The NTA’s new Faith Travel Association (FTA) will serve as a business-building resource for travel professionals who sell faith-based travel including agents who have yet to tap this fast-growing and lucrative market
Launched this week by NTA Services, a subsidiary of the National Tour Association, the Faith Travel Association is a membership organization for tour operators, destinations, tourist offices and suppliers – as well as for individual agents, religious leaders and group leaders.
The new association will provide members with a networking venue, educational and business opportunities, consulting services, and a resource for staying up to date on market developments, said Kevin White, director of growth markets for NTA and a consultant to the new association.
Agent-focused education programs and webinars will also be on the Faith Travel Association’s agenda, along with educational programs for other travel segments. The group will also participate in faith-based travel shows.
Filling a void
White said the Faith Travel Association was created to fill a void in the travel industry. Adventure travel, culinary travel and other market segments have associations, while faith-based travel has not been represented, he said.
According to Karla DiNardo, interim director of the Faith Travel Association, the group has been in development for 16 months.
“There’s no better time than the present to establish the FTA,” said DiNardo, who is also president of NTA Services Inc. which oversees NTA’s official publications.
Stronger every year
The market for faith-based travel is robust and growing stronger every year, according to Wright.
He said more than 300 million people a year take faith-based trips internationally, contributing $18 billion to the global tourism economy.
There are about 400,000 religious communities and congregations in North America. In the U.S., some 50,000 Christian and Jewish worship centers, congregations and churches have travel programs for both youth and adults, he added.
The marketplace also includes colleges, nonprofit organizations, NGOs and authors and leaders with faith-based messages.
“When you look at the market on a global level, and even in North America, you see it’s really an industry in and of itself; a giant market,” Wright said.
Traditionally composed of pilgrimage travel and missionary travel, faith-based travel has diversified greatly, with the addition over the last 10 years of faith-based cruises, ski trips, local get-a-ways, and trips tracing customers’ heritage.
There are even some surprising variations like Catholic groups’ one-day casino trips and an annual Waves of Glory event at Orlando’s Wet ‘N Wild Water Park, which draws younger clients and families.
Focused on groups
Faith-based travel is primarily group travel, and 75% of faith-based trips consist of groups of 30 or 40 people, Wright said. “It’s a very community-driven market.”
That spells tremendous opportunities for travel agents given the profit potential of group business.
While many agents have begun to capitalize on faith-based travel, “most haven’t quite tapped into it fully,” Wright said. “Another 10 years from now that will be a different story.”
The role of agents
Ironically though, agents have helped fuel the growth in faith travel by selling faith-based travel products introduced in 2004 by the Globus Family of Brands, said Wright. As Globus’ religious travel manager at the time, Wright launched the firm’s faith-based division and products.
Globus was the first major tour operator to come out with faith-based tours, according to Wright. It was eventually followed by virtually all major tour operators and some cruise lines.
And Globus made agents a part of its distribution channel for these tours. “That led to a lot of the growth,” Wright said. “It was a turning point.”
Before Globus’ entry into the market, the sale of faith-based travel was dominated by small religious tour operators who didn’t work with agents to any great degree.
“Now that the product is available [to agents], the next step is education,” said Wright.
Pavilion at NTA
The Faith Travel Association will debut at NTA’s upcoming Travel Exchange in Los Angeles, Feb. 16 to 20, where it will host a pavilion.
“This will add a whole new element to Travel Exchange which will now have three associations: NTA, the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) [which last year combined its annual convention with NTA’s] and the FTA,” DiNardo said.