Despite persistent political conflicts, people continue making spiritual pilgrimages worldwide according to these top religious tour providers
Whether you are bound by religious affiliation or not, theological experts recommend that people take at least one faith-based trip or religious tour in their lifetime. Imagine traveling to far-flung places where ancient cities exist steeped in spiritual significance and human history. Religious journeys provide enlightenment and culture, often accompanied by ethereal architecture, deep-seated history, and ethnic uniqueness, making these tours appealing to everyone.
Sure, we can tell you why religious tourism is important and globally inspirational. However, we thought it better that you hear it from the gurus of faith-based travel. These exceptional tour companies provide moving and life-changing experiences for all denominations worldwide.
Religious Tour Experts Share the Gospel About Pilgrimages
A giant in faith-based tours and pilgrimages, Goway Travel has been taking groups around the world on religious explorations for more than 50 years. Shirley Rourke, vice president of groups only for Goway Travel, understands the needs of people on pilgrimages and holy tours.
“No two religions are alike and you can’t treat any two religious travel groups alike either. Goway Groups Only is all about customization.” While there are many destinations that line travelers’ bucket lists, Shirley knows that attention to detail and understanding each group’s uniqueness are paramount to consider when planning.
“There’s no such thing as a cookie-cutter religious tour with us. In the end, we tailor the itinerary and the inclusions to the exact needs of the group, whether that’s a Catholic pilgrimage to Lourdes in France or Fatima in Portugal, a meditation trek to visit the Buddhist monks in Bhutan, or a visit to Germany to watch the Passion Play at Oberammergau.”
Taking into consideration how people utilize time on trips whether for business or pleasure, it’s no wonder that more groups are treating religious travel as getaways. Steve Born, chief marketing officer for the Globus family of brands, has noticed this shift.
“The Globus family of brands believes faith-based vacations are just that: Vacations. We blend the key destinations and spiritual sights with immersive experiences and inclusions.” Globus caters to all sorts of travel groups by blending fun with faith in iconic destinations around the world.
Burke Christian Tours travels all over the world with groups seeking a Christian atmosphere. Heather Paul, Personnel Director and Customer Service representative, explains, “We pray and give daily devotions while traveling. We believe our name, Christian Tours, attracts like-minded people who enjoy each other’s fellowship.” She says that while some destinations aren’t particularly considered religious, “it is the atmosphere we provide that is different than other travel companies.”
Regina Tours has been a leader in Catholic pilgrimages since 1985, and one-third of their business involves trips to Israel. Luckily for their Catholic community, President Nick Mancino says not to worry because there’s a whole world out there to explore full of religious tour opportunities.
“All our pilgrimages provide the opportunity for Catholic travelers to answer God’s call to journey to religious sites and destinations around the world.” He explains, “As a Catholic company, we follow the teachings of the Scriptures when developing our pilgrimages. These tours we offer are designed for spiritual growth, renewal, healing, and sharing our faith with others.”
Post-Pandemic and an Ongoing War, Where Do We Go from Here?
The proverbial elephant in the room needs to be addressed. With a war raging in the Middle East, where are tour companies taking travel groups in place of the Holy Land? It’s clear that tours to Israel have come to a tire-screeching halt, just as all travel did in 2019 during the global pandemic. The war between Israel and Hamas has shaken up quests to the Holy Land, and tour companies are feeling the effects.
A trusted name in group and religious travel, Collette has been putting travelers first for more than 105 years. “One of the reasons we are so successful in the faith category,” says Sam LaFrance, Public Relations Specialist for Collette, “is because of our reputation to always do the right thing for our faith leaders and their travelers.” He explains, “During the pandemic, many faith companies didn’t give refunds, charged cancellation penalties or even went out of business.”
Sam agrees that times were hard for everyone, and churches and travel companies were feeling the brunt of indignant customers. But Collette understands how devastating it is for travelers to lose their hard-earned money due to unforeseen circumstances beyond anyone’s control.
In fact, Sam says the company decided to cancel departures to Israel for the first half of 2024. “Collette giving everyone full refunds (over $170 million in total) is the same way Collette responded to 9/11 and other past events and the same way they are currently responding to the war in Israel – always putting the faith leaders and customers first.” He assures, “All travelers will receive full refunds for the price paid for tours, along with airfare and insurance.”
Heather Paul says that between October and November 2023, Burke Christian Tours canceled five trips to Israel due to the ongoing conflicts. “We feel for the Jews and people of Israel. The war against Israel affects real people.”
