Some church leaders simply don’t have the time to plan all the details for their faith-based group’s next trip. Others worry about not having the expertise necessary for sending their group overseas to an unfamiliar place.
Many details go into planning a trip for a group including finding group airfare, booking knowledgeable guides and developing itineraries of interest to everyone in the group.
The need for convenience and expertise are two of the most common reasons faith-based travel planners turn to tour operators for help. Tour operators step in and spend the time and resources necessary to plan a trip and negotiate group rates for airfare, hotels and individual attractions.
However, a quick Google search can illustrate the abundance of tour operator options. So the question for many faith-based travel planners becomes not whether they should use a tour operator, but how do they choose one?
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
Tour operators vary widely in their size and offerings, which can make choosing one a difficult decision.
A good starting place is to look through the listing of tour operators in the December/January issue of Going On Faith magazine, which includes a number of companies that regularly attend the Going On Faith Conference. Since these tour operators are actively pursuing faith-based groups, they are more likely to know the concerns of the religious travel market and what they look for on their trips.
It’s also helpful to check the tour operator’s membership in associations, such as the U.S. Tour Operator Association or NTA. Both associations require the tour operator to meet certain criteria, as well as provide trip coverage that travelers can count on.
After this, narrow the list of potentials down by deciding which tour operators’ itineraries best match up with your faith-based group’s interests. Some tour operators specialize in domestic trips, some in international trips and some do both.
Another thing to look for is whether the tour operator already has religious-themed itineraries or whether you would have to work with the tour operator to custom make them. Some tour operators offer faith-based tour packages already put together that might be perfect for your group.
Keep in mind that some tour operators will reshape their itineraries to match your groups’ needs if you desire.
Another way to learn what a trip is like is to take the trip yourself. A familiarization (fam) trip will put you in the passenger’s seat to show you the style and format of the operator’s trip.
Some travel planners won’t work with a tour operator unless they have first taken a fam trip with them.
Ask and you will receive
Many faith-based travel planners prefer that their groups’ trips have a more personal feel than a streamlined group tour. These planners will find tour operators willing to work with them on an individual level to add in prayer time, church services or other religious elements the group might enjoy.
Other religious travel planners are looking for tour operators to work more behind the scenes to help shape an exclusive experience that the potential passengers cannot purchase elsewhere.
Since every tour operator is different, it pays to do the research before trusting them with your passengers. Working with the right tour operator can make the process of planning group travel less stressful and full of greater travel possibilities.