Interview with Oliver Gradwell: Advice for Travel Bloggers and Industry
Oliver Gradwell, Founder & CEO of Travel Bloggers Unite, gets candid and shares advice for both travel bloggers and the travel industry.
1) Tell us a bit about your background and how you founded Travel Bloggers Unite (TBU)?
I have been working in the travel industry for 12 years now and started back in 2000 with an entry level course into the industry. That helped me become a qualified travel agent in the UK and it got me an interview for a summer job with a tour operator, working in holiday resorts in Spain looking after UK holidaymakers.
In those 12 years I have been fortunate to work for some great companies in a variety of roles. I have done everything from pushing wheelchair users around Manchester Airport (best job ever!), to planning and executing £50,000 rtw business class holidays.
I worked in Baltimore for Marriott International as an event manager, whilst they were making The Wire! and I also have a BA(hons) International Tourism Management degree.
I first got the idea for TBU in January 2010 having come across twitter and encountered the likes of Cailin O’Neill, Lillie Marshall and Abby Tegnelia. I bought the URL for TBU in July of that year and launched the community site in August.
I went to WTM in November, without knowing many bloggers or PRs! A year later and after two conferences, they had invited TBU back to speak.
TBU began during a period of my life when things were a little rough. I was homeless and unemployed, my circumstances were not great at all. I didn’t have a lot to be positive about, yet I had this idea that I couldn’t shake. That was TBU.
For the first 18 months of TBU I held TBU Manchester, TBU Innsbruck and planned most of TBU Umbria whilst not having stable accommodation. I managed to get a small sofa bed into a little office unit and the rest is history.
I was asked to do this interview to help those who don’t know me, to get to know me a little better. I’m happy to be honest and open, I’m also quite proud of what I have achieved so far and I think it helps people to understand the drive and determination I have.
I do know how hard things can be and I know what it is like to be given chances when starting a business. I use all of my life experiences, good or bad, in creating and holding TBU conferences. I want to help people, good people, to better themselves and do well in what they do.
2) What should travel bloggers do to prepare in advance for attending a travel blogging conference?
I would suggest they think seriously about what they want from attending a conference and to research those available. There are many conferences in the marketplace, TBU, TBEX and Traverse. We all do the same thing, but in different ways.
Check the learning and networking opportunities. Do the talks cover areas you are interested in? What level are they aimed at and what will you gain from attending the session? Have you heard of the speakers? Read up on them and their backgrounds, follow them online, most are a social bunch.
Is there a reputation for good networking with other bloggers and those from the travel industry? What is the overall experience like? Ask others who have been.
All this is important because without knowing what you are attending, you can’t prepare.
Follow who is attending the conference online, draw up a list of those you want to meet with. Plan the sessions you want to attend and don’t be afraid to change your mind once you get there.
Get business cards and prepare a short elevator pitch that explains to others who you are and what you do in a short amount of time.
3) A frequent comment that I’ve heard from travel bloggers is that travel blogging conferences are only for bloggers starting out. What is your response?
Complacency in any business isn’t wise. People can always learn and you can never network with too many people.
Conferences help people to stay current and up-to-date with developments in the industry.
I think it is the job of the conference organiser, myself included, to continuously innovate and develop a conference programme that attracts bloggers of all levels.
4) From what you’ve seen, what separates the successful travel bloggers from the less successful ones?
1. Life & work experience – most bloggers have this and don’t realise how valuable this can be. It can help in all aspects of business eg networking, marketing, sales, organisation and motivation.
2. Hard work – Unless you win the lottery or are very rich, you won’t get anywhere without working very hard. But you need to be smart about it too… see above!
3. Luck – No matter how good you are, you need to be in the right place at the right time.
5) Any common mistakes that you see travel bloggers making?
They write for other bloggers, sometimes forgetting who they themselves are and ignoring the needs of real readers.
6) What advice do you have for industry members who are looking to work with travel bloggers?
Have clear objectives for the project, spend time following bloggers and get an understanding for the content they create. Are they and their content on-brand?
Engagement is the key, not just pure numbers.
A blogger with 75 Facebook Fans was invited on a press trip and within two weeks of returning, a booking had been made at the hotel they stayed at by a reader. Sure, 75 fans it not a lot, but an engagement level of 20% is tremendous and can generate a return.
7) What frequent mistakes do industry members make when working with travel bloggers?
Travel bloggers are not just writers and should not be treated in the same way as regular media.
The travel industry would do well to remember that, “It doesn’t matter if somebody writes like Shakespeare, if nobody can find it to read it” – Marketing Manager of Innsbruck Tourism Board.
8) Where do you see the future of travel blogging going?
If traditional travel marketing and media are fully fledged adults, then travel blogging is just starting school.
The potential for growth, development and change is tremendous.
It is an easy industry to enter, yet a hard one to master. As a result, a number of bloggers will have to follow a different path.
The role of TBU, TBEX, Traverse, the PTBA, other networks and trade shows can play a vital role in educating the industry about the benefits of bloggers. Which should see an increase in the overall use of bloggers.
Ultimately though, professionalism is the key and that will come with time.
9) Finally, any upcoming TBU events that PTBA members should know about?
TBU London is a FREE travel bloggers conference in partnership with World Travel Market in London. It will be closer to a travel blogging conference experience and less like “just a few talks at a trade show”.
It takes place on 04th – 07th of November.