Like most great things in life, Peggy Watson learned about church group travel from her mother.
Watson, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri, watched her mom plan trips for friends at her church for years, until time and age took their toll on the group.
“Her last trip was in 2003,” Watson said. “She took 75 people on the train to the Grand Canyon.”
Paseo Baptist Church
By that time, Watson had joined Paseo Baptist Church, which had been around for more than 100 years, and figured that if travel had succeeded for her mother’s congregation, it might work for hers, too. So she surveyed the church membership and found that there was a demand for faith-based, community-building trips.
“We did a survey to ask some of the adults what they wanted, and they wanted trips,” she said. “A lot of us are widows or widowers, and we don’t want to travel alone. So the church was a vehicle where they could travel and feel comfortable being alone.”
So in 2001, shortly before her mother’s retirement from travel planning, Peggy Watson started planning trips of her own.
“It started out being just day trips,” she said. “We would go to places close by, not even as far as Branson. Just places an hour away, like St. Joseph. Then someone said we had been everywhere we could go, so we decided to branch out. We took our first big trip to Orlando, Florida, to see the Holy Land Experience.”
Watson’s mother died in 2014, but her legacy in faith-based travel lives on.
Near and Far
Not long after her group began taking trips further afield, Watson discovered the Going On Faith Conference, which has been a consistent source of new travel ideas and information for her. She attends with her cousin, who helps her plan travel for the church.
“I have really enjoyed my association with that,” she said. “We went to Going On Faith for the first time in Louisville in 2006. We have missed only one since then. We meet so many people there that are so beneficial. If this had been around when my mother was planning trips, it would have been so helpful to her because toward the end, her group was running out of places to go.”
It was a contact at the Going On Faith Conference that inspired Watson to plan a 2014 trip to the Holy Land, which she said is the biggest one she has ever done. But it’s not the only ambitious travel project she has taken on: The Paseo Baptist Church travelers take an international trip each year, and Watson said her members are willing to spend $2,500 to $3,000 per person to visit international destinations with the church group.
“We did a trip to Nova Scotia this summer,” she said. “We wanted to see how Canadian black history goes along with our African-American history. We combined Nova Scotia with Boston and Cape Cod — it was 12 days. That trip was $2,500, and I had 35 people.”
Watson said 2017 will be her most ambitious travel year yet. She is planning a trip to Paris and London in conjunction with Collette; a tour of Mackinac Island in Michigan; a trip to Atlanta and Georgia’s Historic Heartland region, based on a FAM tour she took earlier this year with this magazine’s parent company, The Group Travel Leader Inc.; a journey to the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky; and a land-and-sea adventure in Hawaii.
Not all of her trips are so far afield, though. Watson said she will take a group back to Branson next year to see the epic biblical musical “Moses” at Sight and Sound Theatre.
“I still have a group of people that only do day trips, so I still offer at least three day trips a year,” she said. “Next year, those will be a train ride to Jefferson City, [and] then we’re going to Omaha and then to Branson.”
Connecting with People
For much of her time as a travel planner, Watson was working professionally as a registered dietician. Though she retired last spring, she finds that many of the skills she picked up during her professional life come in handy in her travel career as well.
“As a dietician, every patient room I went into, I was seeing someone new,” she said. “I was constantly asking, ‘How am I going to relate to this person?’ In travel, you get a lot of different personalities, too. I really like people, and I think everybody has a story, so I have learned how to go from one person to another and really connect with them.”
Watson also believes that the organizational skills she developed during her career help her succeed as a travel planner. She said she enjoys doing research on destinations and planning the details of trips herself, and she has learned to consistently seek feedback from her travelers.
“Understand that it’s really hard work,” she said. “Planning in advance really helps, and so does constant evaluation. When you come back from your trip, do surveys and see what your travelers have to say about it.”
Although not every trip takes the group to faith-based destinations or attractions, Watson always makes sure to keep the greater mission of the church front and center during her tours.
“We start every day with a devotion on the bus,” she said. “That really sets the climate and helps people get their minds set for the day. Even our step-on guides have gotten used to it — we’re going to take some time for devotions before they get started.”
The combination of hard work, great destinations, personal connections and spiritual emphasis has reaped benefits. She is working on trips to Washington, D.C.; Panama; and the Kentucky Derby for 2018 and is seeing encouraging growth in her program.
“I turned 70 this year, and we’re looking at all sorts of different things,” she said. “I’m encouraging church members to bring their grandkids to the Creation Museum and to bring their friends from other churches as well. Right now I have at least five different churches traveling with me.”
No doubt, her mother would be proud.