Building a travel blogging tribe: the Getaway Travel Blog Conference

Posted by Sarah Duff on 6 August 2012

The Upper Eastside Hotel in Woodstock was the venue for the second Getaway Travel Blog Conference, sponsored by Cape Town Tourism, which took place on Saturday 4 August 2012: a gathering of travel bloggers, writers, photographers, and online travel professionals. After the success of our first travel blog conference last year we thought we would increase the size of our conference this year – we were so excited to have 160 people attend.

The excitement in the conference room was palpable – and evident in the number of tweets going out throughout the day. Within 15 minutes of the conference starting, the conference hashtag #GTBC was trending on Twitter in South Africa, and by the afternoon, it was trending worldwide! There were literally thousands of tweets being sent, as conference attendees chronicled their learnings and inspiration – and met up with fellow tweeters (I loved seeing tweets like ‘Meet me outside the room in the next coffee break! Been dying to meet you in real life!’).

Eleven fantastic speakers covered a gamut of blogging, social media and viral marketing topics. Four of those speakers are international travel bloggers who live the dream – they travel the world and get paid for it! We were very lucky to get Nellie Huang from WildJunket, Keith Jenkins from Velvet Escape, Matt Long from Landlopers and Melvin Boecher from Traveldudes to speak at the conference, after their week in Cape Town hosted by Cape Town Tourism. With years of experience in travel blogging, and mastery of social media, the bloggers had a lot to share with South African’s burgeoning travel blogging community.

We spent the whole day, from 08h30 to 16h30, listening to interesting, inspiring and entertaining talks, interspersed with tea breaks and lunch, but it was only after the conference that the real networking began. At the post-conference cocktail party sponsored by American Express, the travel bloggers mingled and chatted – I walked past people talking about camera lenses, border crossings in Malawi, Google Analytics, SEO, camping in Botswana, and I overheard a number of people saying that they wanted to get started on a travel blog that night.

While I learned so much during the day, and feel inspired to work harder on my travel blog, the best thing for me about the conference was the feeling that we’re creating a travel blogging community in South Africa. The fact that we’ve grown our conference from 60 people last year to 160 this year is testament to this – there’s a massive increase in the interest in blogging. For a couple of years there’s been a strong food blogging community here, but not a travel-focused one as yet. I hope that the annual travel blog conference will go some way to connecting people and building a travel blogging tribe.

A big thank you to all our amazing speakers, sponsors and to all the enthusiastic travel bloggers who attended the conference. We can’t wait for next year!



Mariette Du Toit-Helmbold, CEO of Cape Town Tourism, kicked off the conference with a talk on Cape Town Tourism’s latest online campaign involving the four international travel bloggers. She also gave us a sneak preview of Cape Town Tourism’s new exciting social media campaign – watch out for it!

Keith Jenkins from luxury travel blog Velvet Escape talked about how travel bloggers are changing the media landscape. He explained how travel bloggers are actually entrepreneurs: they handle advertising, marketing, writing, editing and publishing. He offered some important tips to new travel bloggers: inject your personality into your blog, use Twitter wisely (it’s the most important networking tool), and develop relationships with readers to build trust. From a brand perspective, he gave advice on how to work with travel bloggers – from what bloggers can offer brands in terms of marketing and reach, and ideas for how to get involved (sponsorship, press trips etc).

Cameron Ewart-Smith, Getaway’s editor, gave a Pecha Kucha-style talk on getting inspiration and how to be creative. He’s known at Getaway as the ‘ideas man’ so he was the right presenter to speak on the topic. Cam urged us to move away from the notion that ideas come in a second (‘a flash of brilliance’ or a ‘stroke of genius’ are not entirely accurate descriptions of how ideas are generated) – ideas take immense energy, time and effort to come to fruition. He suggested that ‘cognitive disinhibition’ is the right approach to getting inspired (ie just got a little crazy) – and that daydreaming is something that needs to be included in your life.

Cape Town photographer and Guy with Camera blogger Andrew Brauteseth took a less traditional approach to talking about travel photography. Instead of just showing photos and giving us tips on how to take them, he provided us with photography inspiration in the form of two videos – of Zanzibar and Kenya – to give us an idea of the feeling that can be expressed through images. He tries to put the viewer in the photo and make it seem as if the viewer is the photographer – something I’d never thought about doing, but actually is a great way to think about travel photography. What I found really interesting about his talk is the idea of tribes – a concept that came up a lot during the day. Andrew explained that he built a community around the things he’s interested in – what I think is an effective approach for building your brand or a blog following.

The man with 86 000 Twitter followers, Melvin Boecher from Traveldudes, was the best person to speak about leveraging social media channels. Melvin spoke mainly about Twitter and focused on more conceptual ideas than basic strategy. He says that the key to social media success is to avoid direct selling – something I agree strongly with. He said people love social media because they can trust it more than search when making travel decisions – definitely something for travel brands and bloggers to keep in mind. His golden rule for Twitter is to ‘be yourself and have fun’ and what’s key for him is retweeting quality content and following lists of quality tweeters.

