Interview – Rick Calvert on TBEX Europe 2023 in Kalamata, Greece
Kalamata in the Peloponnese is expected to trend greatly on social media platforms and dominate hashtags this May when some of the world’s most influential travel bloggers and leading digital content creators arrive from all over the world to attend the Travel Blog Exchange European Conference – TBEX Europe 2023.
One of the largest conferences, worldwide, for travel bloggers, TBEX will host a series of meetings, educational seminars and presentations. Hundreds of journalists, travel bloggers and influencers will be in Kalamata during May 8-12 to connect and get the latest on trends, strategies and tactics of the tourism market.
At the same time, the beauty and unique experiences that the host destination can offer visitors will be going viral on social media, contributing greatly to both Kalamata’s and the Peloponnese’s placement on the international tourism and travel scene.
GTP is a media sponsor of the event and recently caught up with the man behind it all: Rick Calvert, the event’s CEO and one of the biggest players in the blogging industry. Rick gives us a glimpse of everything that will be going on at the TBEX conference in Kalamata in the Peloponnese, a region, he says, that has “all of the things” a TBEX host destination should have.
“Our hosts in Kalamata have some amazing evening networking planned for us,” he said, adding that there will be “tens of millions” of impressions generated on social media immediately during and following the TBEX event.
In this interview Rick also touches on a few other hot topics including travel in the post-pandmic world, overtourism and the AI platforms that generate content – aka ChatGPT – which is expected to have a big impact on blogging.
“Anyone who thinks this is a fad is dead wrong… AI is the future. It is the wild west,” Rick says, adding that bloggers and content creators will be left behind if they ignore this now and don’t learn how to use this to their advantage.
- GTP: Rick, it’s great to speak again! It’s been almost 10 years since the TBEX event was held for the first time in Greece – in Athens. How much has TBEX grown since the TBEX Europe 2014 event?
Rick Calvert: We are very happy to be returning to Greece for TBEX. Actually, this event will be smaller than our last event in Athens for two reasons. First, we are in a smaller venue in Kalamata. Second many travel creators left the industry during the two plus years of Covid-19 related travel restrictions.
Other than that, TBEX has grown by doing three or even four events per year now compared to ten years ago when we only did two. We have been to Asia several times now, Israel and this year will be our first TBEX Africa in Durban, South Africa during October 18–20.
- GTP: And now TBEX Europe will be held in Kalamata in May. Last December you described the city and the Peloponnese region as an “ideal choice” as the host destination of ΤΒΕΧ Europe 2023. Can you elaborate on that?
Rick Calvert: The Peloponnese region has all of the things we look for in a TBEX host destination. There are thousands of years of history, incredible food and wine, culture, natural beauty and a large variety of activities for attendees to participate in before during and after TBEX.
- GTP: What exactly do you “see” in the city? Does Kalamata have what it takes to make it as an international tourism destination and attract visitors all year round?
Rick Calvert: I would say Kalamata absolutely has what it takes to increase the amount of tourism they are attracting now. Another more important question would be do they want to be like some of the island destinations in Greece that were struggling with overtourism before Covid 19 travel restrictions shut down the world. The representatives from the region can better answer that question.
I think Kalamata and the Peloponnese region have unique beauty, culture and history that are exactly what a large number of travelers are looking for today. Now, more than ever before, travelers are looking for the “right” destination. Many are trying to avoid the overcrowded destinations.
At the same time many destinations around the world are looking for the “right” kind of visitor and I think the Peloponnese would fall in that group.
- GTP: For those who have never been to a TBEX event, could you give us a sneak preview of what they should exactly expect in Kalamata this May? How many attendees should we expect to see at this year’s event? What will be the event’s highlights?
Rick Calvert: TBEX Europe 2023 in Kalamata will be sold out both on the attendee and sponsor side of things so if anyone wants to participate they should get their tickets or their sponsor spot now. We will have 400 attendees in Kalamata and around 25 το 30 sponsor tables. We will have some fantastic keynote presentations, lots of education for both travel creators and travel industry attendees.
You have been before so you know the evening events at TBEX are lots of fun and very memorable. Our hosts in Kalamata have some amazing evening networking planned for us. Lastly, attendees are exploring the city and surrounding area in PreBEX trips before the conference and FAM trips all over the Peloponnese region after the conference. The last time we were in Greece our attendees stayed an average of 28 days before, during and after TBEX. We are trying to equal that again this year.
