Religious travel, often also called faith-based travel, is a unique subcategory of the travel industry that focuses on connecting travelers with religious travel experiences around the world, from experiencing the Holy Land or hiking along the famed El Camino de Santiago to pilgrimages to Mecca and beyond.
Faith-based travel is estimated by ETS Tours, a leader in faith-based group travel, to be worth around $50 to $100 billion. The World Tourism Organization estimates 330 million travelers visit the world’s largest religious sites each year, while millions more stop into historic churches and temples during their travels and wander along ancient pilgrimage paths to connect deeper with Christian saints, Buddhist philosophers or other religious figures.
But if you’re a traveler looking to take your first faith-based trip or a travel advisor looking to learn more about selling faith-based travel, it can be difficult to know where to begin. So before you look further, check out this beginner’s guide to religious travel to learn how to begin!
What You Need to Know – Traveler Edition
Faith-based travel is often a group affair, but whether you’ll be traveling solo, with family or with a church group, tour operators often offer the best opportunities to enjoy a truly faith-based journey.
Reputable land tour operators are often going to be the easiest way to get an in-depth connection to the destination in question, whether it be in Jerusalem experiencing the three major world religions coexisting within one ancient city or following in the Apostle Paul’s footsteps across Greece or Italy along ancient Roman roads.
Tour operators are unique in that your itinerary is set with a faith-based approach to your trip, led by a knowledgeable guide who can provide the historical and religious insights to each destination and attraction, as well as provide enough time for prayer and reflection in between seeing the sights.
Many tour operators offer religious or faith-based tours. Collette and Globus, for example, offer group tours with others or private touring options for church groups, families and more. ETS Tours, which specializes in faith-based travel, is a great choice for travelers taking church groups or larger groups on a faith-based trip.
If you’re more inclined to go your own way without the benefit of a guide and other additions like included transportation, check out some tour operators’ itineraries to get a good look at what you want to visit during your own trip. They can be great starting points for your own trips, which may be longer or visit different countries depending on your travel desires.
Lastly, check in with a travel advisor. They’re great resources for planning trips of all kinds, and will be able to guide you through your vacation planning process no matter if they’re faith-based travel experts or not. Whether you’ll be leading your own tour group or joining in with a tour operator’s group, advisors will be able to guide you every step of the way.
“Planning ahead is the best – you can make payments and you can really plan a great trip if you have time in advance,” said Tammy Levent, President of Elite Travel Management Group. “Make sure to go with an agency that is familiar and knows what visas to get to all the countries you are visiting.”
What You Need to Know – Travel Advisor Edition
Travel advisors know that specialization can often be a superpower in their field. Whether it be specializing in faith-based travel in general, a specific destination that offers plenty of religious or faith-based travel opportunities or in a tour operator that offers faith-based travel as a tour category, specializing can give advisors the tools they need to successfully plan travel for their clients, while giving their clients the confidence they need knowing they’re working with a specialist.
But how to begin?
“Find a reputable tour operator that specializes in faith-based travel – I like ETS. Reach out to their sales team with questions, look over their itineraries, and do their trainings,” said Nicole Lovell of NML Travel, who planned a Catholic group pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
ETS Tours routinely offers webinars for travel advisors looking to begin getting into the faith-based travel category, as well as plenty of tour options for groups to choose from.
Advisors can also research tour operators to learn which ones offer training or expert programs for advisors, which can help, or check into the Travel Agent Academy, which partners with destinations like Jordan, Japan and Malta to offer travel advisor specialty programs. They offer training and resources to help advisors plan all sorts of travel, including religious travel.
Travel advisors who are part of a religious community should also consider talking with the leaders of their communities about tours to a specific destination. For example, many Christian churches will offer pastor- or priest-led tours to the Holy Land, visiting Christian sites in Israel and Jordan.
One consideration that advisors should also have is to plan well in advance, especially for group travel.
“Faith-based travel needs to be planned well in advance,” said Lovell. “If it is a group trip (as most are), I recommend that you begin promoting it 16-18 months ahead of time. This gives the pastor plenty of time to promote the trip within their congregation, it gives you time to host information sessions (in person or virtually), and more people will be available to travel on the chosen dates, as they probably haven’t scheduled much that far in advance.”
The Faith Travel Association is another great resource and way to learn and showcase your expertise with planning religious travel. For a fee of $49 a year, travel advisors can become a member of the world’s leading network of advisors, tour operators, destinations and travel suppliers focusing on faith-based travel.
Advisors who belong to the association will enjoy access to the member-only newsletter, seminars, webinars, exposure as an FTA-member travel advisor and much more.
Faith-based travel is an important subcategory of the travel industry, and advisors who belong to religious communities can benefit greatly from learning how to sell religious travel. Travelers themselves who want to begin planning a religious trip should consider getting in touch with a travel advisor and familiarize themselves with different tour operators and travel styles far ahead of their prospective travel date.