There's plenty of room for travel agents to tap into the faith-based travel market niche which shows real growth and earnings potential, the NTA reports.
"Gaps exist in the marketplace where eager and willing agents can step right in and begin capitalizing on the opportunities. It's a steadily growing market –even during tough economic times," says Kevin Wright, in a recent NTA webinar.
“Studies show that 35 percent of travelers want to take a faith-inspired vacation, so the market potential remains enormous,” said Wright, director of faith-based tourism and growth markets at NTA.
“Success within this robust marketplace begins with developing and executing a solid business strategy, and the webinar was developed to meet this need, " Wright said.
He warns that too few agents have dedicated the time and commitment to learn the market or how to sell faith-based travel effectively and build a steady client base.
Wright says up to 330 million people every year take faith-based trips, according to the UN World Tourism Organization, and that 25 percent of travelers are interested in spiritual vacations, according to U.S. Travel Association data.
He notes that the U.S. has 335,000 plus religious congregations and places of worship. Wright also says faith-based travel is one of the few travel styles where the number one factor in the buy decision-making isn't price but the experience.
During the webinar Wright highlighted the importance of travel agents and buyers choosing qualified faith-based tour operators.
Wright said NTA will delve deeper into the market during its Faith Tourism Leaders Forum, Jan. 20, at the NTA's Travel Exchange in Orlando, Jan 20-24.
During the session, members will share challenges, successes and strategies within the market, NTA says.
The types of faith-based travel cited by Wright, include: pilgrimages, religious heritage tours, meetings, conferences and festivals. Mission and voluntourism trips, adventure and active trips, retreats, student and youth trips, cruises, leisure vacations and day-trip getaways such as sports nights for faith-based travelers are part of the mix, he notes.
Wright estimates that travel agents benefit from 30 to 35 percent of faith-based bookings while 34 percent are booked directly with a tour operator. He advises agents to work with a tour operator.
Wright advises agents to be persistent in their selling and marketing and to use every tool at their disposal. Another tip is that success in faith-based travel isn’t “one phone call to a church and your done ” but relationship-building over weeks, months and years.
To succeed agents should use variety of sales and marketing methods including, in-person group presentations, email, direct mail, calling, and social media. He suggests agents think geographically and target their approaches. For example: Approach all Baptist congregations within a 75-mile radius of office.
Wright also suggests that agents build their faith-based travel knowledge base. Among the ways he suggests to do this is building a faith-based travel library, subscribing to Google faith-based travel news alerts, joining a Linkedin.com faith-based tourism group or taking a faith-based tour or FAM to experience this type of trip first hand.