For Success in Faith Travel, Do Your Homework

by Ruth A. Hill
For Success in Faith Travel, Do Your Homework

This is the second in a series on the faith-based travel market

While the business potential is huge in the faith-based travel market, travel sellers need plenty of education – and patience – to succeed in a complex and nuanced niche that encompasses the oldest kind of travel.

Networking with the experts is one way to glean knowledge. Another is to participate in the tours that cater to this market niche.

Here’s some of what you’ll learn.

Denominational differences
“Before you go out to sell, do your homework,” advised Cindi Brodhecker, president of Faith Travel Development and Consulting.

“Catholics don’t travel like Protestants do, and people who embrace varied expressions within a single denomination can want different things,” she said. “So one needs to understand how to present a trip to the church group you are speaking to.”

Not doing so, she added, runs the risk of using the wrong terminology or suggesting something inappropriate.

Multi-faceted marketing
Launching a persistent and multifaceted marketing initiative is an essential strategy, according to Edita Krunic, president of Select International Tours, which specializes in faith-based travel.

“One call won’t do it,” she said. “You can’t just do one mailing to a church and expect to get a response. It’s all about using a marketing strategy, building relationships and keeping your name in front of a prospect.

“You need to use all channels – direct mail, phone calls, person-to-person contact, and emails. It’s good to begin by targeting one group, say all the Catholic churches within a 50-mile radius.”

Patience is also a useful tool for agents looking to mine the market. Expect it to take months or even years to turn prospects into buyers, she said.

Go beyond tour op guidance
Agents should be wary of relying on tour operators for market guidance, according to Vickie S. Everhart, a veteran faith travel and tour provider with Krouse Travel Group, who consults with agents who want to develop the niche.

“Some tour companies organize itineraries that feature destinations of interest to people in this travel sector, but what’s missing is knowledge of the spiritual component,” she said.

“They can do the logistics, and they can talk about what a huge market this is. But they can’t talk about how to prepare groups and what makes faith travel different from other group travel.”

Destination knowledge
Destination education is another area that’s critical for agents. You may be familiar with the major attractions and experiences a destination offers, but not with its sacred side.

But an agent who is conversant with just some of the hundreds of holy sites in Britain, for example, can offer clients who have traveled there before a new focus that will yield good business returns. (London, for example, is rich with heritage sites that relate to many faith expressions.)

Wright’s selling tips
The importance of education to sales success in the faith-based travel market was also emphasized by Kevin Wright, author of The Christian Travel Planner, and NTA’s director for faith-based tourism & growth markets. Here are some of his tips:

•    Contact national tourist offices for materials related to faith-based travel and join relevant e-newsletter lists.

•    Assemble a small library of books on the topic. A quick search on Amazon.com will yield a variety of titles on topics like pilgrimages, retreats, missionary travel and faith heritage destinations.

•    Subscribe to Google news alerts using terms such as “religious travel,” “faith-based travel,” “faith-based tourism,” “Holy Land,” and “pilgrimage.”

•    Attend tradeshows, educational seminars and webinars featuring faith-based travel.

•    Experience faith-focused tours firsthand to gain knowledge about differences among traditional group tours.

See Part One, “Faith Travel Evolves Into Diverse and Profitable Niche,” August 23, 2012.

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