Faith-based travel to Israel is a growing market and one that’s evolving beyond the traditional pilgrimages to holy sites.
Many of the record-breaking number of visitors visiting the Holy Land are traveling there on faith-based itineraries, according to Eyal Carlin, director, Southeast U.S., for the Israel Ministry of Tourism.
“Our numbers for repeat visitors are growing from year to year,” said Carlin, adding that “these repeaters are exploring places beyond Jerusalem, Nazareth and the Galilee –destinations first-timers typically visit.”
Beyond the holy sites
Faith-based travel to Israel is also evolving, he said.
Though traditional pilgrimages to holy sites remains a mainstay for groups touring by motorcoach, add-ons are increasingly popular with faith-based visitors, Carlin said.
“Some tour groups from the U.S. and other countries include music worship by Christian rock bands who have performed at sites like the Tower of David in Jerusalem.
“Musical productions and worship events are among many types of client requirements the travel trade in Israel is prepared to organize.”
Outdoor adventures related to the faith-based market, such as hiking the Gospel or Jesus Trails, are also growing in popularity, Carlin said.
Special access to sites like Jerusalem’s City of David are a draw too. Tour operators with connections are offering private-access tours of recovered artifacts and tunnels at the site.
Specialist operators like Danny Herman of Danny the Digger arrange private-access tours. Herman also offer tours for archaeology buffs.
His programs take clients like the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) to the most recent archaeology sites. He also arranges access to Israeli senior scholars.
Private tours and culinary-based add-ons are increasing attractive to faith-based clients as well.
Joe Yudin, founder and CEO of Touring Israel, specializes in private luxury tours. He said culinary tours are growing in popularity. “Israel’s reputation for good food seems to be growing.”
On a private tour, clients are able to go at their own pace, spend more time at sites and change itineraries on the go, Yudin said.
Greg Hinman, business development manger, religious travel for the Globus Family of Brands, said the tour operator is seeing an increase in faith-based travelers to Israel. The purchase of Globus’ 2013 faith-based packages are up by 42%, according to Hinman.
Hinman sees tremendous potential for the faith-based market.
Recent traveler surveys indicate there are millions of travelers interested in religious vacations and that interest often motivates people to travel internationally for the first time.
This year Globus launched faith-based programs for its Cosmos brand of affordable vacations. The tours are priced at about 30% less than the company’s premium tour packages, said Hinman.