Global Travel Industry Shines Spotlight on Faith Tourism During Dim Economic Times; World Religious Travel Expo Draws Participants from 30 Countries, 6 continents to Orlando

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Faith-based travel has made believers out of tourism leaders from around the world -- as travel officials, providers and planners from 30 countries on six continents will gather in Orlando, Oct. 29-Nov. 1, for the inaugural World Religious Travel Expo and Educational Conference. The expo comes in the same month that the comic documentary "Religulous" fills screens with Bill Maher traveling the globe to challenge the validity of various faiths. Proof that despite its detractors, religion is not only relevant to people -- it is vital. In fact, religious travel is so hot right now that the travel industry looks to capitalize on it while other parts of the travel sector have gone cold during the current economic downturn.

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Faith-based travel has made believers out of tourism leaders from around the world -- as travel officials, providers and planners from 30 countries on six continents will gather in Orlando, Oct. 29-Nov. 1, for the inaugural World Religious Travel Expo and Educational Conference. Although religious travel is one of the oldest forms of tourism, dating back to ancient times, the expo will be the first global marketplace gathering ever to take place.

The expo comes in the same month that the comic documentary "Religulous" fills screens with Bill Maher traveling the globe to challenge the validity of various faiths. Proof that despite its detractors, religion is not only relevant to people -- it is vital. In fact, religious travel is so hot right now that the travel industry looks to capitalize on it while other parts of the travel sector have gone cold during the current economic downturn.

Destinations, tour operators, cruise lines, attractions, hotel properties, travel suppliers and a host of other providers and planners from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Europe and the Holy Land will be represented at this assembly of global leaders in the $18 billion faith tourism industry. Keynote speakers include the Honorable Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, Minister of Tourism and Aviation, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism; the Honorable Akel E. Biltaji, Jordan's Ambassador-at-Large for Tourism and Special Advisor to His Majesty King Abdullah II; Maurice Zarmati, President, Costa Cruise Lines; and Steve Born, Vice-President, Globus Family of Brands. Other dignitaries and special guests include Dr. Khouloud Daibes, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Palestine; David Pereira Catarino, Mayor of Ourém (Fatima), Portugal; and Arie Sommer, Tourism Commissioner for North and South America, Israel Ministry of Tourism.

"Faith tourism has evolved to the point where a gathering of this magnitude is necessary for the industry to respond to the needs of today's faith-based consumers," said Kevin J. Wright, president of the World Religious Travel Association (WRTA), host of the event. "Our global partners recognize that -- just as in music, books and film -- contemporary religious consumers represent tremendous market potential for travel organizations willing to provide meaningful products and services that meet their specific needs. With its wide variety of travel experiences and attractions that draw thousands of faith-based groups each year, Central Florida is the ideal destination to launch this inaugural Expo."

Faith-based tourism today is more than just pilgrimages -- it attracts travelers on cruises, volunteer vacations, adventure trips (even African safaris), leisure vacations, conferences and events, such as the World Youth Day, one of the largest gatherings of any kind. The exhibitors and products at the WRTA Expo show the diversity of the faith tourism industry. Alongside obvious religious travel suppliers such as the tourism ministries of Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, are those with a less overt connection, such as:

  •     EcoAndes Travel, Ecuador (Adventure tours in South America)
  •     Nissi Holidays, Uganda; Cordial Tours and Travel Services, Tanzania (Africa safari operators)
  •     Romanian Tourist Office
  •     Korea Tourism Organization
  •     Jamaica, Bermuda and Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
  •     Condor Verde Travel (Mexico and Venezuela)

The gathering will bring the world of faith tourism to the Gaylord Palms Resort Hotel & Convention Center, in the heart of the Orlando/Kissimmee tourism hub.

"The Kissimmee area and the Osceola County tourism community feel blessed to host WRTA's first-ever gathering of faith-based tourism professionals," said Tom Lang, director of the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Our hope is that every conference and tradeshow participant will feel welcome in our community, and that they will find time to avail themselves of our area's natural and man-made sanctuaries."

Participants will have the option to visit Orlando's own Holy Land Experience, WordSpring Discovery Center and the master studio of The JESUS Film Project during a special excursion led by Wright, the award-winning author of several religious travel guidebooks. His latest, "The Christian Travel Planner," (released 2008 by Thomas Nelson) is the most comprehensive guidebook ever published on faith-based travel. And an updated version of his popular "Europe's Monastery & Convent Guesthouses" is due out Nov. 1 by Liguori Publications.

The WRTA Expo is the official kick-off of "The Year of Faith Tourism." Serving as a special time set aside for the promotion of and participation in travel by people of faith, the purpose and goals of the yearlong celebrations and activities are: (1) Highlight the New Era of Faith Tourism. (2) Increase the awareness of the personal and communal benefits of Faith Tourism. (3) Contribute to the overall growth and health of the global economy, travel industry, and individual travel providers.

An estimated 500 participants are expected at the historic event.

For more information, including the schedule and complete list of exhibitors and speakers, visit http://www.religioustravelexpo.com.

About the World Religious Travel Association (WRTA)
The World Religious Travel Association (WRTA) is the leading network for shaping, enriching, and expanding the $18 billion global faith tourism industry. WRTA exists to bring the travel trade and religious consumer together for the primary purpose of promoting and providing quality faith travel experiences around the globe. As the source and voice for the religious travel industry, WRTA provides its members opportunities to network, learn, contribute, and lead. WRTA embraces all segments of faith tourism: Pilgrimages, Leisure, Cruises, Events/Conventions, Missions, Retreats, Attractions, Family, Student/Youth, Adventure and Volunteer Vacations. To learn more about WRTA or to become a member, visit http://www.ReligiousTravelAssociation.com or contact WRTA at 1-800-657-1288 or 360-778-3047. To attend or exhibit at the World Religious Travel Expo, register online at http://www.ReligiousTravelExpo.com.

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