Faith-Based Vacations Mean Opportunity for Agents


St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican attracts hundreds of thousands of Christian visitors every year


From ancient sites in the Middle East to the Vatican to quaint European villages, travelers are making religious pilgrimages part of their vacations—and agents looking for a lucrative marketing opportunity with special appeal should take a closer look at this growing niche.

The Globus Family of Brands predicts a sustained growth for the faith-based religious vacation market this year, in part sparked by Oberammergau’s Passion Play. This 400-year-old German tradition takes place every 10 years, drawing hundreds of thousands of people.

Globus reports that its bookings on European itineraries with Oberammergau extensions are up 1,350 percent for 2010 and the company’s Cosmos Oberammergau vacations have sold out. Other tour operators such as Collette Vacations, Trafalgar Tours and Tauck are also seeing significant increases in their Oberammergau and other religious packages.

Globus’ updated Religious Travel Study estimates that, so far, 4.5 million people have traveled internationally on a religious or faith-based vacation. That number is expected to rise exponentially by the end of the year when an additional 9.7 million people will have made international religious trips.

What Globus’ research has revealed, to the industry’s delight, is that it’s a 4.5 million short-term traveler market, which appeals to repeat travelers. As agents may expect, Israel, Italy, Greece, Jordan, Mexico and England are the top destinations, reports Globus. And, underscoring the potential for professional agents, 63 percent used a travel agent to plan or book their trip. Most spent between $1,500 and $2,999.

The study also notes 55 percent of Globus’ (comprising Globus, Cosmos, Monograms and Avalon Waterways) clients were accompanied by friends and 43 percent by their spouse or partner. Seven in 10 were away from home from 8-10 nights, and 18 percent were on their first international vacation. A third were part of an escorted group tour and three in 10 traveled on a custom itinerary.

At least a third of all outbound travelers from the U.S. are likely to take a religious vacation, making it a long-term market of more than 15 million. Four in five past religious travelers intend to repeat the experience at some point, Globus says. There are also group-marketing opportunities as many religious travelers travel with members of their church or synagogue.

Another sales tool is the add-on tour, including regional tours, river-cruise and small-ship options, that may add value to the sale. Globus’ research shows that most religious travelers seek a balance between religious and secular activities. Most want to visit places associated with their own faiths and attend religious services while a large number (73.1 percent) go on an escorted group tour.

The downside is that while the faith-based travel market has nationwide presence, the largest markets are limited to a few states—California, Texas, Florida and New York, and heavily based in major metropolitan areas. On the plus side, the household income of most religious travelers is at least $75,000. Most are actively involved with their communities and well-educated.

Agents who are looking for opportunities in the faith-based market can contact the World Religious Travel Association (WRTA).