NEW ORLEANS––If you want to sell travel to faith-based groups, you can’t be afraid to talk about God. And you’d better be sincere.
That’s the word from direct marketing professional Dan Davis Maloney.
Maloney presented a seminar on marketing faith-based travel at FTA Day, the Faith Travel Association’s one-day networking and educational program, held in conjunction with the recent NTA Travel Exchange here.
“There’s a God out there,” said Maloney, who is “digital shepherd” for the Mission Advertising Group in Naperville, Ill.
“If you’re afraid to talk about it, then don’t start marketing to the faith-based. You have to be upfront about it.”
While data on the size and scope of the faith-based travel market are lacking, the Faith Travel Association estimates the global market at between $50 billion and $100 billion.
Maloney highlighted the market’s potential by citing the latest statistics on the religious affiliations of U.S. adults.
According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), 173.4 million Americans identify as Christians while 2.9 million identify with other religions.
“They’re out there folks, and you don’t need to have too many of them to be profitable,” said Maloney.
Dos & don’ts
Maloney’s advice for those interested in reaching the faith-based travel market included the following:
1. Know your audience. “When you market to different denominations, be careful in how you talk to them,” he cautioned. “Take the time to learn about that specific group, because it will help you.”
2. Be sincere. You don’t have to share beliefs with your target––nor should you pretend to. But you do have to be sincere in your desire to deliver an experience that can change lives.
3. Use the power of storytelling, especially video. Travel sellers should have YouTube channels where they post travel videos. Every ad should have a link to your YouTube channel, he said.
4. Be sensitive. Stay away from humor in marketing, and don’t blaspheme. If you use humor, odds are that “you’re going to be accidentally insulting, and you’ll lose more than you’re going to win,” he said.
5. To illustrate his point, Maloney showed a humorous Red Bull TV commercial depicting Jesus walking on water that sparked controversy when it aired in South Africa. (Red Bull pulled the ad after it was criticized by local faith leaders.)
6. Don’t be afraid to use religious language and references when speaking with potential customers.
7. Use inspirational messaging in your marketing, especially on social media. Faith-based consumers share more inspirational messaging on social media than any other group.
Speak the language
Selling faith-based travel requires a bit of specialized knowledge and skill, according to Julie Hoover-Ernst, director of marketing and communications for the Faith Travel Association.
“You have to kind of speak a different language,” Hoover-Ernst said. “You have to understand what their motivation is with faith-based travel so you can reach them and help them understand why they should be doing it.”
To tap the market’s full potential, it’s important to understand that faith-based travel extends beyond pilgrimages and religious trips, she said.
“It is really anytime a group of faith goes anywhere together with the intent to be together, to grow together as a community, to develop their faith,” Hoover-Ernst said.
“So it could be a weekend retreat. It could be a night out at a ballgame. It could be a mission trip.”
‘Vacations with a purpose’
Travel professionals who sell or operate faith-based trips are “that critical component” in facilitating profound experiences, the grandson of the Rev. Billy Graham told agents and tour operators during his keynote at FTA Day.
“What you do is a lot more important than just a job. You’re providing experiences for people that will forever shape their lives,” said Stephan Tchividjian, a pastor in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who has led many faith-based tours to Europe and the Middle East.
Tchividjian shared personal stories that illustrated the power of “vacations with a purpose” to change individuals’ worldviews and inspire them to act in positive ways.
“If there’s ever been a time in this world where we need to be more knowledgeable and build bridges, to have our own personal experiences and not let someone else interpret those experiences for us, and turn off the 24-hour news stations and the bloggers, it is now,” he said.