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LEXINGTON, Kentucky - NTA is taking steps to expand its members' opportunities for business within the US$18 billion faith-based tourism and hospitality market, starting with hiring an industry expert and forming an advisory council.
With a centuries-old legacy, faith-based travel remains one of the most enduring activities in tourism today, according to Lisa Simon, NTA president. “Among our 700 tour operator members, 40 percent report some level of involvement in faith-based tourism,” Simon said, “Because this market is important to so many members, we decided to tap the expertise of the leading authority in faith-based tourism, Kevin Wright.” Wright began working as a consultant to NTA earlier this year.
Simon added that faith-based tourism started as pilgrimages but now includes cruises, conferences, volunteer vacations, and adventure trips. “Many people think of religious travel as a trip to the Holy Land, but it involves many aspects of the tourism industry right here in North America,” Simon stated.
In the United States alone, there are some 335,000 religious congregations, and 80 percent of Americans identify themselves with a particular faith, according to the American Religious Identification Survey. Likewise, 76 percent of the global population shares at least a minimal level of adherence to a religion or form of spirituality.
NTA's focus on faith-based tourism is encouraging news to tour operators who have long served the market, including Paul Larsen, president of Ed-Ventures Inc. of Rochester, Minnesota. “We are very pleased to learn of NTA's exploration of this marketplace,” said Larsen, “The timing is ideal, as the industry is poised to welcome expanded leadership, education, and voice within this growing sector of tourism.”
To help guide its entry into this familiar, yet not fully-developed market, NTA has formed a Faith-based Tourism Advisory Council to develop strategies that will be meaningful to the market and expand business opportunities for NTA members. The council is composed of the following members:
• Paul Larsen (council chairman); president, Ed-Ventures, Inc. • Torre Ossmo; vice president & general manager, Faithful Holidays • Malia Asfour; director, Jordan Tourism Board North America • Paula Bohaty; group travel manager, Nebraska Travel & Tourism • Linville J. Johnson; deputy director, religious market, The Bahamas Tourist Office • Mirko Capodanno; manager, Central USA & Canada, Switzerland Tourism • Tim Moulder; director of sales, Sweet Magnolia Tours • Roger McCurry, former pastor and current group travel leader • NTA board liaison: Jim Reddekopp Jr., NTA vice chairman
Some of the council's first action items will be to incorporate faith-based organizations and destinations into the association's 2011 Convention in Las Vegas, December 5–9