To face the issue head-on, Heather explains, “We offer over 250 itineraries/destinations. Some people prefer to travel to the same location over and over and some people look for new experiences. We hope to encourage and offer experiences to both types of customers.”
The Trajectory of Faith-Based Travel and Trending Spiritual Destinations
With so much uncertainty today, all types of travel may, at some point, prove tricky. But it behooves us to look toward the future and continue planning spiritual adventures. Once the current situation in Israel improves and the dust settles, trips to the Holy Land will commence once again.
In the meantime, trending locations and spiritual experiences are a kaleidoscope of significant choices. Steve Born points out that because of the Israel-Hamas war, an alternative holy destination that’s gaining popularity is Italy.
He claims, “The Camino has been extremely popular. It not only provides travelers an experience of a lifetime, but the Camino also offers them the chance to spend their vacation in Portugal – a destination that’s been off-the-charts-popular for both Globus and Cosmos.”
Steve goes on to say, “Our Italy religious tours have gained in popularity, some at the expense of Israel as an alternative destination.” For Globus, “That presents an opportunity, as we’re Italy specialists.” Being that Israel is their most popular religious tour destination, they are utilizing the chance to shine with outstanding pilgrimages in underscored parts of the world.
Nick Mancino shares his insights on upcoming faith-based travel trends and where Regina Tours is headed. “One of the major destinations which is still Biblical pertaining to the Old and New Testament is Greece. It is here where St. Paul traveled on his Missionary Journeys several times and it was here where Apostle Paul wrote many of his epistles, which are very relevant to every Catholic in the world today.”
He understands a major challenge in the future is convincing travelers that it’s safe to visit the Holy Land once things settle. Regina Tours is committed to pursuing future travel to the region.
“We will work on the Jubilee Year 2025 offered by the Vatican celebrating the opening of the doors of four special churches in Rome.” Regina Tours follows the activities of the Catholic church and creates itineraries that include special celebrations like World Youth Day, Beatifications, Jubilees, and other events celebrated by the church.
Nick is also witnessing a difference in the types of travelers and what they seek outside of the religious aspect. “People tend to be more specific about their needs, which include upgrades in hotel rooms and flight services.” Prior to the pandemic, travelers followed the instructions of their spiritual leader, such as a priest or deacon. Not only that but he’s also noticed an increase in folks with physical challenges seeking pilgrimages. These travelers are turning to prospective faith-based tour companies to help with all stages of planning.
According to Shirley with Groups Only for Goway, “As for challenges, travel to the Holy Land of Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and parts of Jordan have always been very important for so many religious group travelers, so the current war in Gaza is obviously having a massive impact on people planning trips to this part of the world.”
She assures us, “Luckily, Jordan remains completely safe and stable for travelers who want to uncover history and religious sites like Bethany Beyond the Jordan and Mount Nebo.”
“With Israel and the Middle East being an area of contention,” said Sam and Collette, “other faith destinations like Greece and Italy are really spiking in 2024.” Collette reports that church groups are exploring other areas outside of faith-based locations, such as Alaska, Hawaii, South Africa, Scotland and European River Cruises. Sam explains that “faith groups still have time for worship, devotion, fellowship, and prayer, which makes these trips more meaningful in any place on earth.”
Religious Trips Enrich Tour Operators and Travelers Alike
Heather Paul acknowledges that “for years, it has been difficult to find the right person for the job,” at Burke Christian Tours. Although this can be a tough aspect of any tour business, it is most gratifying to have the right people leading faith-based tours.
Planning a religious tour for spiritual trips is a privilege for Shirley Rourke and she explains, “The people traveling are so passionate and grateful to explore a part of the world that means so much to them.” She’s seen firsthand how emotional these experiences can be. “As group travel planners, it’s very meaningful and rewarding to help people to realize their travel dreams and live out their faith.”
For Collette, their faith-based tours are still prime opportunities to visit religious-specific sites and attractions. “They’re particularly great for groups because it’s easier to get everyone on board for the religious aspect,” Sam admits.
Irrespective of religious beliefs, these multifaceted tours include more than fulfilling pursuits to places renowned for deepening connections to faith. They are also magnificent sites where you can witness intricate architecture displaying stunning stained glass, hear inspiring stories, ascertain important history and have opportunities to immerse yourself in culture. In an era of diversity and curiosity, religious travel becomes a bridge between different worlds where experiences can enrich the soul and broaden perspectives.
By Heather Dale, Managing Editor
Header photo courtesy of Nick Mancino, President of Regina Tours.