You may have heard the acronym mentioned in travel-related conversations, especially among female travel enthusiasts and bloggers. But what exactly is WITS and why go?
I asked myself those same questions when I first heard about the Women in Travel Summit back in 2014. That was the first year of WITS, and I knew nothing about it, other than the fact it was being held in Chicago (where I lived at the time). As someone in the travel industry, it seemed like a good fit for me, but I needed to know more. I passed on attending that first year, thinking it probably wasn’t worth the money or the time. How wrong I was.
Fast forward to 2017, and I’m about to attend my second WITS conference in Milwaukee, April 21-23. What changed? A lot, actually, but we won’t go into all the details of my life. The focus here is WITS.
A little Background
WITS is “the premier event for women travel influencers, creators, and brands.” It’s organized by Wanderful, an international community of independent, globally minded women who travel. The goal of the summit is to give attendees tools, resources and advice to help them become better travel bloggers, influencers and entrepreneurs. It’s also designed to connect brands with great people to build their digital presence. Throughout the summit, attendees take part in workshops, presentations, networking events, and more to grow their knowledge, meet others in the industry, and find companies they may want to work with.
As a freelance travel writer and a passionate explorer, I wanted to find a group I could relate to. When I discovered Wanderful three years ago, I knew this was the community I was looking for. Everyone was incredibly friendly, supportive and excited about travel. I felt at home with these women, and wanted to get more involved. When I made the move back to Denver a couple years ago, I started the Wanderful Denver Chapter, and have been running it ever since. Now that I was thoroughly invested, I knew the next step was to attend WITS. All the Wanderful members told me great things about it, rave reviews coming in from all over. In 2016, I attended the summit in Irvine, and I couldn’t believe I had waited this long to experience this summit.
So what was so great about WITS? Why am I going again this year? There are so many reasons, but here are the key takeaways of this incredible weekend.
WITS brings together some of the most influential and inspiring women in the travel industry. At the 2016 summit, I saw successful travel, bloggers, vloggers and social media mavens like Julie DenOuden, Stephanie Be, Nadine Sykora, and Erin Bender. These ladies provided insight into their worlds, how they created their businesses and brands, and tips and tricks to be successful. Between the driven entrepreneurs and enthusiastic businesses, I couldn’t help but leave each session feeling hopeful and optimistic for my own blogging and writing ambitions.
This year, I’m super excited to see some more trend-focused sessions and speakers, who can talk about what’s driving the industry and where we all fall into it. I’m also looking forward to attending some instructive courses on improving your blog, building a media kit, and pitching potential clients. In Irvine, there were a few panel sessions, but nothing I felt would be beneficial. This year, there will be a panel about the rise of beer travel for women…right up my alley.
I’ve attended work conferences before, but I’ve never seen one that offered pre-conference events like WITS. Since it is a travel summit, it makes sense that attendees would be encouraged to actually see the city they’re in. These events are a great way to discover a new destination, while at the same time gaining exposure for the host city. What better way to market than through the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds of hundreds of bloggers?
If you have the ability to arrive a couple days before the summit, you can take part in an array of city tours, happy hours, networking events, and more, all before the conference even begins. In Irvine, there were a number of tours around the area I wanted to take part in, but unfortunately didn’t arrive in time for most of them. This year, I’m thrilled to say I’ll be part of some of these event, including a craft brewery and cocktail tour (expect a blog post on that one for sure) and a Historic Milwaukee Walking Tour. The other great part about these events? They’re totally, 100% FREE for attendees!
Exciting Brand Sponsors
WITS works with some incredible travel brands and destinations, and attendees can meet with them one-on-one throughout the conference. Every sponsor has tables set up with information and products available, and they’re all eager to talk to you about your blogging or business goals. The idea is to make networking easy in the hopes of building great partnerships. And this isn’t just for the attendees, the brands want to meet influencers, bloggers and writers they can work with to promote their products or their destination. This is where having a great media kit and plenty of business cards comes in handy. At last year’s WITS, I was still coming up with the concept for my new blog, and wasn’t in the right place for brands to work with me. This year, however, I’m planning to come away with some collaboration opportunities and potential clients.
It’s not all business at WITS, in fact, it’s more about having fun and enjoying yourself. After all, isn’t that was travel is all about? Sure, there’s plenty of networking opportunities and informative sessions, but there’s also conga lines in the hallways, mobile nail salons for a quick manicure, amazing hair styling and temporary tattoos, scavenger hunts, specialty cocktails and more. Now, those were all things that took place at WITS 16, and I’m super curious to see what they have in store this year.
With an opening party at the Harley-Davidson Museum, Yoga at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and a closing reception at Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company, I think it’s safe to say I’m in for a ridiculously good time!
New Found Support System
One of the best parts of WITS, for me, was the support I received from everyone I met. In Irvine, I was still sorting out what I wanted to do. When I told people I used to have a blog that sadly fizzled and died, they all encouraged me to revive, revamp and rebrand it. There were no negative comments about not being able to do it, or all the challenges I was going to face. People were thoughtful and instructive, they offered ideas and tips on what to do first.
Thanks to my experience at WITS, I’ve relaunched my blog (yes, the one you’re reading right now), and I’ve grown my social media following – slowly, but it’s far and above what it was just a year ago. Through it all, many of the women I met at WITS have followed my Instagram account, commented on posts, and been supportive of my efforts. Now, I’m going into this year with a stronger foundation, and will hopefully leave with even more great opportunities and encouragement.
The true beauty of WITS is the incredible connections and friendships you make. I left Irvine last year with dozens of business cards, and a group of ladies I’m still in touch with (in fact I’m rooming with three of them this year). There is something about this community that is special, different, and strong. When you’re part of WITS and Wanderful, you know you’re part of something bigger than yourself, but it doesn’t make you feel small, it makes you feel empowered. I know that on any given day, I can reach out to these women and ask any question (no matter how simple or complex), and they will answer – in droves. They love to share their stories, ideas, advice, and I’m happy to share mine.
WITS 17 is a week away, and the excitement is hard to contain. I’m thrilled to be sharing a few days with these women, and can’t wait to see what this year has in store.
If you want to attend WITS 17 in Milwaukee, tickets are still available. If you can’t make it for the whole weekend, but you live in the area and want to get a taste of it, you can purchase a day pass and check out sessions on either Saturday or Sunday.