Midwest destinations, bloggers converge for 1st Building Community travel conference

The Walking Tourists
Clear Lake, Iowa, quickly became one of our favorite Midwestern spots. The city was the host of the first Midwest Travel Bloggers’ Building Community 18 travel conference.

Bloggers, visitors bureaus and travel experts gathered among the glacial waters of North Iowa as the Midwest Travel Bloggers hosted their first conference. Nearly 100 people participated in Building Community 18 at the iconic Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake. The conference, which took place May 9-11, was the brainchild of Lisa and her Midwest Travel Bloggers partner Sara Broers of Mason City, Iowa.

The two thought of creating a working conference where writers and destination representatives could work together and learn from one another in a tranquil setting. Once they decided to pursue the venture last year, they engaged the Clear Lake visitors bureau to gauge its interest. Libbey Hohn, the bureau’s director, jumped at the chance to host the event. Libbey suggested the Surf as the meeting’s location. The Surf Ballroom is known as the last concert venue that a trio of early rock and roll stars performed at before their deaths in a plane crash. A memorial at the ballroom and near the crash site a few miles outside of town honors Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson. Steve Peterson was the pilot of the ill-fated small craft flight.

Building Community 18's organizers Libbey Hohn, Sara Broers and Lisa Trudell in front of the Surf Ballroom.
Building Community 18’s organizers Libbey Hohn, Sara Broers and Lisa Trudell.

Lisa, Sara and Libbey put in a lot of long hours and several phone calls and meetings to make this thing happen. They arranged for nationally-known speakers, such as Sheila Scarborough of Austin, Texas, and Leif Pettersen of the Twin Cities. Regional speakers included Iowans Darcy Maulsby, Michelle Marine, JJ Goodvin, Deb Brown, Cassie Peterson, Lindsey James and Colleen Frein, as well as Nebraskans Kim Bultsma and Jameon Rush. Cindy Ladage of Illinois also addressed a session.

The conference’s goal was to present legitimate and actionable information to help destinations and bloggers work together to improve marketing and coverage of attractions across the Midwest. The region includes 12 states, from Ohio to the east and the Plains states to the west. Eight states and the province of Manitoba were represented at the conference.

Helpful sessions

General and individual sessions provided excellent information and advice for bloggers and writers, from how to get published, monetize blogs, avoid burnout and maximize SEO reach, as well as video on a small budget.

Sessions for destinations and visitors bureaus highlighted items, such as arranging successful FAM trips, creative marketing using technology and best practices, as well as avoiding burnout (which applied to both destinations and writers).

Kim Bultsma of Omaha kicked off the conference with a general session on maximizing SEO content.
Kim Bultsma of Omaha kicked off the conference with a general session on maximizing SEO content.

A luncheon presentation focused on finding a unique attraction that helps a community tell its story, which, in turn, hooks bloggers and other visitors.

In addition to the learning sessions, about a dozen visitors bureaus and agencies had booths where they could share information about their location with bloggers, as well as get to know each other better. I enjoyed visiting with the representatives. I talked with about half of them and wished I had been to each table. We’ve met some of them in the past, so that was helpful. We also spent some time with the people away from the conference watching hockey or enjoying dinner. I’m always impressed with the love and pride for their communities that they enjoy sharing with others.

Amy Burrows of the Burnsville visitors bureau and I discussed the Minnesota city's attractions.
Amy Burrows of the Burnsville visitors bureau and I discussed the Minnesota city’s attractions.

Based on the feedback given to Lisa and her partners, the conference was a major success. For Clear Lake, it was expected to bring in an estimated $27,000 over the three days. For bloggers and destinations, they’re ready for the next one. The Midwest Travel Bloggers are already in discussion for the 2019 location and will be announced by June 1, 2018.

To follow Midwest Travel Bloggers, please visit their website at www.midwesttravelbloggers.com.