In troubled times, many people turn to their faith, which may explain why faith-based travel has been gaining momentum in recent years.
More operators are entering the marketplace, and more participants are taking journeys to sites with religious significance.
“We’ve offered religious tours for seven years, and they’ve grown rapidly despite [adverse] economic conditions,” said Steve Born, vice president of marketing for Globus-Cosmos, one of America’s largest tour operators. Mayflower Tours, another major operator, founded a faith-based tourism divison — Faithful Holidays — five years ago and it is going strong, said John Stachnik, president of both Mayflower and Faithful Holidays.
“Since 2007, faith-based tours have grown by 5 percent,” said Keith Wright, director of faith-based tourism and growth markets for the National Tour Association. The tours attract a wide spectrum of travelers. “A survey shows a third of the market is aged 18-34, a third from 35 to 54, and a third 55-plus,” he said.
For those who take these trips, the journey is often a milestone in their lives.
“Spiritual tours bring our faith to life,” said Anna Talley, who has put together a couple such tours for a senior group at her church in a Chicago suburb. “We’re at the stage of our lives where time and money have to count, so we spend on more meaningful ventures.”
Talley works with Faithful Holidays to customize a trip that takes her group to destinations they want to visit, accompanied by their church priest. On a tour to Italy, for instance, they visited the Vatican and had an audience with the pope, said Mass at the Basilica of St. John and at Assisi, the home of St. Francis.
Such trips leave a lasting impression on participants. Two years after Sally Wolfer went on a faith-based tour to the eastern Mediterranean, the Broward County resident says the experience of visiting places mentioned in the Bible was remarkable. Every time she goes to her church, the Little Flower in Hollywood, Wolfer says, “the experience takes me back.”
Wolfer went on a cruise/tour put together by Suzanne Taskowitz as coordinator of the Travel Ministry of the Archdiocese of Miami Respect Life. The travelers walked in the steps of Christ in Israel, visited religious sites in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, and had Mass every day led by priests who accompanied them on the journey.
Faith-based tours like these have been growing despite the dampening effects of the recession.
Globus-Cosmos, which offered eight different spiritual tours this year, will have 10 next year — seven with Globus and three with Cosmos, its lower-priced brand, Born said. Each tour is offered on multiple dates.
Taskowitz has another cruise/tour trip to the eastern Mediterranean coming up in November for the Travel Ministry.
Faith-based tours are different because the religious aspect is the dominant focus. Many other tours include a visit to a religious site but as part of a secular itinerary.
However, even faith-oriented tours include visits to non-religious sites. In the eastern Mediterranean, for example, the tour may stop at such places as the Parthenon in Athens, the Roman ruins in Ephesus and the Pyramids in Cairo.
“Twenty years ago or so, religion was the sole focus of such tours,” said Wright of the National Tour Association. “But in the last 10 years, they [have] much more of a balance. People love their time off, combine a vacation with faith-based activities.”