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Top Faith-Based Trips for 2014

Pennsylvania’s iconic Dutch Country edged out three other perennial favorites for the honor of most-visited faith-based destination in the 2014 annual travel preference survey of Going On Faith readers. Half of all respondents listed the Amish favorite as a destination their group had visited. Three other faith-based favorites — Branson, Missouri; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee — followed in that order.

When asked which of those their groups had visited, planners’ responses showed that 50 percent had been to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, 45 percent had visited Branson, 43 percent had been to Myrtle Beach and 38 percent had toured the Smokies.

“The news is good for all these faith-based favorites,” said Going On Faith publisher Mac Lacy. “Thousands of adult church groups and youth groups travel each year as part of the $17 billion faith-based travel industry, and these four destinations are getting their share of those active groups. It’s certainly no coincidence that our own Going On Faith Conference has been held in two of these areas — Pennsylvania Dutch Country just last summer and twice in Branson back a dozen or so years ago.”

The survey also revealed that 37 percent of respondents have taken their groups out of the country to international faith-based travel destinations. Popular international destinations for churches include Italy and Rome; the Holy Land countries of Israel, Jordan and Palestine; Christian sites in Turkey and across Europe; and Canadian holy sites.

“Faith-based groups are ardent worldwide travelers,” said Lacy. “They are voracious sightseers in the United States, but they also travel across the globe to see the sites that are most meaningful to them. There is also a very strong component of volunteer tourism within this community of travelers. Churches respond to sites that have been devastated by natural events like earthquakes and floods. These are resilient, responsive travel groups. One group mentioned such trips taken to Haiti; Colombia; and Papua, New Guinea.”

Not surprisingly, 43 percent of all respondents said they have at least one worship service on any trip their group takes. Another 43 percent answered that their groups include at least one worship service on most or some of their trips.

When participants were asked what trip types appealed most to their faith-based travelers, the clear winner was historic areas. Respondents could list as many of the four trip types as they wished. Nearly 80 percent of respondents listed trips to historic sites as popular. Special events ranked second with 39 percent of mentions, followed by national parks with 28 percent and beaches with 26 percent.

“This answer certainly underscores the idea of pilgrimages and visits to well-known faith-based sites with historical significance,” said Lacy. “Special events also did well, which speaks to the many conferences, concerts and retreats these groups attend over the course of a year. My guess is that beaches would have fared better if more youth groups had been represented in this survey — kids love to go to the beach. And the same would hold true for national parks, I think.”

There were no surprises when planners were asked to which age groups their programs appealed most. Thirty-five percent answered that their entire range of travel offerings appealed to all ages within their church. When asked to rank age groups specifically, 53 percent listed the mature market as their largest source of travelers, followed by 24 percent who listed baby boomers and 8 percent who listed young adults.

In addition to countries and destinations already mentioned, the following were among the individual travel sites that were specified for upcoming trips in the survey: 

• National Quartet Convention

Louisville, Kentucky

• Billy Graham Library 

Charlotte, North Carolina

• 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in Germany in 2018

• Holy Land Experience 

Orlando, Florida

• Oberammergau Passion Play


• Creation Museum 

Northern Kentucky

• Great Passion Play 

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

• Cruises 

(multiple general mentions)

• Mount Rushmore 

Keystone, South Dakota

• Sight and Sound Theatre 

Strasburg, Pennsylvania

• Bill and Gloria Gaither sites 

Alexandria, Indiana