Religious Group Niche Marketing
by Bob Faucett
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WHO DOES WHAT?
For a religious group, the spiritual leader's responsibility is to recruit the participants and provide the spiritual leadership before and during the journey. The role of the travel professional is to handle the details – to get quick, accurate and knowledgeable answers to the leader's questions and to make high-quality travel arrangements that are competitively priced. He or she also must answer the questions of the booked and prospective participants, distribute the travel documents and (most importantly) assure that the trip is executed WELL. A priest, pastor or rabbi wants to feel confident that he/she will not have to apologize for the trip. Experience in this market has proven that, in terms of priorities, price is typically secondary behind quality of hotels, guides, escorts, meals, flight arrangements and attention to detail.
For agents who try the religious tour niche, the challenge is to understand the nature of the market and the destinations and to listen to the individual needs of the spiritual leader or organizer who will make the decisions.
The first task is to qualify the potential organizer of a religious journey. Whether you are dealing directly or through a committee, you want to know about the spiritual leader. Who is he or she? What is his or her job? Have they lead groups before? If so, when and where? How many folks? Marketing in the religious travel business is “Pied Piper Marketing.” It is not your responsibility to recruit the pilgrims. That is the role of the Pied Piper. Your role is to qualify and recruit successful Pied Pipers. The quality of your leader will determine if your efforts are fruitful or a waste of time.
What destinations should you consider selling? Before you answer the question, you should find out where the spiritual leader wants to travel. He or she will be most enthusiastic about selling a trip to a destination that appeals to him or her. Thus, while there are a few cautions, as a general rule you should allow the leader to choose the destination and dates.
Destinations are often dictated by the denomination of the group. Protestant groups typically favor different destinations than Jewish or even Catholic groups. When Israel is perceived as peaceful, this is the most popular destination of all denominations. The list below suggests the other most popular destinations based on denomination:
- Roman Catholic: Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, Great Britain, Mexico, and Israel
- Episcopal or Anglican: Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Greece, and Turkey
- Protestant: Greece, Turkey, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, and Italy
- Jewish: Israel, Eastern Europe, Spain, and Italy
Choosing a tour operator for your client's religious trip is like choosing a vendor for any other journey. However, as you can see, religious travel is a highly specialized field.
Here are a few suggestions on making your choice:
- Choose a tour operator who specializes in religious travel only. Further, many operators specialize by denomination. A few of the larger operators have specialists in Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish groups, but most specialize in a single denomination. You should know if the operator's specialty matches your client.
- As with all vendors, you want experience and solid financial backing. How long has your operator been in business? Many firms in this industry are almost totally dependent on Israel as a destination. With the extended difficulties there, some companies can experience severe financial problems. Seek operators with affiliation with ASTA and USTOA (United States Tour Operators Association).
- Some operators specialize in “bargain pilgrimage tours.” They feature lower grade hotels, minimal sightseeing with numerous extra options, circuitous air routings, etc. If your client is ONLY interested in cost, then you might go with the lowest bidder. On the other hand, if your client expects all inclusive pricing, quality hotels, motor coaches and direct flights plus attention to all of the many details associated with a pilgrimage trip, you will be well advised to avoid bidding your trip and deciding based on the lowest price. Religious tours are not a commodity with “one size fits all.” Price variations are most typically a product of variations in the quality your tour operator will deliver to your client.
Bob Faucett is Vice President and Director of Religious Tours for Unitours, Inc., a religious tour operator headquartered in Purchase, N.Y., and with offices in London, Lucerne, Athens, and Tel Aviv. As a USTOA founding member and a longtime member of ASTA, Unitours has remained under the same ownership and management since 1957. You can reach Bob by calling 800.428.9223, emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or checking his site at www.unitours.com/agents.
(Credits: Unitours; stock photos)