The forecast: Widely scattered flurries of the #iHeartHsv and #TBEX hashtags sweeping the globe.
More than 600 travel bloggers, journalists and others in the travel industry will converge on Huntsville for the annual TBEX North America Conference, May 4-6.
TBEX (short for Travel Blog Exchange) attendees reach a combined audience of 300 million viewers, readers and followers a month. While the convention itself lasts just three days, the attendees devote an average of 11 days at the conference host site, so exposure to Huntsville and Alabama will be vast.
“It’s a megaphone to shout about Huntsville,” says Leslie Walker, Convention Sales Manager for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The bloggers and journalists – who include magazine and print writers and representatives from TV networks – will be researching future stories as well as posting real-time news and tidbits, thus the anticipated widespread use of #iHeartHsv hashtag on the Internet. During the 2016 convention in Fort Lauderdale, the participants sent out more than 35,000 tweets about the event in a three-day span.
Last fall, on a preliminary TBEX tour, a group of nine journalists and bloggers from across the country visited. Their 2 ½-day visit generated 932 posts with a global reach of 28.5 million.
“Imagine,” Walker says, “the impact of 600 people over 11 days.”
TBEX holds a number of worldwide conferences each year. Some more recent ones have been in Stockholm, Manila, Jerusalem, Bangkok, Ft. Lauderdale, Athens (Greece) and Cancun. That’s a list of cities with whom Huntsville has not often been linked.
“Promoting leisure tourism and the meeting industry in Huntsville and Madison County equals economic development for our community.”
Jessica Carlton, then the marketing manager at the CVB and now the Digital Media Specialist for the City of Huntsville Communication Office, attended the 2015 conference in Ft. Lauderdale. She suggested the conference could be a big boon for Huntsville.
“I thought, ‘Why not? We’ll give them a call,’” Walker says. Even when she saw the list of previous host cities, she wasn’t daunted.
“I called them in their office in Los Angeles and said we’d like to host. I asked if they had ever heard of Huntsville and they said no,” Walker continues. “Then I told them it was the birthplace of the U.S. space program, we had the second largest research park in the country and we had a diverse arts community.”
After all, as Walker puts it, one of the biggest advantages we have when it comes to recruiting convention business is our community ambassadors. She encourages Huntsvillians who attend conferences around the U.S. – and even the world – to think about the Rocket City as a host location. And she encourages you to remember the Huntsville-Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“This is what we do,” Walker said. “Promoting leisure tourism and the meeting industry in Huntsville and Madison County equals economic development for our community.”
Walker and the CVB put together an impressive proposal which led to a TBEX delegation from L.A. visiting a year ago and “I think they were ready to move here by the end of that week,” Walker says.
TBEX is a highly concentrated educational event. Attendees will attend a variety of sessions and hear a variety of speakers who can help them perform their jobs. Dozens of booths will be set up in an exhibition hall, with travel industry people and representatives of other cities pitching story ideas.
Other Alabama cities will be involved. There are organized mini-tours after TBEX concludes. Delegates have been able to register for such things as a trip to Gulf Shores and time on the beach or an outdoorsy adventure in the north Alabama mountains.
Attendees are coming from all over the world, and in myriad ways. While most will fly into Huntsville, one international journalist is flying into Las Vegas, renting a car and driving cross-country to Huntsville.
“It’s kind of a mix,” Walker says. “We have some Space Camp alumni who are coming back, and a whole lot of ‘Hmmm, I’ve never heard of Huntsville.’ By and large, a lot of the comments we’ve heard have been they’ve never been to a smaller community in the United States, so they’re intrigued.”
Some of the attendees will be arriving soon, planning to be here in time for Panoply. Walker suggests we all be attuned to their presence. The person who may look in need of directions or the person scribbling notes next to you at a brew pub or somebody confused by the notion of “sweet tea” could be a TBEXer.
Be hospitable, Walker encourages. After all, we want them to #iHeartHsv as much as we do.