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GOF Conference getting down to business

For six minutes each, destination representatives and tour operators expounded on why faith-based group leaders should book them for their next trips. During two Marketplace sessions at the Going On Faith Conference, group leaders and travel industry members met for scheduled six-minute appointments to exchange travel ideas.

“We picked up a lot of good ideas for our day and weekend trips,” said Gary Meyer of the Honor Society in Waukesha, Wisconsin. “We come for the Marketplaces to make contacts and to find out information you wouldn’t normally get. A lot of our trips this year were based on contacts we made last year.”

The Aug. 21-23 conference in Rock Hill, South Carolina, drew some travel industry members who had to know their product backward and forward to convince faith-based planners.

“We’ve met a lot of people who are very knowledgeable about their product,” said Sandra Weinacht from Incantato Tours in Tega Cay, South Carolina. “You don’t always get that at conferences. I’m also very impressed to see there is a new influx of a younger generation.”

Lamar Hadley, who regularly attends the conference to represent Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores, also noticed an influx of fresh faces at the conference this year.

“The most positive thing is the new members,” Hadley said. “That’s always encouraging to see.”
Hadley added that he enjoys the conference each year because he believes that his family-oriented restaurant chain is a good fit with the religious market. Israel Ministry of Tourism also covets this travel niche.

“The Marketplace feedback has been good,” said Joe Diaz, director of the southern region for Israel Ministry of Tourism. “I’ve been encouraged to see the interest in Israel. Our primary market is the Christian market, so it’s important to us to reach the Christian-based groups looking for our tours.”

Israel Ministry of Tourism presented a video of the region during a sponsored lunch. Diaz believes that the sponsorship contributed to enhancing his Marketplace experience, as does Jane Malton-Mages from the Little Rock CVB, who sponsored a lunch alongside Eureka Springs CVB.

“I think being a sponsor has made a difference,” said Malton-Mages. “It allows you to show them a lot more than the six minutes you are allotted. I think I’ll get some good business from this conference.”

The host city, Rock Hill, showcased its religious product not just at the Marketplace, but also during evening events and sightseeing tours. The bureau and its partners worked tirelessly to ensure the conference ran smoothly.

“We’ve been planning for this conference for more than a year now,” said Sonja Burris, communications manager for the Rock Hill/York County CVB. “It’s great to see it all finally come together and be a success. We’ve had great meal functions, evening events and Marketplaces.”