Richmond, Virginia, welcomed the seventh annual installment of the Going On Faith Conference, August 23-25, with a memorable mix of history, hospitality and an unexpected excitement.
About 325 delegates attended the conference, representing church travel groups and tourism organizations from around the country. The meeting started with its signature opener, the all-delegates ice cream social. While delegates ate and mingled, an unexpected 5.8-magnitude earthquake centered in nearby Mineral, Virginia, shook the mid-Atlantic region, creating an unexpected stir. The Richmond Marriott staff temporarily evacuated the hotel, but no damage occurred, and no one was hurt.
Undeterred by the event, church leaders and industry delegates spent the three-day conference in a series of seminars, appointment sessions, networking events and sightseeing tours.
Getting down to business
The centerpiece of the Going On Faith Conference was a pair of Marketplace sessions, during which church travel leaders and tourism industry representatives met for a series of prescheduled, six-minute appointments to exchange ideas for church group travel. Tour operators, convention and visitors bureaus, state travel offices, attractions, cruise lines and other travel companies presented their latest products, offerings and itineraries to the church leaders, who took the information to aid in planning their group travel for 2012 and beyond.
“So far, I have eight requests for proposals in two days, and I’m hoping for one more,” said Jaya Larkin of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This is our first time here, and I’m so glad we came.”
More than 4,000 appointments took place during the conference. In addition to the face-to-face meetings, a pair of computers set up on the Marketplace floor allowed group leaders unable to attend the conference to talk to travel industry delegates using Skype, an online video-conferencing service.
Education and entertainment
The conference also featured seminar sessions with travel and tourism experts. Roger McCurry, a former pastor and church group travel leader who went on to found Koinonia Travel and Tours, gave a presentation encouraging delegates to infuse a sense of purpose and faith into their tours. McCurry drew on his experience, as well as a few magic tricks he has picked up along the way, to emphasize his message.
Conference delegates also heard from Tucker Davis of First Midwest Bank in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Davis and the bank’s travel coordinator, Rob Callahan, developed Honor Tour, a program that takes World War II veterans to visit their monument in Washington, D.C., free of charge. Delegates learned about the tour program and how they can help raise money or bring their own veterans on a similar honor trip.
“This conference has been really helpful for us,” said Carlos DeHerrera of Holy Name Church in Littleton, Colorado. “We do trips in the West but didn’t have much information on traveling in the East. So we’re going to try to put together a Washington, D.C., tour for veterans.”
The Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau took advantage of the conference to highlight tourism treasures in its region. Delegates heard a speech from a Patrick Henry re-enactor during sightseeing tours, dined at the Science Museum of Virginia and the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and enjoyed entertainment by local performers.
“The guide on the sightseeing tours was great,” said Peggy Watson of Paseo Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri. “We’re going to bring our group back here to see the Underground Railroad and visit the historic sites around here.”
Numerous tourism companies sponsored events to make the Going On Faith Conference possible. The Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau and its local partners sponsored two dinner and evening entertainment events, as well as afternoon sightseeing tours. The Globus family of brands sponsored the first breakfast event, and Norwegian Cruise Lines and All in One Tours sponsored the second.
Convention and visitors bureaus in Eureka Springs, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Pine Bluff, Rogers and Little Rock sponsored an Arkansas-themed luncheon. The Rock Hill/York County Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsored the closing luncheon, showcasing its hosting of the 2012 Going On Faith Conference.
Additional sponsors included the Norfolk Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Galveston Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Beaumont Convention and Visitors Bureau, Fireside Dinner Theatre, the Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, Trailways Transportation and Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores.