By Adrianne Bowen
Faith-based and youth groups flock to spiritual minded events and destinations
Campus Outreach Ministries is one youth-based organization that knows the allure of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It has held its Annual Regional New Year’s Conference there for years, from 2001–2006 and then again in 2014 and 2015. “Our CVB has invited them back for 2016 and 2017 which looks very promising. Each year, there are approximately 2,000 attendees and a peak block of 520 rooms generating approximately 2,100 room nights. The organization also hosted its Global Conference in Chattanooga in 2011 with an estimated 5,000 attendees and a peak block of 1,300 rooms generating approximately 5,500 room nights,” said Jennye Miller, director of faith-based religious accounts for the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
Trust is the most important element for faith-based events and that comes from building relationships, attracting return visits from spiritual organizations based on past great experiences and working with destination officials such as those in Chattanooga. “Sales managers in our CVB’s Convention Department know the importance of building relations with our clients based on truth and trust. We also know the same is needed for our relationships with staff at our convention center, hotels and attractions. Reps with Campus Outreach Ministries see all of us in the local hospitality industry working together to provide their attendees the best Chattanooga experience possible,” said Miller.
Senior Convention Sales Manager of the Northern Kentucky CVB Susan Smith, CTA, CMP, CASE, knows that developing trust is the most important element in maintaining long-term connections with spiritual groups. “Religious meetings are a relationship business and strong, trustworthy partnerships are the keys to success,” she explained.
Christ in Youth (CIY) is an organization that hosts multiple events in Northern Kentucky. CIY Director of Summer Events Tommy Nobis explained that he relies heavily on the relationship with the CVB. “We currently hold two events in Northern Kentucky,” he said. “One is called Believe, which is a weekend event for 5,000 junior high students, and the other is called SuperStart, which is a weekend event for 2,000 pre-teens. Both are big events for CIY in numbers and in fun, with the NKY CVB being an integral part in that. They help us a ton, from our registration process to helping us book hotels for 5,000 people. We couldn’t and wouldn’t want to do our event without them. We move 5,000 people through registration in under two hours and the CVB helps us get volunteers for that process. They also have a great system for helping us get hotel rooms for all of our customers. We love coming to Northern Kentucky for more than just our event. We have built a relationship with the CVB and they have become a part of our organization once we have hit the ground there. We are truly appreciative.”
Many of these CIY events are held in the BB&T Arena, which opened in 2008. “BB&T Arena [formerly Bank of Kentucky Center] is a newer facility and its modern design, superb amenities and beautiful suburban setting on the campus of Northern Kentucky University make it ideal for a high-energy, youth-focused audience,” said Smith.
The space must be right for the event, said Nobis. “Meeting space is the biggest need for weekend events. Places to hold our main sessions that range from 1,000–5,000 students, for a reasonable price, is our struggle,” he noted.
“Tommy’s ongoing needs include elaborate staging and set up for an event rich in music and A/V elements, and his production team likes the facilities at BB&T,” said Smith. “Over time, the central location of NKY has helped to build event attendance and the complimentary on-site registration support Christ in Youth receives through the Join Hands With Northern Kentucky program is very helpful.”
Another faith-based event, The Kentucky Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, meets at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center. “[United Methodist Church] meeting planner Julie Love loves that she and her group are always the main attraction in the facility. With 1,200 attendees, they are the only group in house during their event so there are no worries about who they’ll share space with and they can be sure their brand will be front and center throughout the meeting,” Smith said. “The Kentucky United Methodist Conference has a long history with Northern Kentucky and the meetNKY team. They know the routine in NKY and find trust, value and a variety of exciting attractions for attendees.”
Reverend Marge Owens of the Association of Retired Ministers and Missionaries has been holding events in Branson, Missouri, for more than 30 years. Her main reason for choosing Branson is trusting that the experience for attendees will be spiritually enriching and safe. “We love Branson and feel great about hosting there. They have clean shows. We do not worry about our group hearing and seeing anything but uplifting entertainment,” Owens said. In 2015 alone, she will have taken groups on four trips to Branson to see shows.
