$18 billion religious travel industry gives birth to international association

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LITTLETON, Colo. — With 25 percent of American travelers indicating an interest in spiritual or religious pilgrimages, a new faith-based travel association is hoping to tap into a burgeoning industry that topped $18 billion worldwide.

Officials with the new World Religious Travel Association—a joint venture between the Religious Marketing Consulting Group and the Christian Travel Finder—said the organization will respond to the growing demand for faith-based vacations and the increasing number of tourism companies entering or expanding their presence within the industry.

"WRTA's overall mission is simple and clear: We will advise and assist the travel industry in working with the religious market, and establish faith-based vacations as a key travel option for the religious consumer," said Kevin J. Wright, president of the Religious Market Consulting Group, and now the executive director of the new venture.

The association, its officials said, comes at a pivotal stage in the burgeoning faith-based travel industry that, according to the World Tourism Organization, is one of the fastest growing travel segments.

In November, the Travel Industry Association of America released survey findings indicating that one out of four travelers said they were currently interested in taking a spiritual vacation. The survey also found that the interest in such tours was evenly dispersed regardless of age.

Also last fall, the International Conference on Religious Tourism, held in Cyprus, estimated the size of the faith-based travel industry at $18 billion. Indications of the popularity of such trips emerged nearly a decade ago when the World Travel Market in London released research that identified faith-based travel as one of the top critical issues and trends in travel and tourism in the 21st century.

The association plans to provide its members with a wide range of market services and opportunities, including leadership, networking, education, media coverage, research, job market, advertising, consulting, travel ministry programs, and faith-based vacations

Travel experiences to be offered will include escorted touring, cruising, missionary travel, adventure trips, FIT/Independent travel, attractions, retreats, conferences, and conventions/meetings.

In September 2008, the association plans to host its first World Religious Travel Expo. In addition to providing a full schedule of seminars, officials said the Expo will offer opportunities for companies and organizations to showcase their religious tourism products and services to the trade and consumer. For churches, religious organizations and individuals, the Expo will provide a one-stop shopping venue to explore organizations involved in religious tourism and hospitality.

"Among our many initiatives, education will be at the forefront of the association and expo," said Honnie Korngold, vice president of WRTA. "Our goal is to not only educate the trade about faith-based travel, but also the consumer—for example, educating pastors and religious group leaders themselves about the value and benefits of traveling together as a community."

For more information, visit religioustravelassociation.com or call WRTA at 1-800-657-1288.