Jerusalem, Israel -- Last November, 21 travel bloggers from Europe and Asia & Pacific were brought to Jerusalem in the hopes of eradicating the negative connotations of the world about Israel. The city of Jerusalem recently won the bid of hosting the biggest travel blogging event in the world called Travel Blog Exchange Conference (TBEX) which will be happening in March 2017.

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TBEX is the largest conference and networking event for travel bloggers, online travel journalists, new media content creators, travel brands and industry professionals. Each year, TBEX partners with fantastic host destinations in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific to bring the travel industry’s most creative minds together to learn, network and do business.


From the ramparts of the old city to the best culinary experiences in the famous Machne Yehuda Market, the 21 travel bloggers who attended the pre-trip were able to have a tangible and firsthand experience of the best of the best of Jerusalem. Pre-trips are made in order for travel bloggers to have a feel of what the host city will be like. For a country as misunderstood as Israel, they need all the powers of the travel blogosphere in order for their TBEX hosting to succeed. These bloggers were expected to market through their social media platforms, hoping that their fellows will find the reasons to attend the conference in Jeruse. However, is Jerusalem really ready to host something this big?

Jerusalem as a travel destination

There is no question about Jerusalem as one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. Travel Bloggers are very open-minded when it comes to choosing the places they travel to. The challenge, the hype and the endless curiosity is what leads us to visit challenging places like Israel.


Jerusalem first-timer Olga Rabo of The Russian Abroad said the city didn't have to put so much effort to impress. "It has everything for you to work with history, the colours, the food, the atmosphere -- Jerusalem, and Israel as a whole has a lot of touristic potential despite the small size. I was happy to get a sneak peak into the Israeli culture to educate myself a little, and of course, to meet all the amazing people that were on the trip with me."

In the media, Israel as a whole is portrayed as very "dangerous" and "religious." Travel blogger Sarah Richard of Coffee and A Slice of Life has been traveling Israel since October and have clearly stated that both of those words (dangerous and religious) are very far from what she saw while she was freely roaming around the country.

Travel blogging as a full-time job

I was working in one of my favourite cafes in Tel Aviv when a man sitting next to my desk started talking: “Look around. This place is full of people on their computers. It seems like Israel has really advanced itself in the location independence scene.”

"Yeah, I noticed that too. Everyone seems to be doing different things here. Almost nobody is in the office. Welcome to the 21st century, I guess?” I replied.

True. In a month that I was here, I met a dance therapist, a guy who grows hair and sells it to Chinese factories, a dog whisperer, a party starter, and many other radical jobs. The occupations here are something I’ve never heard before. People are really doing what they love here.” he said.

There was a short pause and I knew he would ask what he asked: “How about you? What do you do?”

"Hmmmm. I’m a travel blogger?” I responded with a wink.

 

I know it's been a while but I'm back! Currently in #Jerusalem for #tbexjlm! #itraveljerusalem #TrishaVxIsrael #VibeIsrael

A photo posted by Trisha V. @ P.S. I'm On My Way (@psimonmyway) on


It always takes me a lot of time to explain what I do. Believe it or not, even though Israel has one of the most advanced technologies in the world, to earn a living from social media and blogging is very unimaginable for Israelis.

Who would pay you money to post on the blog? Or on social media? That’s how their faces look like as this is also a country who is very careful in delegating their finances. In financial reports (and in everyday activities), they will count even a single cent. I have never been in any business meetings/transactions where the issue about money has not been raised. “How much will we spend in that project” and “how much will we get in return” have been an element of every agenda.

As a travel blogger myself, who chose Israel to be my base for the time being, I discovered a lot of hardships in surviving here with the nature of work that I do. Yes, you are reading it right. And you might be one of those Israelis who can't grasp how I can make blogging as a full-time job. However, it is still very unimaginable for me to be in one of the biggest start-up nations in the world that don't understand the value of new media as opposed to trad media.

Jerusalem (and Israel as a whole) as a non-blogging country

The nature of working with influencers is changing very rapidly and Israel is one of the countries that are behind. There are a larger number of us now with bigger numbers, larger reach and influence and more professionalism. All these can be proved with a documented return on investment. Blogging has taken over traditional media in terms of having the most organic and genuine audiences because we are real people. Today's audiences would rather hear a story from a true person than a byline that doesn't have a face. There have been a huge number of bloggers who have proven themselves to bring results to specific brand campaigns.

When the travel blogging community learned I am using Israel as my base, I became the go-to person with all things Israel. Every day, I have a message in my inbox complaining about the absurdity of responses travel bloggers receive from Israeli hotels, tour companies or anything related to tourism.

