In 2008, Wayne Barber was almost killed in an accident on a job with his tree and stump removal company. Seven weeks later, in a full body cast from his waist to his neck, he escorted a group for his faith-based travel company, Purpose Driven Tours, based in Jackson, Mississippi.
When you meet Barber, you get the feeling this kind of resolve is commonplace in his life.
“That accident got me into the faith travel business full time,” he said. “I still have my tree business, the Tree Barber, but we’re really focused on Purpose Driven Tours now. And we’re growing every year by large percentages, so it all seems to be working out.”
Barber describes his company as a ministry as much as a company.
“Don’t get me wrong — we’re a for-profit company — but I see this as an extension of a lifetime in the ministry,” he said. “I spent 11 years of my life earlier as a minister for youth and young adults, so the ministry is part of my life. I’m happy to share whatever I’ve learned about travel with anybody else who wants to develop a faith-based travel group. If I can help another church get started, I will.”
Purpose Driven Tours was founded in 2006 and ran its first trip in 2007. For 2011, Barber has 31 trips on the calendar and fully expects to run at least 25 of those. His average group numbers about 30, and he uses only luxury coaches that seat 45 and have lots of extra amenities, so he’s comfortable with 30 or so travelers.
“We doubled the trips we ran from 2008 to 2009 and then doubled them again from 2009 to 2010,” he said. “And I expect to double our business again in 2011, so there is definitely a market for what we’re doing.”
What Barber is doing is creating trips that include what he calls “life-changing” elements.
“I’ve worked with young people all my life,” he said. “Our name is not an accident. We use Christian books, music and videos on our trips, and we use step-on guides who can discuss Christian topics as we travel. When we’re at the Grand Canyon, we talk about creation. We emphasize that everyone has their own headset and can listen to as much or as little of our message as they choose. We’re like Burger King — they can have it their way.”
Barber was in the audience at the Going On Faith Conference last summer when Brian Jewell spoke about faith-based travel and what distinguishes it from secular travel.
“Everything Brian said was true,” he said. “That could have been a marketing message for my company. We bring an additional element to travel that makes it that much more meaningful.”
Although Barber’s background is youth ministry, his groups are more traditional in terms of demographics.
“We’re primarily senior adults,” he said. “When we started, our average ages were 65 to 85, and today I’d say it’s 55 to 75. A typical coach would be 60 percent single women and 40 percent couples.”
And Barber is happy to spread the word about faith-based travel.
“I actually meet once a year with ministers from across the state about how to start purpose-driven travel groups.”
Five tips from Wayne Barber on successful faith-based travel
1) If you are faith based, something on each trip needs to be life changing.
2) Make everything inclusive — nothing should cost extra.
3) We use very nice restaurants, very nice hotels and deluxe coaches. Everything we do is upscale, and our customers are OK with that.
4) Use step-on guides with a Christian message — like Russ Miller at the Grand Canyon.
5) I got my CTIS (Certified Travel Industry Specialist) degree from the American Bus Association when I was 62. I thought I was just getting letters I could put behind my name, but what I got was a good education about travel and business. I recommend it.