Faith travel encompasses many forms, including missions, pilgrimages, fellowship trips and more. Another popular option involves attending special faith-related events that may occur monthly, annually or even less frequently. To find out what’s special about such events, we interviewed three travel pros with expertise in this segment of faith travel:
How is planning special-event travel different?
Drinkhouse: Tours with special events usually sell out early, so it’s important to plan early and know the best time to book. For Oberammergau Passion Play tours, for example, tour packages are available to tour operators two years in advance, and they sell out quickly. Although space still remains for the 2020 Passion Play, it’s much more limited now.
Utpatel: With a special religious event, it’s obvious that that’s the focus of the trip. The challenge is to make the whole trip worthwhile so that customers feel that the entire trip was so meaningful that it would have been worth going even without the special event. Of course, all the activities need to fit the style of the main event. For a faith-based event, the rest of the trip should offer spiritual elements.
Edwards: Special events require special planning. First, demand for these events is heightened, and space is at a premium. Second, customers have a sense of urgency since many events, like the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany, sell out up to 18 months prior to the event. Third, many special events require a premium deposit to hold space; a current example is hotels in Normandy for this year’s 75th anniversary of the landing on Normandy Beach during World War II.
What advice would you offer to those wanting to plan an itinerary around a special event?
Drinkhouse: Find the right tour operator and plan early. Make sure that your tour operator has thoroughly researched the event and will help educate your group about it. I first started planning for the 2020 400th anniversary of the Mayflower crossing a few years ago. I’ve visited all the sites on our itineraries and have studied the journey of the Mayflower Pilgrims from England to Holland to New England. As part of the research, I helped organize the FTA trips to England and New England last year.
Always ask your tour operator if they are familiar with the event, or if they know another company that specializes in it. NTA is an excellent resource if you need a recommendation for a tour operator.
Utpatel: The first step is to get the special event booked. For example, my company works closely and on-site with the Oberammergau ticket office to get any number and category of tickets and hotel rooms. Once the arrangements are made for the event, then we can build the rest of the tour around it. Work with a local inbound supplier at your destination that has the local expertise and connections to arrange the trip and faith experience you need. Anyone can book a random hotel in a city online, but you need an experienced partner on-site to put together a meaningful pilgrimage, organize worship services, find a silent place for meditation and book the perfect hotel.
Edwards: Plan your trip with a reputable tour operator that has a history of securing tickets and hotel space to that event. Unfortunately, we have known customers who ended up without event tickets or the hotel they had been promised, and they missed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience that event.
Why are special events important to you and to your customers?
Drinkhouse: Special events, such as the Reformation 500 anniversary (2017) and Oberammergau (2020), give customers the chance for a shared experience, the benefits of which can last for years. Although people may have attended the same church for years, a trip gives them a chance to have fun and fellowship together while deepening friendships. And it’s good for pastors to get to know members of their congregation in a relaxed, informal way.
Utpatel: What makes travel for a special event more important is that we focus on that event and its history, and we think about its significance. Especially in a world which is moving faster and faster, special events help us to slow down and concentrate on the important things in life that carry us through the centuries.
Edwards: Travel milestones and anniversaries are important to customers for various reasons, and many special events represent “bucket list” trips. Customers may have only one chance to experience the event of their dreams, such as Oberammergau’s Passion Play that occurs only every 10 years.
Top photo: Oberammergau Passion Play
Photo by bayern.by