"They wanted me to pay 50% for an overnight stay in exchange for a review on my blog, a tweet, 2 Instagram posts and Pinterest post and a Facebook post.” One of my close blogger friends said.

I had the same experience when one organiser from an event in Tel Aviv wanted my services but didn’t want to pay. Although I was really interested in the project, he was asking for too much that I demanded a fee. When I did, his mood changed and went crazy on me.

"I am very uncomfortable when I am caught up in this kind of situation. You know, when you underestimate the power of blogging and online media is not cool to me. People like me are good at what they do and you need to understand that while we might get things for free, we also work hard for it. I don’t deal with people who talk to me like this but I want to be respectful. Good luck with your project and may the force be with you.” **walks away**

Just to emphasize, Israel is one of the least blogger friendly countries just because they think blogs are school projects or a daily "Dear Diary" kind of thing. Whenever I am caught up with mad questions from my fellow bloggers about how Israel responds to "people like us," I also try to understand it two way. Since I am here for a longer time, I the dynamics of tourism companies have been clear. In a less political and understandable way, I always try my best to tell the bloggers to understand the current situation in Israel.

This Israeli behaviour is a by-product of the 50-day war between Gaza and Israel in 2014…

Again, I don’t want to discuss anything political but this conflict 2 years ago shrunk the tourism percentage of Israel. Hotels almost went bankrupt. All their reservations within that time period were cancelled, hence, no income. Tourists who were stuck in the country didn’t want to do anything touristic. Tour companies had nothing for days. The industry lost a lot of money and up until today, some are still paying for that loss. This is the part where I understood why they are very particular with all the media requests coming their way. And why on most days, they don’t reply to any inquiry at all.

Another factor that affects this blogger-company relationship in Israel is trust. Bloggers, note that every human being in this country went to the army. I’m sure you know how army people are: very very very particular, not so trusting, attentive to details and true to their word. I’ve been told by some companies that they worked with bloggers who did not comply with the deal (blog posts, social media promotions etc). I told them they did not tap the right bloggers for the job. I definitely have a lot of friends in the travel blogosphere that are very trusted and are very good at what they do.

However, there are Israeli companies that are working with bloggers on a regular basis. Abraham Hostels is one of the great Israeli brands that understand the value of working with bloggers. Since their blogging program started, they have hosted 100 bloggers in all their properties all over Israel which gave them the best marketing that money can't buy -- word of mouth.

In the travel blogging world, when Israel is mentioned or brought about in any conversations, Abraham Hostels name would always come up. They needed not invest money in order for them to be the biggest and strongest hostels in the country. They only needed to make extraordinary allies in the travel blogging world.

Preparing for TBEX 2017

 

Exploring Jerusalem - such a diverse city #tbexjlm @itraveljerusalem @tbexevents

A photo posted by Franziska Reichel (@coconut_sports) on

Jerusalem will really need a lot of time and effort to host people like travel bloggers whom, most are doing it full time. Mike Huxley of Bemused Backpacker said, "Travel blogging is a real profession now, and those of us who work hard at it are very good at what we do. We know our audiences, know our styles and know how to market destinations to them. We are not tourists out for a few freebies. By listening to us, listening to what we need to do our jobs and giving us the time to do it, brands, DMOs and tourism boards can maximise the potential exposure they get from us, and they can learn that investing in travel bloggers as marketing professionals can give them far greater ROI than any traditional media can."

Franzi Reichel of Coconut Sports Blog clearly stated: "Israel is not Mallorca or any other regular holiday destination. Be prepared for critical questions, be honest and try to explain as much as possible instead of asking people to only write positive things about Jerusalem“.

And she is correct. Not only that Israel is hard to market but travel bloggers have the most convincing tool and powers in order for more people not just to come to Israel but to attend the TBEX Conference. Not only that they will come but the conference and the participants will help in adding extra boost to Jerusalem's tourism.

At present, over 25 travel blogging groups on Facebook are making a buzz about the difficulties in working with Israeli brands. Bad publicity is also publicity so it won't hurt that Jerusalem is making a name as the TBEX 2017 host. However, will this buzz, negative or positive, help them gather more participants to come to the conference? For hosting an event as travel blogging specific as TBEX, Jerusalem has to know the ins and outs of working with this kind of people. Will they have enough time to do so? Will they be able to cope? Furthermore, are they willing to learn to embrace new media and try new things? I guess we have three (3) months to find out.



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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

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