Thousands of US citizens travel abroad to visit religious sites and regions, but faith-based tourism is a two-way street.
"The United States is home to many shrines and religious sites, some of which are globally prominent," Simon said, adding that thousands of international tourists visit sites with religious significance - missions in California; cathedrals in New York and Washington, DC; and Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah - when they travel to the United States.
NTA intensified its focus on business opportunities within faith-based tourism last year by creating an advisory council comprising members experienced in the market. At its convention in December, NTA introduced the Faith-based Tourism Leaders Forum, which allowed travel professionals to share ideas and challenges within the market. Building on the success of the forum, NTA is planning a product development trip and rolling out new member benefits, such as its first faith-based tourism newsletter.
Faith tourism encompasses more than travel to religious sites. It also includes a faith-based group traveling together for total leisure, such as taking a cruise, enjoying a theme park or taking in the great outdoors at a national park.
Because of its success in organizing leaders in faith-based tourism, NTA is extending its model to other growth markets, including student and adventure travel.
"The travel industry is becoming more specialized, so we're creating ways to help members make the most of special interest markets," said Simon, "With its tremendous parks and natural resources, the United States is a magnet for adventure travel, and inbound student travel is a market with amazing potential. We can create new avenues for group and FIT travel into the US."
NTA is organizing leadership forums for several growth markets during Travel Exchange, the 2013 trade show that combines NTA's annual Convention with UMA's Motorcoach EXPO. Travel Exchange is set for January 20â24, 2013 in Orlando, Florida.