About 135 program directors from churches and religious organizations around the nation met or renewed relationships with travel industry professionals to make the 2018 Going On Faith Conference a success. The gathering inside the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, gave everyone dozens of opportunities to network during two busy marketplace sessions. Those quick one-on-one sessions and social events at the conference often produce tangible future religious group travel.
Bill Highsmith of Tusculum Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, is a Going On Faith Conference regular. “I’ve come here for years and always go away with ideas for places I hadn’t already planned on,” Highsmith said. “We usually follow through on those ideas. We’ve done a lot of business with people here.”
Mac Lacy, a Going On Faith Conference partner, told delegates about Highsmith’s belief in the conference. “Bill told me he won’t plan and release his travel schedule for 2019 until after he comes to this conference,” said Lacy. “That’s how much he learns here. That’s quite an endorsement.”
Other church and program directors had similar goals at Going On Faith. Fran Beckner of Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida, wanted solid data. “We want to gather enough information to take back to our people to present exactly what the trip’s goal, vision and purpose are so people will know what travel options are available,” she said.
Dolly Melton of Delight Tours and Travel in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, agreed. “I’ve been here before. On this trip I want new ideas for faith-based travel so I can offer them to church groups.”
Janice Jones of J’s-R-Us Travel in Modesto, California, liked the presentations. “The West Coast just doesn’t have as many religious attractions as the Midwest and East, and I want to learn more about them,” she said. “There’s so much that’s interesting.”
Brenda Hartman of Trinity Travelers in Norman, Oklahoma, spotted one attraction she’ll try. “We’re looking for new trips we haven’t done before to make customers happy,” she said. “We saw the presentation on Christ’s Passion and will try to add that to our itinerary in 2019.”
Travel industry representatives pitched their ideas to planners.
“I want to see if there’s interest in our hotel,” said Roger Workman of the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel in Utah. “It is right next to Temple Square, the most-visited tourist attraction in Utah and also home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. We’re next to the most famous and elaborate genealogy research library. People come from all over the world to research families.”
Ken Smith of Gateway Tours in Ocala, Florida, enjoyed the marketplace. “We’ve spent 27 years in the motorcoach business,” he said. “The religious market is something we’re after and devote a good part of our business to that.”
Big or small, it didn’t matter. Tourism professionals emphasized that they wanted travelers.
“We are a smaller destination that many people aren’t familiar with,” said Monica Hall of the Abingdon, Virginia, Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re in the southwest corner of Virginia. Many think of Virginia as D.C. or Virginia Beach, but we offer the Appalachian Mountains.”
Several destination representatives liked what they saw. “I’m a first-timer,” said Alison Hutchinson of the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I heard from other CVB partners in northeast Wisconsin who attended and made good connections. I’ve networked and met new people. Many buyers are from outlying areas, so I want to bring them to our part of the Midwest.”
Donna Klempnow of the Rutherford County Convention and Visitors Bureau in Tennessee was productive. “This is our first Going On Faith show,” she said. “We’re impressed. It’s bigger than we thought. We’ve got some great leads and will go home and do follow-ups.”