africa that are working out the logistics of hosting TBEX.”.

Palle Bo: “Rick, it’s always a pleasure, thank you.”

I can reveal that the next TBEX North America is going to be in Billings Montana in September 2019.

Next Monday there’ll be another episode from North Carolina where attend the Greensboro Pride and speak to a transgender woman and meet a guy with a cross trying to preach that being gay is a sin.
All this and much more next Monday.
And next Friday you’ll get another interview with a guy in the Travel Media Industry.
His name is Shane Dallas and calls himself The Travel Camel. He is the conference of TBEX Europe and the guy that booked me to speak about travel podcasting at the conference in Ostrava, the Czech Republic not that long ago.