In response to the growth of the faith-based travel industry, NTA Services has created the Faith Travel Association. The membership trade organization will serve as a business-building resource for travel professionals, sites and organizations focused on faith-based travel.
FTA will also provide connections, education and support for group leaders, religious leaders and travel agents who are planning trips for individuals or groups brought together by their faith or religious community.
"Faith-based travel is an expansive market with both domestic and international appeal," said Karla DiNardo, NTA Services Inc. president and interim FTA executive director. "Faith-based travel includes diverse experiences such as pilgrimages, events, cruises, adventures, mission/volunteer trips and travel to destinations and attractions that hold special significance to people of various faiths. We've worked closely with NTA and the NTA Faith Travel Advisory Council to create an organization that will focus specifically on those involved in faith-based travel around the world," DiNardo added.
Each year more than 300 million people of faith embark on trips around the world, pumping $18 billion into the tourism economy. Some 50,000 churches and worship centers in the United States have travel programs for youth and adults, and FTA can facilitate connecting them with qualified travel professionals. The marketplace even includes colleges, nonprofit organizations, NGOs and leaders, authors and speakers with faith-based missions or messages.
"Jordan Tourism Board has been actively involved in NTA for several years, including recently hosting a successful product development trip to Jordan," said Malia Asfour, director of Jordan Tourism Board North America and FTA board member. "The formation of FTA provides a great additional opportunity for anyone looking to do business specifically in the faith-based travel market. The focus on faith-based travel paired with the depth and global reach of FTA will give faith-based travel buyers, suppliers and destinations a home and a voice in the industry."
Faith Travel Association will make its debut at Travel Exchange, which will be held this year in Los Angeles, Feb. 16-20. An annual conference co-hosted by FTA partners NTA and the United Motorcoach Association, Travel Exchange will feature a faith travel pavilion on the show floor with exhibitors from Israel Ministry of Tourism, Meander Travel, Switzerland Tourism, Jordan Tourism Board, the Holy Land Incoming Tour Operator Association and others.
In addition to the 1,100-plus tour operators and motorcoach operators attending Travel Exchange, tour operators, travel agents, group leaders, pastors and religious leaders offering faith-based travel product will be invited to preview FTA on Wednesday, Feb. 19. On Thursday afternoon, the educational session "Increasing Faith-based Travel Profits" and the Faith-based Travel Leaders Forum will be hosted by NTA.
While FTA will help its members enhance their business portfolios and increase revenues, the gains will go beyond net earnings, according to Paul Larsen, whose Minnesota-based company, Ed-Ventures Inc., has built a strong faith travel program. "Faith-based tourism is a market where the first criterion in the traveler's decision-making process is not the dollar, but the experience," he said. "Part of my job in offering faith-based travel is to provide the traveler an opportunity to experience faith with others." Larsen served as the chair of NTA's Faith Travel Advisory Council in 2012 and 2013.
FTA will offer education and networking opportunities to its members including the FTA website (www.faithtravelassociation.com). In addition to hosting a pavilion at Travel Exchange, FTA will participate in several faith events in 2014, partnering with FTA members for greater industry presence.
The global association includes an expert board and advisory council. It will be led by an executive director and governed by the FTA board of directors: Chairman Ed Dresel, Destinations Unlimited Inc.; Vice Chairman Mitch Sussman, Sussman Consulting; Secretary Malia Asfour, Jordan Tourism Board North America; and directors Cathy Greteman, Star Destinations Inc.; and Paul Nakamoto, Gray Line of San Francisco. Additionally, several experts in the faith-based travel industry will serve on an advisory council. Included are Edita Krunic, Select International Tours; Linville Johnson, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism; Paul Larsen, Ed-Ventures Inc.; Mirko Capodanno, Switzerland Tourism; Cindi Brodhecker, Priscilla Woman's Tours; and Tina Abellanosa, Gaylord Opryland Hotel & Resort. Kevin Wright, NTA travel markets expert will serve as a consultant. Theresa Krieg, formerly of The Carolina Opry in Myrtle Beach, S.C., will serve as an FTA ambassador.