WildJunket travel blogger and publisher Nellie Huang gave some really useful tips on travel blog writing. She had a number of great points which were retweeted many times: find your own voice in your blog, don’t writer fact-heavy blogs – travel bloggers are not Wikipedia, blogs need to reflect individuals’ personalities, and bloggers need to pick a niche that reflects what they are passionate about. Her writing tips included ideas on how to write introductions (always the hardest part for me), what kind of content to write and how much to write in a blog.

Check out Nellie’s presentation on Slideshare.

William Price, E-Marketing Global Manager at South African Tourism, gave a short-and-sweet talk on building authentic connections in the digital world – a theme that kept on being repeated throughout the day.

Matt Long, travel blogger at Landlopers, presented on how to work with brands as a travel blogger. Travel blogging is not as big in South Africa as it is overseas, where travel bloggers are regarded as professionals. Matt gave us ideas on how travel bloggers can present themselves to brands as professionals, and how brands can partner with bloggers to promote destinations and properties.

Joseph C Lawrence, UX Developer and Partner at digital agency Clickshape, covered the ‘technical stuff’ – Google Analytics, PPC, SEO and WordPress plug in an informative and interesting talk. Joseph made Analytics relevant for bloggers and showed how analytical stats can inform your content strategy, which is really useful. He says that understanding and using your site statistics is the best way to negotiate advertising on your blog. He also pointed out that it’s key to know what technology your readers are using – if many of them are accessing your blog from their mobile phones, then you need to make sure your blog is optimised for mobiles.

Check out  Joseph’s presentation on Slideshare.

Retroviral owner Mike Sharman and all-round funny guy did some energetic yoga moves before his talk, which got the energy going. He had the room roaring with laughter at his rapper impersonations and jokes, while also presenting a super interesting talk on viral marketing. He summed it up well with the Three R’s: remarkable content, seeded to the right people, and connecting with relevant influencers – it’s what viral marketing is all about. Mike shared his campaign for Nando’s ad, The Last Dictator Standing, with us – it went viral globally and resulted in massive success for Nandos, so it was really interesting to get the back story of how it all happened.

Dave Duarte, South Africa’s own Mr Miyagi of digital stuff finished off with a fun presentation on ‘Making your blog awesome’. He spoke about creating a blog vision which should be simple, concrete, credible, emotional and phrased in the form of a story. He shared these stats: 1% of people online create content, 9% share content and 90% consume content. Thinking about it like that makes you realise how important it is not to be a content churn factory, but to focus on creating valuable, niche content that actually resonates with people in a meaningful way. Like other speakers in the day, Dave talked about fostering relationships and communities: ‘It’s not about the numbers, it’s about connecting and building meaningful communities.’ I loved this thought: delighting your readers is the key to long-term awesomeness. It was a great talk to end off the day – it left people feeling inspired, and excited to blog.

Here’s a link to Dave’s presentation on Slideshare.

Jacqueline Lahoud, Getaway’s publisher, closed the day with a video from Ted about leadership – and inspiring words on taking the plunge and being the first ‘lone nut’ to start a movement. She ended off with this thought: ‘Write, share, lead, educate and form. Ask questions and create leaders.’


What we learned

I learned so much during the day from all the speakers, but rather than putting down my learnings here, I thought I would get the conference attendees to share theirs (via Twitter) instead:

I think @ElredL summed up the conference well in his tweet (which won him a weekend at Teniqua Treetops resort):

Be authentic, know your tribes, don’t be afraid to be personal, understand the technology, know your value.

@futurecapetown: Coming through loud and clear at #gtbc is that good blogs are not about facts & info; they are about personality, opinion, stories

@memeburn: Don’t wait for your stuff to be perfect, just get it out there. Also share your fails #GTBC

@NomadTours: #collaboration #honesty #influencers #fun #passionate #targeted #personality #blogger #brand Keywords from #GTBC ‘s exceptional speakers!

Our own Adel Groenewald has summed up the day with this blog post on 25 things we learned.



We’ve had some lovely feedback so far! If you attended the conference, please leave a comment below and let us know what you thought of it – your feedback is much appreciated.

William Price

The Getaway Travel Blog Conference has been the most exciting event as far as online travel in South Africa is concerned – in my opinion, and I am absolutely blown away by the calibre and content of the speakers, the massive growth of the event, the massive coverage it generated, but most of all being in an environment where everyone speaks the same language. I am so privileged to have been able to be a part of it this year. I have no idea how Getaway will make this better in 2013, but I can’t wait to be there then.

Andrew Brauteseth

The GTBC was an inspiring event. It’s amazing to learn more about how social media influencers and bloggers are changing the media landscape.

