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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Destination: Inspiration for Religious Meetings

Visalia, California

Known as the Gateway to the Sequoias, Visalia, California, resides in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range alongside the world-renowned Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. The town is equidistant from principal destinations such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento, providing easy access to major airports and attractions.

“Visalia is certainly a growing area,” said Suzanne Bianco, tourism and marketing manager at the Visalia Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Our location in the middle of the state makes it easy and cost effective for groups to meet here.”

Religious groups will find everything they need for their meetings or events in this vibrant, mountainside community without the traffic and expenses of California’s bigger cities. Just a block from downtown, the Visalia Convention Center features 114,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, a 3,000-seat arena and complimentary parking. The convention center adjoins the recently renovated Visalia Marriott Hotel, which can host up to 4,000 guests in its 61,099-square-foot event space. The Wyndham Visalia Hotel is another anchor location in the city for meeting groups, with 22,000 square feet of meeting space.

In Visalia’s enchanting downtown district, also known as the Jewel of the Valley, travelers can explore over 50 restaurants, boutiques and shops, with dining options from casual farm-to-table fare such as Café 225 to more upscale venues like the famous Vintage Press Restaurante. For an original off-site venue or activity, groups can also stop by McKellar Farms, a working citrus farm that offers guided tours as well as beautiful event space in a renovated barn.

Many meeting attendees prefer to extend their stays in the city a few extra days to visit the stunning national parks nearby. One of the most notable natural landmarks is the General Sherman Tree, which is the largest tree on earth at a height of 275 feet and a base diameter of 36 feet.

Omaha, Nebraska

Omaha, Nebraska, is a relatively young convention destination, but its reputation as a prime location for religious events is rapidly growing. In January, Omaha hosted the annual Religious Conference Management Association (RCMA) event, drawing over 250 religious planners to the city, many that professed strong interest in returning with their groups.

“One thing we hear over and over is what a genuine hospitality community we have,” said Cathy Keller, vice president of sales and services at the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Once you’re in Omaha, you are totally embraced by the city, so attendees are very, very comfortable.”

Despite being the largest city in Nebraska, Omaha provides an intimate, family-type environment with many restaurants, hotels and attractions within 15 minutes of the convention center.

“We’re really easy to get to, whether you’re flying or driving in, and that’s of great value to the religious market,” said Keller. “All of our hotels in the downtown area offer complimentary shuttles to and from the airport.”

The CenturyLink Center Omaha convention center features 346,000 square feet of meeting space with an attached arena. The center is adjacent to the Hilton Omaha and the brand-new Omaha Marriott Downtown at the Capitol District. The total number of downtown hotel rooms is  3,000, making the city “attractive to the religious market, because if they want different price points and want to be spread out across different hotels, they can do that,” Keller said.

One of the most popular sections of the city is the historic Old Market District, where attendees can browse over 30 unusual boutiques, restaurants and art galleries along cobblestone streets.

“During RCMA, they were down there every day,” said Keller.

RCMA also hosted its opening reception at the impressive Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, which boasts a two-story desert dome as well as America’s largest indoor rain forest.