Kelly Rapone was impressed by the feeling of Christian camaraderie she experienced at the 2011 Going On Faith Conference in Richmond, Virginia. She said, as a person with a “strong moral compass,” she thought the feeling at this conference was different from many others she attends.
“It was really very interesting to me,” said Rapone. “I found it very easy to relate to so many people who had strong faiths. I actually felt comforted in Richmond. It was very inspiring. I got that sense of fellowship that you just don’t get at so many other travel industry events.”
Rapone, the tourism marketing director for the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce in Batavia, New York, said the market is a great fit for her destination.
“We offer a small-town feel to our guests. We’re a hospitable region — that’s the nature of who we are and where we are. I equate it to inviting people to my home. So I think the faith-based market is a natural for us.”
Rapone said Genesee County is a perfect example of an inviting area that markets its surroundings for hub-and-spoke; travel to nearby destinations.
“Niagara Falls, Toronto, Buffalo: we’re so close to so many places. Our location is our greatest asset. And our small-town feel is just what a lot of groups want.”
Apparently, Rapone’s approach in Richmond caught the attention of numerous faith-based travel planners in attendance.
“After I get off the phone with you, I have a call to make to Linda Benson with Trinity Lutheran Church in Oaklawn, Illinois. They’re coming here in October as a result of our meeting in Richmond. And I have some follow-up scheduled with Glenda Carr of Friends International in Oklahoma City, based on the meeting we had there.
“It was interesting that I had appointments the first day that went OK; but then the next morning I did my sponsor presentation, and as soon as they could see where I was from and what we had to offer, it made a real difference. That presentation really helped to identify who we are and where we are.”
Rapone also said she didn’t confine her sales approach to scheduled appointments.
“Absolutely not,” she said, laughing. “ I talked to planners in elevators, in the restaurants, wherever I met them.”
Genesee County has a major faith-based event that is helping to put it on the map with this market as well. Kingdom Bound Ministries hosts a major Christian music festival each August. Kingdom Bound 2012 will take place August 5-8 and will include dozens of artists and communicators. This well-known festival celebrated its 25th year in 2011. Visit its website at www.kingdombound.org.
“Kingdom Bound gives us a major event to package along with everything else in this area for faith-based groups,” said Rapone. “I think we’re perfect for this growing market.”