Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Orlando for bloggers

When travel bloggers aren't traveling and blogging they travel to learn more about blogging.

ASTA, the organization for travel agents, has come to realize the influence bloggers have on the traveling public. So much so that they opened their annual convention in Orlando with a session for travel bloggers hosted by Tripitini which is kind of a Facebook for travelers and travel writers.

Three Sunday morning sessions on the art of blogging were followed by opening day of the ASTA Travel Market in the huge Orange County Convention Center.

Chris Elliott, the non-stop consumer advocate for MSNBC, National Geographic Traveler, Tribune Media Services and The Washington Post, opened the SRO sessions with the ABCD of blogging: Find a topic. Connect with an audience. Make money. Become an influencer.

The 133 million blogs in 2008, perhaps 500 are serious travel blogs so Elliott recommended finding a niche that matches your passion, your strengths and that isn't being covered. Wordpress seems top be the preferred formatter and remember, it isn't really a blog post without participation from readers.

Having found a niche, finding an audience means always writing on-topic (not like this) and really working social media - Stumble Upon, Digg, Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, etc.

Making money is the biggest bugaboo. Of then 150 or so bloggers in the room, perhaps three or four actually made their living from it. Syndication gets you good exposure but not much money and slavishly including the most searched key words gets you lost in the competition.

Be interesting, get recognized, go viral, make lots of friends, help other bloggers and get traffic, traffic, traffic and you will become an influencer.

Edward Hasbrouck's (Practical Nomad) session on working with travel marketers and PR agencies was pretty much a snooze, which many of us needed.

However, the the "One Subject, One Blog: Do's and Don'ts for Niche Blogging" was a hit. Jeanine Barone, www.jthetravelauthority.com, finds the unexpected, eschewing theme parks for parks and trails in Orlando; Matt Kepnes www.nomadicmatt.com, helps keep you traveling for longer lengths of time on less money; Janice Waugh, www.solotravelerblog.com, learned to fly, bike, train and cruise solo after becoming a widow; Beth Whitman, www.wanderlustandlipstick.com, blogs for female travelers; and moderator Kim Mance, www.gogalavanting.com and founder of TBEX, kept comments and answers to questions pithy and relevant.

Meanwhile, always on target eventually, I picked up some tips for Levelers.

Tips: The Hard Rock Hotel in the Universal complex is a good fit for families but not for levelers. Inside it isn't bad but to get from self parking lot to lobby level involves a series of stairs - 37 to be precise. You can valet park but to reach the pickup spot for shuttle buses on that side of the hotel, you must negotiate another 37 stairs.

La Nouba, the popular Cirque du Soleil show at the DisneyWorld Boardwalk area, also involves stairs, although there is an elevator. If you get the rare opportunity to take a tour, there are a LOT of stairs; the complex is nine stories tall and you either take the elevator up and walk down or walk up and elevator down (the former is better).

You can put a lot of miles on the car trying to find your way around and out of the Disney complex. My recommendation: Pick a hotel or resort, whether within the complex or not, with good shuttle bus service and let someone else do the driving. You'll walk less, too.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal is the hot spot now thanks to J. K. Rowling's lovable wizard. I didn't have time to give it a try but those who did raved and reported that the area is relatively small so walking doesn't overwhelm you. To beat the crowds, stay at a hotel that qualifies you to enter an hour earlier than everyone else or lounge around the pool by day and head to Hogwarts late in the afternoon when everyone else is hot, sweaty and leaving.


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