Melvin Boecher

It was a long conference day with lots of very useful information. There were so many really good speakers, that there was no time to let your mind rest a bit. I was happy to share some of my experiences about social media and its real value, but also to learn other insights from fellow speakers. This was a very successful conference, which I would highly recommend anybody to attend, who is working in the travel industry.

Joseph C Lawrence

The Getaway Travel Blog Conference completely exceeded my expectations. Every single speaker was both informative and entertaining, and the even itself was special in so many ways. I loved speaking, met plenty of fantastic people, and would do it all again next weekend if I could.

Mike Sharman

The Getaway Travel Blog Conference highlights the abundance of passionate writers in our country, wanting to enhance their craft, as well as brands willing to embrace the power of socially connected, digital citizens. Word of mouth positivity about South Africa will continue to encourage new visitors to experience the awesomeness of our shores and continue to improve the bottom line of our GDP.

The Getaway team has done a great job putting the spotlight on travel blogging with a mixture of local and international speakers, and I look forward to seeing the growth of this epic event.

Nellie Huang

#GTBC was one of the best conferences I’ve been to – huge thanks to the organisers! Unlike the previous conferences that I’d been to, it didn’t emphasize on what bloggers could get, instead it focused on what we could give and create – and that was a huge takeaway for me.

Rebecca Houston

The conference was wonderful! The speakers were inspiring and the food was delicious. It was an enriching experience and I’m sure will only continue to grow in numbers and success in the years to come. Thank you for your professionalism and friendly welcome, the conference really had a joie de vivre about it which was lovely to be a part of.



Main sponsor

We’re so grateful for the support from Cape Town Tourism over the past two years. We love what they’re doing in the digital travel world – especially the recent iAmbassador #LoveCapeTown campaign with the four international travel bloggers who spoke at our conference.


Other sponsors

A big thanks to American Express who sponsored the cocktails at our after-party, and a fun photo booth. Check out all the photos here.

Cape Union Mart, Maize-in-a-Minute and South African Tourism sponsored awesome goodies for our goodie bags, and Tangled Tree wines gave each attendee a bottle of their new range of wines, and sponsored wine for our after-party – thank you!

We’re also grateful to South African Tourism for their support.


We gave away R50 000 worth of prizes at this year’s blog conference! Thanks to our sponsors Klein Welmoed, Wildlife ACT, Rani Resorts, Teniqua Treetops and Nox Rentals for offering up awesome weekends away and holidays.


Blogs about #GTBC

Here are some of the blogs that conference attendees have written about what they learned:

Wild Junket

The Getaway Travel Blog Conference in brief

Guy with Camera

10 things I learned at the Getaway Travel Blog Conference

Fly First

20 lessons from the Getaway Travel Blog Conference


Getaway Travel Blog Conference

Extraordinary Travel

10 golden nuggets from the Getaway Travel Blog Conference


Sure Travel

Travel tips for any travellers

11 easy steps to improve your travel blog



Retweeting is amplification and other stuff I learned at #GTBC


Sunee sees the world

What I learned at the Getaway Travel Blog Conference 2012


Being a travel blogger in 2012



Travel blogging: why it’s FTW


Here are some of the tweets from the day:

@ElredL: I was nervous when I arrived this morning…but I found friends and really lovely people. Thanks #GTBC and Getaway Magazine

@ThomHolder: Just had my head crammed with social media knowledge by multiple top bloggers at #GTBC today…to the drawing board!

@VelBotha: @guy_with_camera not just an ironic hipster, also an incredible photographer, inspiring speaker & creator of tribes. #inspired #GTBC

@kelly_kidson: Quotes inspire and @guy_with-camera is doing this well. Its not about depth of field but rather about depth of feeling in photos #GTBC

@Foodandthefab: Two things picked up already:social media involves helping each other and consideration that Internet users are lazy via @traveldudes #GTBC

@nadi_krige: Golden rule for twitter: “be yourself and have fun.” – @traveldudes #GTBC

@BradfordKeen: Travel bloggers are not just bloggers, but publishers. Must know their value @traveldudes #GTBC

@Adelgreen: Finding your niche and your voice. Very important to successful travel blogging. @WildJunket #GTBC

@MariettedTH: Your travel blog and twitter stream should be a reflection of your personality. Don’t be afraid to get personal, says @WildJunket #GTBC

@karijpeters: Meeting fab people at #GTBC, from age 50+ breast cancer survivors selling up to travel the world, to tourism worker bees. @GetawayMagazine

@clairereddie: Resistance is futile, says William Price of SA Tourism, the blog will get you.

@memeburn: The moment bloggers step away and stop being authentic, things start to fall apart #GTBC

@MzansiGirl: Be authentic, be true to yourself and have fun! @william_price’s advice to bloggers #gtbc

@checkincounter: I learnt more #GTBC than all my years in travel.Thank you @DaveDuarte and all the other speakers for awesomeness and for still sending links.



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