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Record attendance at GOF Conference

The annual Going On Faith Conference celebrated its fifth anniversary in Grapevine, Texas, at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center, Aug. 20-22.

Churches of numerous denominations and from various regions of the country sent delegates to the conference, where they met and did business with travel industry workers representing destinations, attractions, hotels, tour operators and other companies. A record 165 church representatives attended the event, along with 105 travel industry representatives.

Travel buyers and sellers both took part in the conference’s educational seminars, social functions and business networking opportunities. Among the most valuable components for everyone involved was a pair of marketplace sessions, during which church travel leaders and travel industry workers met in a series of prescheduled, six-minute business appointments to discuss ideas and opportunities for future trips.

The appointments allowed the travel planners to learn about new developments at destinations and attractions, and to learn more about parts of the country unfamiliar to them.

“This is our first time here, and we’ve got a lot of good information,” said Willis Loyall, who runs the Saints Alive program at First Baptist Church in Edmond, Okla. “I didn’t know about Springfield, Mo., and their Bass Pro Shop, and we’ve learned a lot about Pennsylvania, too.”

The business appointments also helped travel industry representatives spread the word about their products, an increasingly important task in the midst of this year’s cautious travel environment.

Church group travel planners took a break with David Ventresco, who presented the Xtreme Aging seminar.

“This has been a fantastic conference,” said Joe Modglin of New Americana Theater in Branson, Mo. “I’ve met with six or seven people that are going to come to a show at our theater and see if they want to bring a group. So if I get three or four groups out of it, it will be well worth the investment.”

Inspiration and education

In addition to the marketplace, the conference featured educational sessions to benefit church and travel industry delegates. Mike Radford, a former professional baseball player and entertainer who now gives motivational speeches around the country, presented the keynote address. In his third appearance at the Going On Faith Conference, Radford spoke about the power of teamwork, drawing on lessons and experiences from his previous careers.

This was the first edition of the conference to feature an Xtreme Aging session. The Xtreme Aging program was developed by the Macklin Intergenerational Institute; it uses special gloves, glasses and other demonstration aides to help participants appreciate the extra difficulties older travelers and customers often encounter in everyday tasks.

Modglin said he found this session especially helpful.

“I’m going to be able to go back and help our employees understand how to take care of our older customers better,” he said.

Enjoying Grapevine

Participants also had several opportunities to enjoy host city Grapevine and the Gaylord Texan, a four-star resort with numerous amenities and beautiful indoor gardens in its main atrium.

The event began with an ice cream social for all attendees. The first night’s dinner and opening ceremonies took place at the hotel and featured the Grapevine Opry, a local troupe of singers and musicians who performed favorite country, Western and gospel songs.

The next day, an afternoon of sightseeing tours gave visitors an overview of popular attractions outside the hotel, such as the Grapevine Vintage Railroad and the historic Lancaster Theatre. For dinner that evening, attendees were shuttled into town to dine at any of the dozens of restaurants in Grapevine’s charming, historic downtown.

Delegates even managed to make business connections during these social functions.

“I told my wife the other day that by the end of the ice cream social, I had saved $4,000 and made three good contacts,” said Wayne Barber of Purpose Driven Tours in Jackson, Miss. “I plan to be back at every one of these … , and I’m going to try to get some planners from other churches in Mississippi to come with me.”

Thanks, sponsors!

A number of local partners and national travel-industry companies provided sponsorships that made the 2009 Going On Faith Conference possible. The Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsored the opening ice cream social, and the Grapevine Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsored the dinner and the opening ceremonies.

Globus Family of Brands, Switzerland Tourism and Visit Lubbock sponsored breakfast events at the conference. The Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Holy Land Tours co-sponsored a lunch, and the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, the organization that will host the 2010 conference, provided the closing luncheon.

The educational seminars were sponsored by the Fireside Dinner Theatre, ChinaPlus Tours and the China National Tourist Office. Other sponsors included the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau; Brazos Valley Travel; the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau; and the Tyler, Texas, Convention and Visitors Bureau.


Since its inception, the Going On Faith Conference has received high marks from attendees, and this year’s edition in Grapevine, Texas, was no exception. Church attendees and travel industry delegates rated the conference experience as “excellent” or “very good” in the following categories:

Overall Conference
Churches — 92% | Excellent or Very Good
Travel Industry — 80% | Excellent or Very Good

Churches — 97% | Excellent or Very Good
Travel Industry — 67% | Excellent or Very Good

Mike Radford — 89% | Excellent or Very Good
Xtreme Aging — 79% | Excellent or Very Good

In addition, 78 percent of churches and 82 percent of travel industry delegates said they planned to attend next year’s conference in Joplin, Mo.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.