World Religious Travel Association Launches

The World Religious Travel Association (WRTA) launched last week to serve the $18-billion religious travel market, and with it came new benefits for travel professionals who specialize in, or are looking to learn more about, booking religious-oriented vacations. Kevin J. Wright

The WRTA was launched by Kevin J. Wright, president of Religious Market Consulting Group, and Honnie Korngold, president of Christian Travel Finder.

"In short, the purpose of the association is to assist the trade side of this market, particularly in North America," says Wright, WRTA's executive director. "We're looking to help the trade side sell and develop products and services for the religious markets."

Judging from statistics, this is a big market that agents should be aware of: It's one of the fastest-growing travel segments according to the World Tourism Organization; the International Conference on Religious Tourism estimates the faith-based travel industry to be worth $18 billion; and a recent Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) survey found that 25 percent of travelers were interested in taking a spiritual or religious-themed vacation.

Agents, Suppliers & Consumers

As for demographics, the TIA survey found that approximately one-third of each age group (18–34, 35–54 and 55+) were interested in spiritual vacations. Of the North American religious travel market, Wright says about 90 percent are Christian travelers, about 5 percent are Jewish travelers and about 5 percent are travelers of other faiths.

WRTA membership is being offered to every segment of the travel industry, from travel agents and tour operators to hoteliers and cruise companies. Consumers (e.g., pastors and religious group leaders) can also become members.

Fees for travel representatives range from $250 to $10,000 a year, depending on the number of services a member desires. Members who pay closer to the $10,000 range receive various tools and benefits, including discounts and premium booth space for the WRTA's inaugural trade show in September 2008. Wright told Travel Agent that he expects between 1,000 and 1,500 exhibitors at the show, which will either be in Orlando or Atlanta.

Consumers looking to join the association can either do so free of charge or by paying $50. Those who pay the $50 have the capability of posting their resumes on the association's web site. All travel professionals who belong to the WRTA will have access to the resumes regardless of their fee level.

As of Wednesday, the WRTA had more than 25 members. Wright says by the end of the year, he would like to see that number grow to about 2,000. He is hoping that two thirds of that number will consist of travel professionals and one third of consumers. By 2008, Wright says he hopes to have an equal split in membership between travel professionals and consumers.

The organization is planning on holding the first religious travel awards ceremony in December.

Ronen Paldi, president of Ya'lla Tours USA, welcomes WRTA's January 29 launch. He hopes the association will alleviate what he deems unethical practices in a "chaotic market."

Focus on Religious Experience

Paldi says that if the main memory religious travelers go home with isn't of the religious experience, then the vacation was a failure. To illustrate his point, Paldi relayed the story of a group on a trip to Israel that took a full-day tour on their last day and was dropped off at the airport at 7 p.m. for a 24-hour flight that departed at midnight.

"The traveler checks out in the morning, is out all day, at the airport for five hours, hasn't bathed, is wearing the same clothes and that is what they wind up remembering. They will remember that catastrophic day as opposed to their spiritual trip to Israel. That is what the WRTA will hopefully correct," Paldi says.

For more information about the association, or to register as a corporate or individual member, call 800-657-1288 or visit ww.religioustravelassociation.com.

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