- GTP: The TBEX event is considered an extremely important development for Kalamata’s placement and image within the international travel and tourism industry. What promotion should the destination expect following the event?
Rick Calvert: One important point is the promotion of the region started a long time ago. TBEX attendees have already been talking about Kalamata and the Peloponnese region for months on all of the social media platforms. Some attendees will arrive a week or more before the conference. There will certainly be tens of millions of impressions generated on social media immediately during and following the event. Then a very large number of blog posts, videos, photos and images will be published in the months following the event.
We have sponsors from our last event in Athens telling us they are still getting visitors from blog posts published 10 years ago after TBEX in Athens.
- GTP: Can you recall the outcome of the TBEX event after it was held in Athens (promotion wise)? I do remember that it was a sold-out event.
Rick Calvert: We had 800 attendees in Athens, but we had almost unlimited space at the Megaron. I just looked up the post event report and see we had almost 9,000 people contributing content with the hashtag in the 30 days post event, we reached over 15 million people and had 150 million plus impressions around the world.
- GTP: Travel has been through a lot due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Considering that the Covid-era was quite a challenging time for the industry, how do you see the industry progressing?
Rick Calvert: This is the question everyone wants the answer to now. We all have to remember overtourism was the hottest topic in travel before Covid-19 and it’s related travel restrictions shut down travel all over the world. Some of those top destinations like Amsterdam, Prague and Barcelona are already talking about overtourism again. Destinations were on the verge or already starting to implement strategies to attract visitors away from those top tier cities into secondary destinations.
That is already happening again. During the pandemic people who still wanted to travel were already seeking out less crowded destinations. That is going to continue. Previously considered second and third tier destinations are going to continue seeing increases in visitors.
Even though we can all travel freely again, things are not the same yet and probably will not be for some time. There are not as many flights or direct routes as there were before Covid-19. Flights are considerably more expensive in many markets. Hotel rates are higher in many markets pre-covid.
These are all factors that are going to be pushing visitors into those alternative destinations. One more trend that was hot before the pandemic was Slow Travel. I think you are going to see that continue to increase significantly with visitors staying much longer in a destination.
- GTP: Another topic I’d love your input on, considering all the hype, is the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT. What are your thoughts about this? How do you think this will impact the travel blogging industry?
Rick Calvert: Great question! When you say ChatGPT what you really mean are all the AI platforms out there that can help generate content. I will say without a doubt AI will have as big of an impact on content as blogging did when it originally debuted. Over the last twenty years we have seen blogging and later all forms of social media completely revolutionize media.
AI is going to do the same thing and maybe be even more far reaching. AI empowers independent creators more than ever before. We all need to be committed to learning how these platforms work and learning how to use them to our advantage. Anyone who thinks this is a fad is dead wrong and is going to be left behind trying to catch up if they ignore this now. AI is the future. It is the wild west. Things are about to change exponentially and at an incredibly fast rate.
- GTP: Can you share some career highlights from your background? How did you get involved in the travel media/blogging scene?
Rick Calvert: Well, back in 2005 I was working for a large tradeshow company. That had been my job for about 15 years. I had produced events with over 100,000 attendees including the SEMA Show (automotive tradeshow) and ComicCon in San Diego. I had started reading blogs around the year 2000. I was fascinated with all of this new media with incredible stories you couldn’t find in traditional media outlets. Not just in travel but in every vertical industry of the world. I started a blog and decided I wanted to go to “The blogging tradeshow”. It didn’t exist yet so I created an event called BlogWorld. My life changed forever with that decision. A couple years later we bought TBEX and have been doing this since 2012.
- GTP: Before we close this interview, please give a message, a few words, to those getting ready to attend the ΤΒΕΧ Europe 2023 – Peloponnese in May.
Rick Calvert: First I would say thank you to anyone who is supporting the TBEX community. Covid-19 was devastating for the travel industry as a whole. It was certainly that for travel creators and for TBEX. If your business survived, I say congratulations! You have made it to the other side and we are in for a tremendous amount of growth for the next several years.
I cannot wait to come back to Greece, Kalamata and the Peloponnese. Greece is one of my personal favorite countries in the world. I cannot wait to see you all there.
Details on the TBEX Europe 2023 event can be found here.
The Greek Travel Pages (GTP) is an official media partner of the TBEX Europe 2023 event.