The faith based travel market can be very lucrative for travel sellers in new, repeat and referral business, according to Ronen Paldi, president of Ya’lla Tours, a faith based tour specialist in Portland, OR.
Citing 2004 census statistics, Paldi told Travel Market Report that two-thirds of the U.S. population describes itself as involved in their religious organizations, which generate $87 billion in annual contributions.
Travel, pointed out Paldi, is the single largest expenditure for U.S. religious organizations, after salaries, education and construction.
“The potential in this market is unlimited and it really is virgin territory for agents,” Paldi said. “It is a great opportunity for travel sellers.”
“The repeat factor is the highest in the industry. And if a travel agent books one church group of 30, this can result in individuals also take cruises and land vacations,” he said.
Because faith based tours are an emotional trip for most people, travel agents have to cultivate expertise especially in the main Biblical destinations of Israel, Turkey, Greece, Jordan and Egypt, said Paldi, who will present a seminar on the subject, "Turkey, Europe's Unknown Pilgrimage Destination," at the ASTA International Destination Expo in Istanbul, April 20-23.
“To get into the faith-based market, agents must invest in educating themselves about these destinations – it’s an investment not an expense,” said Paldi, because if the clients’ dreams are fulfilled, they’ll be repeat customers, including for their leisure vacations on cruises and tours.
Another crucial factor for agents in the faith based travel market is to deal with suppliers that they can trust.
A major difference between the leisure market and faith-based market is that “for some reason, for faith based travel, many companies deal directly with churches telling them that there is no need to deal with local agent to keep commissions and profits in house.”
However, agents have a real competitive advantage – personal service and products from vendors that don’t cut corners.
“Many tour companies that deal directly cut corners, and pastors are unaware of this. They don’t get the tour that they thought they were getting. Agents can raise the red flags with them,” Paldi told TMR.
A handful of companies, Ya’lla being one, deal only through travel agents, according to Paldi. Booking only through travel agents, he noted, is crucial to the success of his company’s faith based products because that allows Ya’lla to focus on this very specialized product without the added operational burdens of handling the booking process.
“When I opened Ya’lla in 1993, I found out the hard way that it is more financially convenient and feasible to deal with travel agents rather than solicit direct business,” said Paldi.
“We don’t cut corners and our tours are more expensive because of our high standards. But if someone pays $3,000, they will also pay $3,200. If that extra $200 is the difference between real value and something that doesn’t fulfill their expectations, they will pay. Every pilgrimage we and our agent partners have booked in past 17 years has returned raving about the experience and ready to book again.”