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Green Bay Delights Going On Faith Conference Attendees

Green Bay, Wisconsin, one of America’s iconic Great Lakes cities, hosted the Going On Faith Conference August 22–24 and drew 150 travel industry buyers and sellers for three days of networking, professional development and social events. Now in its 18th year, the Going On Faith Conference is the only national travel event dedicated solely to faith-based travel for groups.

“We’ve held conferences three times in Green Bay, and we know going in that our expectations will be exceeded; they always have been,” said Jennifer Ferguson, general manager of the conference and of the Group Travel Family. “Brad Toll and Julie Gerczak with Discover Green Bay are among the most hospitable hosts we work with, and anytime you kick your event off with an evening at Lambeau Field, your delegates are going to be impressed. It was a VIP experience for everyone who attended.”

Faith-based planners were able to attend any of three different FAM tours that highlighted the region — one for Green Bay itself and two that showcased either Manitowoc or Fox Cities, two other popular Wisconsin destinations.

Business Was Brisk 

Two marketplaces yielded an average of 30 appointments for attending travel companies and destinations. Seventeen sponsors hosted meals and seminar sessions or provided on-site services for attendees. Longtime sponsors included Collette, Sight and Sound Theatres, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Branson Restaurants Inc/IMAX, Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism, and Ark Encounter and Creation Museum. Newer sponsors included Plimoth and Patuxet Museums/See Plymouth, which provided a traditional Thanksgiving luncheon and informative presentation on the history of the Plymouth, Massachusetts, region.

“Our sponsors and attendees cover all the faith-based bases,” said Ferguson. “From places like the Ark Encounter and Sight and Sound Theatres to companies like Collette that can take a group anywhere in the world, there is no reason to not be here if you are in the faith-based travel segment.”

“We couldn’t be happier with having this group in Green Bay,” said Gerczak. “We were able to take a group out to our National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion, and we also have nearby St. Norbert Abbey and St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, as well as other faith-centered sites for these groups. Visitors to Green Bay know they are coming to a clean, family-friendly city that offers wonderful places to see. We’re a foodie destination as well. Our breweries, wineries, cheese curds and fine dining all combine to make a trip to Green Bay lots of fun.”

Branson on Tap

Next August, the fun continues at another well-known family destination.

“We hope everyone in this segment of the industry will join us next year on August 6–8 in Branson, Missouri, for the Going On Faith Conference,” said Ferguson. “It is a world-class destination that understands faith-based travel, and Explore Branson will do a great job for us in every respect.”

What Travel Planners are Saying

“We’ve had a busy year. I accompanied groups to Portugal in March, Italy in April and Iceland and Scotland in May. And we leave for an Avalon cruise on the Moselle River next month. In November, we’ll take a group to Israel, Jordan and Dubai. I treat my group like family, like brothers and sisters in Christ. We have lots of couples who renew their vows at some of the world’s most sacred places.”

— Gigi Inigo, Style Your Trip, Santa Ana, California

“We work with a lot of women’s groups and offer a lot of retreats. We do a jazz cruise every year. I’m taking some of my church members to Israel with Educational Opportunities. I’ll cut that off at 30 people and build interest in the next one. Now that I’ve been here, I want to do the Ark Encounter, too.”

— Darlene McClure, O Happy Day Tours, Visalia, California

“We run three trips per year. We always do a mystery tour, and last year that went to Holland, Michigan, for TulipFest. This year we are doing a Field of Dreams trip that incudes Galena, Illinois, and Dubuque, Iowa, before we go to the Field of Dreams. This conference has been so helpful. People say ‘you did a lot of work,’ and we say ‘no, we went to a conference.’ We like to take about 30 people on our trips.”

— Cathy Cepican and Linda Bensen, Trinity Travelers, Oak Lawn, Illinois

“Our group is mostly seniors now, but we started traveling when they were younger. We just got back from taking 69 people to Maine, and we’ll take 75 or so to the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum in October. We’ll do the Cincinnati Museums and the BB Riverboats cruise, too. Next year, we’ll take our groups to Savannah and Nova Scotia.”

— Marilyn Smit, Smits Travel, Menomonee, Wisconsin

“This year, we’ve done a 15-day Hawaii cruise with Princess from San Francisco with 20 people, took 37 to the Ark Encounter and did Alaska on the QE II with 25 people. Next month, I’ll take 20 to western Canada to do Calgary to Victoria. We also do a lot of mystery foodie day tours to places like Hungry Like A Wolf in Houston.”

— Pam Cox Previte, Tumbleweed Tours, Spring, Texas

What the Travel Industry is Saying

“We’re well over 2022 for every month this year. I think 2024 will be even stronger. We’re building a massive new welcome center for groups with the world’s largest reproduction of Jerusalem close by. Our 40 Days and 40 Nights gospel music event is in its third year now and we’re running 20 percent ahead of last year. We’ve added a carousel, Journey of the Animals, that was built in Italy. Spring and fall are our high seasons for groups.”

Eddie Lutz, The Ark Encounter and Creation Museum, Williamstown, Kentucky

“Business is booming. Our customers are traveling longer, are spending about 30 percent more per trip on average, and like the fact that we are handling all the details. When we can, we’ll add another coach for a group, but it has to work well for them. One of our customers recently thanked me because she felt that throughout the pandemic Collette remained ‘relational rather than transactional.’ It meant a lot to me to hear that.”

— Jim Edwards, Collette, Pawtucket, Rhode Island

“We’re learning a lot about relating to African American sites in our area like Oak Bluffs in Martha’s Vineyard. This conference has been very helpful in hearing what African American groups are seeking. Oak Bluffs is the site of the oldest African American resort in America. Frederick Douglass resided in nearby New Bedford when he escaped from slavery. So, we’re building a more engaging destination for Black tour groups.”

— Richard Pickering, Plimoth Patuxet Museums, Plymouth, Massachusetts

“It’s all good. Group travel is hot, and people are making up for lost time. We’re selling a lot of river cruises on Avalon. We’ll take a group as small as 8-12 and we book a lot that are more like 30-40. My mother did one this spring and loved it. ‘The crew is wonderful and the tulips were in bloom. It was breathtaking. I enjoyed the town of Keukenhof especially. The gardens there were magnificent. I enjoyed learning about the dykes that protect the towns, too.’”

— Rachelle Hildebrandt Stoutt with her mother Agnes Beck, Globus Family of Brands, Littleton, Colorado

“We have three destinations in Ohio, Florida and Indiana. We can create special events for groups at some of these sites using local artisans. We are faith-based destinations and do a lot of cooperative promotion with other sites like Sight and Sound, the Ark Encounter and others to enhance these groups’ trips. On our Dutch Valley campus, a tour group can easily spend three to five hours between the theater, the market, the gift shop and the restaurant.”

— Lois Stoltzfus, Dutchman’s Hospitality, Walnut Creek, Ohio

“We specialize in custom trips. I enjoy customization, and Central Holidays has been doing that since 1972. I’ll have clients ask me about culinary options, using a different hotel or making a trip really high-end. We do a lot of women’s groups for 16 or so. We start at groups of 10. This is my thing — we make designing a custom trip more attainable. Demand has never been higher than it is right now.”

— Michael Lundquist, Central Holidays, Moonachie, New Jersey