Travel agents are top of mind at the NTA’s Faith Travel Association as it nears the mid-way mark of its first year in operation. The new association aims to function as a business-building resource for the industry, including travel agents.
"We want to elevate and serve agents," said Z. Allen Abbott, executive director of the Faith Travel Association. "We feel they are the bridge between people of faith and life-changing travel experiences.”
Created early this year by NTA Services, the NTA’s commercial arm, the Faith Travel Association has set a mission of “being the trusted source for education, community, networking and publications within the faith-based travel industry.”
“There are unlimited possibilities for travel by people of faith, and agents can help connect sellers and buyers for everyone's benefit," Abbott told Travel Market Report.
FTA Day planned
At the top of the association's action list are plans for its first "FTA Day" – scheduled for Jan. 19 during NTA's Travel Exchange 2015 in New Orleans.
During FTA Day, exhibitors from around the world who offer faith-based travel products will be on hand in an FTA Pavilion and during a “speed appointments” session.
Professional development seminars and FTA-sponsored networking events are also planned for the NTA’s Travel Exchange. FTA events are included in the registration fee for the Travel Exchange.
Abbott said representatives from the Faith Travel Association also will conduct educational sessions at other conferences and religious events as well.
"These might be attended by pastors or other group leaders who would not attend Travel Exchange. We need to go where they are to reach them and learn what they need and want from travel buyers and sellers."
Fresh website, new research
Near the end of June, the FTA plans to debut a new more interactive website. The website will offer free webinars, including audio sessions from agents and tour operators who are experienced in the faith-based market, as well as articles on faith-based travel and other resources.
Also in the works are plans for quantitative and qualitative research for 2015 to determine the niche's market potential and identify what end users want from the travel industry. Abbott said the association is seeking a research sponsor such as a tourism school to underwrite the project.
Faith-based travel has great business potential, Abbott said. But agents and other industry professionals need education about how to find prospects and how to market to them successfully.
“Getting into this market is not as easy as buying a list of churches," said Abbott, who is a former pastor.
"Agents and others who want to reach this huge market need to speak the right sales language and understand what people of faith value in their travel experiences."
The niche is about much more than traditional pilgrimages, he explained, though those continue as they have for centuries.
Today, the faith travel sector also encompasses people of faith gathering in groups to travel anywhere. The array includes youth and adult mission trips, conferences and meetings, and faith-based groups going somewhere just to have fun together.
Some destination marketers are using contemporary activities to draw faith travelers to their locations.
A current example is the Pittsburgh Pirates' second annual Faith Night on June 26, when they play the New York Mets. Fans will hear faith testimonies from players like Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen.
"We believe faith-based travel can contribute to healing the world," Abbott said.
"Every major religion has an emphasis on bringing reconciliation among all people, and travel can play a role in this. The key is getting interaction at the grassroots level, because most conflicts have a religious element to them."
The new association has an interfaith focus, he added, because America and the rest of the world have become so pluralistic.