By Brian Jewell
RICHMOND, Va. — Some 300 church group-travel leaders and travel industry representatives descended on Richmond in August for what may be remembered as the most eventful Going On Faith Conference ever.
The action started at the beginning of the conference when the kickoff for the ice cream social was interrupted by a 5.8-magnitude earthquake centered in nearby Mineral, Va., that was felt throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Three days later at the close of the event, attendees left Richmond just in time to miss Hurricane Irene’s landfall on the East Coast.
Undeterred by natural disasters, church leaders and industry delegates spent the three-day conference in a series of seminars, appointment sessions, networking events and sightseeing tours.
During the conference’s pair of key marketplace sessions, church and travel industry representatives met for a series of prescheduled business appointments.
Tour operators, convention and visitors bureaus, state travel offices, attractions, cruise lines and other travel companies presented their latest products, offerings and itineraries to the church leaders, who took the information to aid in planning their group travel for 2012 and beyond.
“So far, I have eight requests for proposals in two days, and I’m hoping for one more,” said Jaya Larkin of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This is our first time here, and I’m so glad we came.”
For the first time this year, industry delegates used Skype, an Internet-based video chat service set up at computer stations on the marketplace floor to talk to church leaders unable to attend the conference in person.
Educational seminars at the conferences gave travel planners additional training and resources. Veteran church group leader Roger McCurry gave a keynote presentation encouraging church travel coordinators to use travel to connect and build community among their congregations.
Conference delegates also heard from Tucker Davis of First Midwest Bank in Poplar Bluff, Mo. Davis and the bank’s travel coordinator, Rob Callahan, have developed Honor Tour, a program that takes World War II veterans to visit their monument in Washington, D.C., free of charge. Delegates learned about the tour program and ways they can help raise money or bring their own veterans on a similar honor trip.
“This conference has been really helpful for us,” said Carlos DeHerrera of Holy Name Church in Littleton, Colo. “We do trips in the West but didn’t have much information on traveling in the East. So we’re going to try to put together a Washington, D.C., tour for veterans.”
The Richmond Metropolitan CVB, which played host to the conference, used the opportunity to highlight its region in a number of social events and sightseeing tours.
The opening evening’s dinner and entertainment took place in the beautiful rotunda atrium of the Science Museum of Virginia, a former train station. The program featured a performance by the Elegba Folklore Society, which used music and dance to trace the area’s African-American heritage. Delegates also had an opportunity to explore the museum.
On the second afternoon of the conference, delegates took sightseeing tours of the area’s historic sites and other attractions. The tours ended at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where the garden staff hosted dinner and an evening of musical and dance performances in the beautiful outdoor setting.
“The guide on the sightseeing tours was great,” said Peggy Watson of Paseo Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. “We’re going to bring our group back here to see the Underground Railroad and visit the historic sites around here.”