Skip to site content
group travel leader select traveler small market meetings

Going On Faith Attendees Live Large at the Beach

More than 200 group travel planners, destination representatives and tourism officials gathered in Panama City Beach for the 2022 Going On Faith Conference, held September 13–15, and enjoyed brilliant gulf weather, coastal cuisine and bonfires both nights as tourism for churches and faith-based organizations returns to full vigor. Visit Panama City Beach and the Sheraton Panama City Beach and Golf Resort were gracious hosts for three days and two nights of travel planning and fellowship. 

“People travel together for their like interests, and there is no more like interest than their faith and their church,” said Charlie Presley, founder of the Group Travel Family and a founding partner of the Going On Faith Conference. “To that end, Panama City Beach is a perfect destination for this meeting because it is family-oriented and offers sun, fun and the warm Gulf Coast atmosphere that energizes anyone who visits.”

Steve Bailey, vice president of sales for Visit Panama City Beach, shared the same sentiment. 

“This conference fits right in our wheelhouse,” Bailey said. “We are known for good, clean fun and our beautiful beaches, and these delegates understand that. We’ve talked to a lot of buyers here who came to Panama City Beach 30 years ago, and now they’ve come back for Going On Faith and they want to bring their groups. That’s just what we intended.”

Nearly 20 sponsors joined in the activities, from major travel companies like Collette to nationally known faith-based destinations like the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum, Sight and Sound Theatres, the Biblical History Center, Plimoth Patuxet Museums and the Billy Graham Library. Discover Green Bay sponsored a luncheon to invite delegates to next year’s conference in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Hundreds of six-minute business appointments were held between travel buyers and sellers in two marketplace sessions, and sponsored meals and entertainment made for a full schedule of networking opportunities for attendees.

What the Travel Industry is Saying

“Our trips are selling out this year, and next year will be our biggest ever. People are buying our longer trips, 12 days or more, because they never want to miss out on travel again. The national parks, Alaska, Hawaii — they’re all selling out. In Europe, they are buying upgrades and extensions. Our biggest sellers are Iceland, Ireland, Italy and Greece. The biggest trend we see is more confident travelers. They enjoy lots of time on their own to explore.”

— Jim Edwards, Collette, Pawtucket, Rhode Island

“At Sight and Sound, we have two-year cycles for shows. We have our premiere year when a show is new, and then our second year. So, our numbers are strongest in the first year. We’ll debut ‘Queen Esther’ in 2023, and we expect to have north of 600,000 guests for that. Of that number, 25% will be groups. There are still some markets where people are concerned about traveling again.  We’re telling them they need to be ‘going on faith!’”

— Mike Pitman, Sight and Sound Theatres, Branson, Missouri

“We’ve seen a huge increase in groups this year. It’s been our highest increase in 10 years. In the summer months, we have dozens of youth groups who are coming as part of churches or volunteer groups, and then in the fall our traditional senior groups start coming, so we have a season for both markets. On Tuesday nights this fall, we’ll have eight or nine coaches in the parking lot for the show.”

— Ray Hendon, Great Passion Play, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

“We’re back to 2019 levels, and our length of stay in the area has increased. Groups love the authenticity of our product and people. Our restaurants are open and staffed, and we answer our phones, which is a big thing today. We have noticed that our average group size is in the 30s and it takes longer to load or unload a coach. I think that’s because the groups are out of practice!”

— Sonya Nash, Amish Country of Northern IN, Elkhart, Indiana

“We specialize in custom trips and we’re busy now. We just put together a presidential libraries trip for 28 travelers from Texas. They did both Bush Libraries, the Clinton Library and the Lincoln Memorial. We’re up more than 25% over 2019, which was our best year ever. We just took a group of 30 to Spain on a custom itinerary. We can create an itinerary for someone in two weeks or less in most cases.”

— Julius Stecker, The Travel Corporation, Cypress, California

What Travel Planners Are Saying

“We ran trips for our church for 15 years and then turned the program over to another person in 2016. They weren’t very successful, and someone said, ‘will you all do it again?’  So, we’re back in charge, and we’ve added a few other churches that want to travel. We’re taking 20 people to the Savannah Theatre this month and will take 40 or more to Myrtle Beach in November. We use to book our coaches, and it couldn’t be easier.”

— Nick Nichols, New Hope Baptist Church, Fayetteville, Georgia

“I’ve always had a passion for planning travel. I did it with printed guides as a kid for our family vacations. I’d say I’m a travel nerd. In 2020, I sold a company and found the freedom to start Our goal is to connect travelers to the Lord, their families and local needs in communities across the world. Recently, we’ve taken homeschool groups to Greece and to London and Paris for curriculum-based travel.”

— Fred Carlson,, Tampa, Florida

“I was in the school bus industry for many years. In 2014, I became an ordained minister. I don’t serve in a pulpit, but my ministry is bringing people together to enjoy Christian travel. In that way, I consider myself an evangelist. We have traveled numerous times to the Billy Graham Library and to the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum. I came here to find new ideas for trips for church groups.”

— Bob Crocker, Eastside Transportation Services, Boiling Springs, South Carolina

Thanks to these sponsors:

Phone Charging: Biblical History Center

Stepping Stones: Cherokee Nation Cultural 

Tourism Showcase: Plimoth Patuxet Museums

Padfolio: Clay Cooper Theatre; Branson Restaurants Inc/IMAX; Titanic Museum Attraction, Branson, MO

Branson Team Booth: Presley’s Country Jubilee; Sight and Sound Theatres; Dutton Family Theater Complex; Grand Country Music Hall; Dutchman Hospitality Group

Name Badges: Billy Graham Library

Official Lunch: Diamond Tours

Breakfast: Ark Encounter and Creation Museum

Breakfast: Collette

Showcase and Mobile App: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration 

Ice Cream Social: Jefferson CVB/New Orleans

Keynote Address: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

Lunch: Visit Green Bay

Magazine Showcase: The Group Travel Leader Inc 

Host City: Visit Panama City Beach