Courtesy Jim Cullumber
Published April 01, 2017
Planning religious meetings often requires more attention to detail than the typical event; planners must often consider factors such as dietary restrictions, tight budgeting and family travel. To understand some of the ways that planners can engage more effectively with this market, we spoke with three faith-based meetings experts.
Robin Ware organizes meetings and events through the dReam Center Church in Marietta, Georgia, and has over 25 years of experience in planning, sales and hotel service. Jim Cullumber serves as the vice president of communications at the Christian Church Foundation in Indianapolis. And in addition to planning meetings, Rachel Eble has more than 15 years of experience in sales, catering and hotel service. She is now a senior account manager at Arrowhead Conferences and Events in Redlands, California.
Cater to Cultural Sensitivities
Every faith-based group has different habits and values that affect the planning process, from serving fish on Fridays during the season of Lent for Catholic organizations to avoiding pork or shellfish for the Jewish community. It is crucial for planners to become acquainted with these needs.
“It’s really important that you understand the dynamics of that religious faith so that you don’t offend,” said Ware. “For instance, we would never suggest planning a meeting during Holy Season.”
Often, any special requirements or dietary needs are outlined in the request for proposal, though it would be prudent to clarify these with your client just in case, especially during religious seasons and holidays when many people fast.
Another way to learn more about a particular group’s background is to become involved with local religious organizations as well as industry conferences, where planners can be educated on the nuances of working with the religious market.
Be Flexible on Dates and Locations
To avoid competing with the corporate market and maintain an affordable budget, religious planners must be willing to compromise when it comes to narrowing down the time and place of their meeting.
“Flexibility is key for groups getting what they need at the price point they need,” said Eble.
Instead of choosing a destination first, planners can ensure attendees find cheaper flight options by looking for airports in cities where low-fare carriers fly. Likewise, some states offer tax exemptions for religious meetings, so finding a location where your group is eligible for exemptions on lodging, food and beverage, and audiovisual equipment can make a huge impact on budget costs.
According to Cullumber, one of the best ways to get great deals is by building strong relationships with hotels and tourist offices, especially through networking at trade shows, and being ready to fill rooms whenever hotels have an off week.
“Perseverance and patience are key,” said Cullumber, describing how it took three years to nail down a venue in San Diego recently for the right budget.
On a similar note, Eble mentioned how much easier it is to book an event in Orlando, Florida, during the first week of January, rather than a week or two later.
“Many of our groups often desire to be in a prime location at a peak time of year,” said Eble. “By making a slight change to date and/or pattern, we’ve been able to fit more of a lead time for the hotel, which allows them to offer sometimes drastic differences in rates and concessions that they cannot offer even just days earlier or later.”
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