The Travel Industry Association reports that one-fourth of adult travelers in the U.S. went to a church, temple, mosque or other place of worship while on vacation in the past year. You can see that religious travel is an easily sellable market because it's the type of trip that appeals across the spectrum of individuals, families and groups.
Earlier this year, the industry saw the launch of the World Religious Travel Association (www.religioustravelassociation.com), as well as a religious market consulting group, Kevin J. Wright & Associates (www.religiousmarketconsulting.com), which reports that the religious market is loyal, groups-driven and comprised of all demographics, including retirees, baby boomers, families and singles.
Book a Tour of the Holy Land
One of the foremost destinations for religious travelers is Israel's Jerusalem. Expect to see lots of client interest in Israel in general, as the Israel Ministry of Tourism (www.goisrael.com) recently launched an aggressive advertising campaign. The hope is that the campaign—valued at $11 million—will double the number of visitors to the country by 2010.
Lots of tour companies offer tours there that focus on providing a spiritual vacation. One tour operator that has its roots in such an experience is IsramWorld (www.isram.com), which runs its trip with AJCongress International Vacations for Jewish Travelers (www.ajctravel.com). In 2007, the two companies offer monthly departures on "Israel—Old & New."
The 12-day, 10-night trip affords stays in super-deluxe hotels that feature spas and spectacular views. Five days are spent in Jerusalem, visiting the Israeli parliament, the Yad Vashem, Israeli's memorial to the holocaust and Mount Zion, the traditional site of King David's tomb. The trip also stops in Tiberias and Tel Aviv, with the option of extending the trip by three days in Eilat, near Petra.
Departure dates run monthly through the end of the year as well as into 2008. Land only, double occupancy per person prices for 2007 vary depending on departure date. Clients can choose to upgrade to the King David Plan, which provides a view of the Old City from their hotel room. The lowest-priced excursions are priced at around $2,600. Contact Raffaella De Luca, Isram's manager of inside sales development (888-627-0427, [email protected]). Isram pays 10 percent commission.
If you have a group of clients, or are looking to put your own group together to experience Vatican City, consider Escorted Group Tours' (www.escortedgrouptours.com) 12-day "Classic Shrines of Italy." At the client's request, the trip can include roundtrip airfare from New York to Italy in addition to 10 nights staying at three- and four-star hotels across the country. On clients' first full day in Italy, they wake up in the Eternal City and attend the weekly Papal audience, or blessing, given by the Pope, followed by visits to the Vatican museums and St. Peter's Basilica. On the following day in Rome, guests are escorted to three basilicas: St. Mary Major, St. John in Lateran and St. Paul Outside the Walls. Other stops on the trip include San Giovanni Rotondo, Assisi and Florence. From Florence, clients can choose to take an optional afternoon tour to Pisa.
Departure dates continue through November 2007 and prices vary depending on when a client chooses to visit. Double occupancy, per person prices start at about $3,000 for land only. Included in this price are daily breakfasts and dinners, transportation, guided tours, admissions fees, hotel taxes and service charges; not included are lunches, alcoholic drinks, airport tax and tips. Escorted Group Tours, a division of Atlas Travel Network (www.atlastravelnetwork.com), does not pay commissions on its religious tours, so agents will have to add their own fee. However, agents who book a group of more than 15 people can earn a free trip as the group leader. For reservations, call the groups department at 866-475-7023 and ask for John Unger, who is available to discuss group travel training options.
Look Beyond Israel and Italy
For clients looking for a unique religious vacation, suggest Globus Journeys' (www.globusjourneys.com) Oberammergau excursion, but be sure to note that the trip doesn't take place until 2010, as that is when the quaint European town will perform its "passion play," which only takes place once every decade.
Guests can experience this legendary event on several trips taking place that year, including the nine-day "Catholic Germany & the Alps" tour. Globus cannot guarantee pricing until Oberammergau tickets are confirmed in May 2008. Globus pays 10 percent commission and advanced reservations can be made by visiting the tour operator's web site or by calling 877-797-8793.
Journeys Unlimited's (www.journeys-unlimited.com) itineraries include its "Paul's Pilgrimage of Faith to Greece and Turkey" tour. The 12-day trip first arrives in Athens, where guests will tour the Acropolis and the ruins of the Parthenon, as well as Mars Hill, where Paul once preached. The tour continues on to Corinth, Mykonos, Rhodes, Kusadasi, Pamukkale, Izmir, Assos and Istanbul.
Departure dates in 2007 are October 16 and November 6, with prices per person, double occupancy, starting at $2,998. This price includes roundtrip airfare from New York, 10 nights of accommodations, 11 breakfasts and dinners, sightseeing fees, airport transfers, taxes and fees, transportation and a guide. Next year's first departure is May 27, 2008. Reservations can be made at 800-486-8359. Journeys Unlimited pays 10 percent commission.
New for this year is a pilgrimage to India, "The Soul of India," offered by Scared Earth Journeys (www.sacredearthjourneys.ca). On the tour, two of the world's foremost experts on sacred travel, Phil Cousineau and Anthonly Lawlor, will lead guests to some of India's holiest places, including those important in Buddha's life.
The trip takes place January 25 through February 11, 2008, and prices begin at $3,899 (double occupancy, land only). Includes are airport transfers, accommodations, some meals, sightseeing tours, lectures and airfare between different cities in India.
Sacred Earth Journeys pays 10 percent commission and agents can contact Helen Tomei, president of Sacred Earth Journeys, by e-mail at [email protected] —JM