Top Ten Religious Travel Trends

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The president of the World Religious Travel Association tells what’s hot in faith tourism. He foresees cruise lines, tourist offices and attractions stepping up efforts to attract religious groups. More tour operators will roll out religious programs, and more religious operators will expand their product offerings into leisure travel. Also up: missionary/volunteer travel and bookings at monasteries and retreat guesthouses.

Text of Top Ten Religious Travel Trends

  • on location: international kevin j. wright

    IN RECENT YEARS THE religious

    tourism and hospitality marketplace

    has evolved from a rather obscure

    niche market into an attention-grab-

    bing, $18-billion global industry. In-

    deed, faith-based travel today is in the

    midst of a remarkable growth spurt.

    International travel by Americans

    for religious purposes has doubled over

    the past five years and according to a

    recent study by Menlo Consulting, this

    trend is expected to continue for an-

    other five years. Destinations such as

    Israel, Jordan and Palestine enjoyed

    some of their best tourism years ever in

    2008. European pilgrimage sites such

    as Lourdes (France) witnessed a

    record-breaking number of visitors.

    Many destinations, attractions and

    events in North America also experi-

    enced a year of growth in faith-based

    tourism.

    What can we expect in 2009 for the

    religious travel and hospitality market-

    place? Consider the top 10 trends:

    More tour operators will debut reli-

    gious travel programs. In the past five

    years, formal religious travel programs

    have been introduced by large tour op-

    erators like Trafalgar Tours,

    Mayflower Tours (Faithful Holidays)

    and the Globus family of brands. The

    National Tour Association (NTA) has

    seen its member tour operators in-

    crease their religious programs; 35 per-

    cent of them now offer religious tour

    product. More operators will roll out

    (and/or expand) religious travel pro-

    grams in 2009.

    More travel agencies will become

    involved in selling to religious groups

    and travelers. The increase in tour op-

    erators offering religious programs (see

    previous trend) will result in a greater

    number of travel agents entering the

    faith tourism marketplace because

    there is more product available to sell.

    Cruise lines will devote more efforts

    18 February 2009 LeisureGroupTravel.com

    Travelers contribute manpoweron missionary trips.

    Top 10 ReligiousTravel TrendsTop 10 ReligiousTravel Trends

    The president of the World ReligiousTravel Association looks at 2009,proclaimed the Year of Faith Tourism

  • and products towards the faith-based

    market. Cruise companies are major

    beneficiaries of the recent growth in re-

    ligious tourism, and more faith-based

    groups are choosing cruising as their

    preferred choice of a fellowship vaca-

    tion. Companies such as Princess

    Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Monarch

    Classic Cruises and Steps of Paul

    Coastal Cruises have recently debuted

    or expanded ports of call in the Holy

    Land.

    Missionary travel and volunteer va-

    cations will continue to surge in popu-

    larity. The number of people taking a

    vacation with a purpose has doubled

    in the past five years to two million

    Americans. One of the major drivers of

    this marketplace in the coming years

    will be travel agents. Although agents

    have traditionally steered clear of sell-

    ing this type of vacation, more of them

    will begin offering missionary travel

    and volunteer vacations due to in-

    creased assistance from wholesalers

    such as MTS Travel, Raptim Travel

    and Lifetree Adventures.

    Tourist offices/boards and conven-

    tion and visitors bureaus will devote

    more resources and personnel towards

    developing the faith-based travel mar-

    ket. As religious group travel and

    events continue to develop into a vital

    source of new revenues and visitors,

    well see a growing trend of destination

    management organizations hiring a

    specific person or setting up a depart-

    ment to oversee the religious market.

    One model is the Bahamas Ministry of

    Tourism, which has a dedicated direc-

    tor of religious travel in Linville John-

    son. A second trend will include CVBs

    and regional tourist offices devoting

    more resources towards attracting and

    developing not only the religious con-

    ventions and meetings market but the

    fast-growing leisure group travel mar-

    ket as well.

    Monasteries and retreat guesthouses

    will welcome an increase in visitors. As

    2009 will be a year most likely filled

    with uncertainty and increased anxiety

    across the world, many people will be

    searching for a place that provides sol-

    ace and serenity. As a result, monaster-

    ies and retreat guesthouses are gearing

    up for a possible record-setting number

    of visitors; about 2.5 million North

    Americans embark on a retreat each

    year. To meet the growing demand,

    more publications are coming out on

    places of solitude and inspiration. This

    includes my guidebook, Europes

    Monastery & Convent Guesthouses:

    A Pilgrims Travel Guide (Liguori

    Publications).

    Religious tour operators will ex-

    pand their product offerings into

    leisure travel. Many leading religious

    tour operators in North America have

    developed stellar reputations for their

    expertise in pilgrimage travel; these in-

    clude companies such as 206 Tours,

    Group IST (Journeys Unlimited and

    Regina Tours) and Unitours. In 2009

    and beyond, well see religious tour op-

    erators expanding their leisure product

    offerings, from cruising and local get-

    aways to faith-based attraction visits,

    African safaris and volunteer vaca-

    tions. In summary, well see more reli-

    gious tour operators debut leisure

    travel programs and well see more

    of them cross-sell their various reli-

    gious and leisure travel products.

    Attractions will further customize

    their products, services and sales/mar-

    keting efforts to the religious market.

    Museums, amusement parks and the-

    aters already welcome religious groups.

    However, many such attractions take

    the market for granted and do little to

    further draw people of faith. As the

    potential of the religious marketplace

    LeisureGroupTravel.com February 2009 19

    Cruise lines will devote more efforts and productstowards the faith-based market.

  • becomes more apparent, well begin to

    see a change in how attractions cater

    to faith-based groups.

    Religious groups will continue to

    gather no matter what the year

    ahead brings. If there is one tradition

    that cuts across all religions, it is this:

    people of faith like to gather. To look

    at it another way, community lies at

    the very core of many faiths and reli-

    gions. For this reason, it comes as no

    surprise that the religious market rep-

    resents about 16 percent of the meet-

    ings industry and is estimated to be

    twice the size of the business meetings

    market. According to the Religious

    Conference Management Association

    (RCMA), the religious meetings mar-

    ket has grown from 4.4 million atten-

    dees in 1994 to an estimated 15

    million attendees today.

    Churches and faith-based organiza-

    tions will launch travel programs in

    ever-increasing numbers. Approxi-

    mately 50,000 of the 400,000 churches

    and religious organizations in America

    possess some kind of travel program.

    One of the hottest trends in faith com-

    munities is the hosting of a travel pro-

    gram (also known as travel

    ministry). There is much greater

    awareness in religious circles about the

    benefits of combining faith, fun and

    fellowship through travel. This aware-

    ness is being driven by expanded media

    coverage on the topic, growth of reli-

    gious travel guidebooks, and the in-

    crease in travel companies marketing

    and selling directly to churches and

    faith-based organizations. LGT

    20 February 2009 LeisureGroupTravel.com

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