Traveling on faith

Using a religious compass as their guide, tourists visit U.S. and international sites of spiritual significance.

From the hallowed halls of the Vatican to the Great Pyramid of Giza, a growing number of Americans are embarking on faith-based vacations – and Littleton-based Globus wants to become the burgeoning travel market’s brand leader.

“People are looking for an intimate experience of their faith,” said Kevin Wright, head of Globus’ Religious Travel Department, which has seen demand triple since its creation in 2004. “People don’t just want to hear a passage from the Bible. They want the physical connection of actually being there.”

Globus is offering 20 different faith-based tour packages this year, up from eight last year. The tours are grouped into four religious focuses: Protestant Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism and the lands of the Bible.

More than 600,000 people traveled abroad from the U.S. for religious or pilgrimage purposes in 2004, according to the U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries. And roughly 50,000 U.S. churches and synagogues now offer travel programs, up 20 percent from five years ago, according to Globus.

“It’s a very big market, and it’s an untapped market,” Wright said. “The demand has exceeded our expectations.”

The average overseas faith-based trip lasts 10 days and costs between $2,000 and $3,000 per person, according to Wright, who has published three religious travel guidebooks.

Globus is a privately-held Swiss group-travel giant that employs about 300 people in Colorado. Through its 32 subsidiaries, it takes more than 500,000 people on guided trips annually. Officials declined to discuss its financials.

“We’d like to become the Starbucks of religious travel, to become synonymous with that market,” said Mike Schields, director of group sales and emerging markets for Globus. “We’re a large enough organization to mainstream this product.”

Globus’ most popular religious vacation is its “Footsteps of Apostle Paul” tour, a 10-day cruise through Greece and Turkey that costs roughly $1,600 per person, not including airfare. Only one U.S. package is offered, a seven-day tour of California missions for about $1,250, not including airfare.

Roughly 47 percent of Globus’ travelers are Catholic, 47 percent are Protestant and 4 percent are Jewish. The company does not lead organized tours to Israel because the State Department has warned against travel to the West Bank and Gaza. It does offer customized trips for other religions, such as Buddhism or Hinduism.

Dick Sazpansky of Littleton plans to lead a group of Colorado Knights of Columbus members on a September Globus tour titled “Footsteps of Pope John Paul II & Polish Heritage.” At least 40 members of the Catholic fraternal organization are expected to pony up $2,995 for the 14-day trip that includes stops in Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic.

“It’s a nice way to see some of the past history of our church and Christianity,” said Sazpansky. “And it’s not strictly going to church every day. It’s also a great way to vacation.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Denver Post, USA
Feb. 19, 2006
Julie Dunn

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday February 21, 2006.
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