Innovation is a word most often associated with the technology industry. It is a word less often used in relation to the travel and hospitality marketplace, apart from hi-tech products and services. And it’s a word rarely discussed within faith-based tourism. It’s time to change the discourse and make innovation an important topic of conversation among faith-based travel planners.
To paraphrase Daniel Isenberg, a prominent authority on entrepreneurship, innovators are those who see economic value where others see nothing. They are the incubators of tomorrow’s products and services.
What does all this mean for faith-based travel sellers and planners? Due to the many (and ongoing) changes within the demographics and buying habits of the religious market over the past 10-20 years, it’s become imperative for these entities and individuals to “think like start-ups” with respect to faith-based travelers. The challenge, however, is that many organizations have lost their original creativity and ingenuity. To help overcome this, I’ve listed below several kick-starter ideas on how you can innovate within the faith-based travel marketplace:
1. Develop and Sell Cross-Segmented Products and Services
Cross-segment your faith-based travel products and services with multi-generational travel, adventure travel, student travel, sports travel and the like. For example, have you thought of creating a sports outing package specific to church groups? What about developing family adventure trips for them?
2. Create and Offer Unique Themed Events
Minor and Major League Baseball teams have been among the most innovative organizations in developing unique packages to attract people of faith. In fact, many organizations such as the L.A. Dodgers and Atlanta Braves host a popular event called “Faith Days” at their stadiums. You might study these offerings and integrate similar ideas into your own organization’s products and services. Disney and Wet n’ Wild water park are other examples of companies that create and offer innovative programs to attract church and religious groups with their respective Nights of Joy and Waves of Glory events.
3. Partner Faith-based Personalities with Your Social Media
We all know social media is the rage these days. We also know people of faith place great trust in their religious leaders and personalities. Why not innovate by tapping prominent faith-based individuals to serve as testimonial advocates of your organization via social media outlets. Supercuts, the hair salon franchise, recently debuted an innovative Artist Ambassadors campaign whereby featured music bands are responsible for promoting Supercuts on major social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare and Pinterest. Get to know this cutting-edge outreach strategy by Supercuts and adopt similar principles to the faith-based marketplace.
4. Dedicate Staff to the Faith-based Market
Do you currently have a staff person or department solely dedicated to this market? If not, then the implementation of this idea would make it avant-garde to your company. The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism is one of the great examples of being a pioneer in this regard. For more than a decade they’ve remained one of the few tourist offices with a fully-dedicated director and staff person for developing the religious market. The Bahamas has been reaping the benefits ever since with a growing customer base of faith-based travelers.
Above all, when thinking in terms of innovation – think in terms of marketing, sales, promotions, products and services with respect to the faith-based travel market. And remember, innovation doesn’t necessarily mean it must be new to the industry. If it’s new to your company and customers, that’s innovation.
−By Kevin J. Wright, Director of Growth Markets, NTA