Travel planners who attend the annual Going On Faith Conference, this year scheduled for August 19-21 in Wichita, Kansas, see the names of sponsors at every turn during the three-day event. But these aren’t just corporate entities that have paid money to gain more visibility during the gathering; sponsors provide a valuable service to the travel leaders for whom the conference was created.
That’s because the travel business is all about relationships. They are forged between the professionals who work for the many destinations and attractions that attend the conference and the planners representing faith-based travel groups who are seeking new ideas. Many such relationships begin during casual conversations at conference registration time and are strengthened at a live stage presentation, during pleasant chit-chat at mealtimes or during a delegate sightseeing tour. They are then cemented during the fast-paced six-minute marketplace appointments that are the cornerstone of the conference.
“We talk about this all the time,” said Joe Cappuzzello, president of The Group Travel Family, which organizes the Going On Faith Conference. “People in our industry need to know you first, and then they need to trust you in order to do business with you.”
Cappuzzello said two particular types of contact with travel planners serve sponsors well. One is the presentation of up to 30 minutes from the theater stage. “They are out there talking to all of our guests at one time, and they often show a beautiful and informative video,” he said.
Another critical point of contact is at the booths that line the main hall.
“Travel planners stop to meet sponsors at these booths and break the ice, so to speak,” said Cappuzzello. Then, when the two sides have their six-minute appointment later, they can get down to business right away because they feel they already know each other a bit. “We are driving people to the booths during registration to enhance the relationships. A select number of sponsors, maybe 15 or 20, will have booths where people can come over and have a casual conversation,” he said.
Some of the conference sponsors are destinations, and others are attractions or even religious sites.
“It’s not like we have to book a faith-based sponsor like that,” Cappuzzello said. “Naturally, they are among the first we contact because of the obvious match. While some travel planners may be looking for a religious-based component in the trips, many others are really just looking for any site anywhere that their travelers will enjoy.”
Jim Edwards is the senior vice president for global sales for Collette and a familiar face at the Going On Faith Conferences. Collette will be sponsoring the vendor showcase. Edwards sees the value in partnerships.
“This is our 102nd season in business, and from the beginning, we have been group specialists and work with many different affinities,” he said. “That’s why it’s important for us to be at these conferences and visit with our partners.”
In an age when many companies are producing less printed travel material, Collette has gone in the opposite direction.
“We’ve found that for our demographic, the booth is a great place for them to pick up the latest and greatest of what Collette offers, which is 170 itineraries on all seven continents,” he said. “It’s nice to have a great product, a trip of a lifetime. But if you can’t support your partners in getting the message out in marketing, it doesn’t do folks much good. We usually have two or three people at the conference, and we like to see our partners face-to-face.”
Edwards enjoys breakfast, lunch or dinner time with partners because it is a more intimate setting and his team gets to know partners a little better. “We find out what’s important to them and what their goals are,” he said
Eddie Lutz is business development manager for the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum in Williamstown, Kentucky. The Ark Encounter was built to biblical scale, and many say it is awesome to see. Lutz has been heavily promoting the Ark and the museum since even before they were built, attending every Going On Faith Conference, as well as other conferences sprinkled across the calendar. His attraction is sponsoring the conference’s Day 2 breakfast.
“This will be the fourth year we have sponsored a breakfast,” said Lutz. “It’s a great opportunity for us because it’s a really targeted faith-based conference. We can be in front of our core audience onstage for up to a half-hour.
“People know about us,” he said. “For me, it’s now about strongly reinforcing the message about the Ark and to also show people what is new. We are always growing, and I explain why people should come back for a visit.”
Shrine of Christ’s Passion
Paul Anderson is the general manager of Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John, Indiana, about 35 miles south of Chicago. The Shrine is a half-mile winding interactive path with 40 life-size bronze statues that represent scenes from Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The shrine will be sponsoring the Going On Faith Conference’s keynote address. Anderson sees great value in aligning his attraction with the travel planners who attend the conference.
“We get about 200,000 people visiting us every year, and our goal is to get that up to half a million people a year as fast as possible,” he said. “We are very happy with our sponsor relationship with Group Travel Family, and we find that it works well for us.”
Anderson said the best thing about his religious site is the deep spiritual impact it has on many visitors. “It’s life-changing, it’s beautiful, one of a kind. And it’s free.”
Looking Forward to Wichita
Going On Faith Conference planners were pleased when the largest city in Kansas agreed to host the 2020 conference.
“In Wichita, we will hold the conference at a Hyatt Regency Hotel, all self-contained,” said Cappuzzello. “We always go to places where we feel special and our guests are looked after.”