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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Keeping the faithful


Maureen Gutierrez

How are faith-based meeting planners changing the way they do business?

Gutierrez: “A large percentage of our faith-based planners are using third parties (planners). This has allowed each faith-based organizer to focus on the content of the conference while leaving hotel negotiations to someone else.”

McCauley: “We’ve seen a trend in groups shortening the length of their meetings or doing some consolidation.”

Ponton: “Some are working with more volunteer support and we welcome that. We have seen a few bring in third-party planners to lead site selection, data gathering, and housing needs for large conferences, but in San Jose we will handle all those services for clients that want that level of service.”

Townsend: “In Little Rock we have not seen a tremendous dip in the faith-based groups but we have seen groups that are affected by the attrition they had at recent conferences held in other cities. When they come to Little Rock, they are being more conservative because they were stung by attrition.”

How is your bureau’s approach to this market changing?
Gutierrez: “Second-tier cities like Frisco have hired additional full-time sales people to capture more of this market. The city of Frisco is putting a large focus on this segment.”

Ponton: “We, like other DMOs, are attending more trade shows and events this year and next year as well.”

Schmitz: “We did RCMA (the Religious Conference Management Association) conference three years ago. One thing we are going to look into is the Rejuvenate trade show. We like the one-on-one appointments it offers.

“Also, we try to have relationships with all of the churches in our area, and we make sure they know what we do and how we can partner with them. We offer a grant program for conferences that can give groups funding for speakers or other needs.”

Townsend: “We are trying to do more with less in terms of dollars. For example, where there might have been two of us at a trade show in the past, there will be one. I’ve noticed a trend at other faith-based tradeshows in that there has been a reduction in booth decoration — less glitz and more focus on the essentials.

“We also have some things in the works with partner hotels to bring in some regional religious organizations and provide an educational element. We would show them how we would support and equip the local base of volunteers so they will have the confidence to step up and host a conference.”

McCauley: “Second-tier and smaller cities have been faced with a strong challenge from first-tier cities that have begun to market to the religious segment more aggressively. With that in mind, our destination sharpens its pencils to design attractive offers that appeal to the religious meeting planner.”