Branson is renowned for being a spiritually minded destination with events and attractions pointing to the city as a place to celebrate faith. “The opening of Sight and Sound Theater in 2006 and the development of Silver Dollar City’s Southern Gospel Picnic in 2007 established Branson as a primary faith-based destination with attractions that ministered to their audiences as well as entertaining them,” said Lenni Neimeyer, CTIS, CSTP, director of leisure group sales for the Branson CVB.
This destination offers many opportunities for mission work. “Many faith-based groups often look for outreach ministry opportunities, participating in meaningful, helpful activities. ‘Voluntourism’ provides Ministry Tours Helping Others where church-based travel groups can choose their Branson trip to include a ministry,” Neimeyer said. “Branson is home to a large number of non-profit charitable organizations, many offering ministry and aid to diverse groups of people in need.”
Chattanooga has also been touted as a faith-motivated destination. “Annually, the Barna Group and the American Bible Institute conduct a survey to determine ‘the most Bible-minded city in America.’ For the past three years, Chattanooga has ranked number three, number one and number two, respectively. Chattanooga has long been known as the ‘Buckle of the Bible Belt.’ Genuine Southern hospitality is plentiful here,” said Miller. Along with many churches, the city features Precept Ministries International, founded in 1970 as a non-denominational Christian organization, which holds workshops and conferences throughout the year. The Ankerberg Theological Research Institute is housed in Chattanooga and broadcasts the Christian-based John Ankerberg Show, and Covenant College on Lookout Mountain, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of America, provides a scenic place for hosting faith-based conferences and lectures.
Places that showcase spiritual attractions definitely inspire faith groups to visit. “Northern Kentucky is home to one-of-a-kind signature attractions that have high appeal for faith-based groups,” said Smith. The Cathedral Basilica, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and the Creation Museum draw major crowds each year. In 2016, the Ark Encounter will open, “a historically themed attraction that presents a number of historical events centered on a full- size, all-wood ark, based on the dimensions provided in the Bible (Genesis 6) which should become the largest timber-frame structure in the USA,” Smith noted.
Family-Friendly Value and Fun
In the Texas town of Frisco, spiritual events are common because the city offers what event attendees desire. “Faith-based and youth groups look for value, family-friendly atmospheres, and nearby shopping and entertainment,” said Maureen Gutierrez, senior sales manager for the Frisco CVB. “Frisco boasts over nine million square feet of shopping. Within walking distance to the Frisco Convention Center is our Stonebriar Mall with all the major anchor stores and great restaurants. With awesome entertainment facilities like IFLY, Pole Position Indoor Racing and Main Event, there is always something fun to do in Frisco.”
The right facility in close proximity to attractions makes the event economical for families, according to Gutierrez. “Directly behind the Embassy Suites Convention Center is the home of our minor league baseball team, the Frisco RoughRiders, offering affordable family entertainment. Frisco is home to other sports. It’s the headquarters for the Dallas Stars, FC Dallas Soccer and soon will be the Dallas Cowboys world headquarters. This brand-new, state-of-the-art indoor stadium will be called The Ford Center, holding more than 12,000 seats and offering tours of the Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader locker rooms. The Dallas Cowboys will practice here and visitors can catch summer practices.”
A town open for faith-based business with big choices and easy access is Dallas, Texas. Frank J. Librio, vice president of communications for the Dallas CVB, said, “In our experience, youth and faith-based groups, like others, appreciate Dallas’s central location, airlift, shopping and dining options.” For accommodations, “Dallas has a vast hotel inventory, providing options and flexibility for groups of all sizes. Hotels can support smaller groups in-house, and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas is an ideal location for larger gatherings. At times, faith- based groups may require assistance identifying a given church in their denomination within close proximity. For youth groups, organizations may prefer dorm-room accommodations at universities or training centers, which are more budget friendly,” Librio said.
These elements definitely appeal to groups as Dallas draws amazing faith-inspired festivals. “MegaFest is one faith-based group that returned to Dallas for the second time this year, bringing more than 85,000 attendees from 30 countries to the three-day festival,” said Librio. “This is a group that has found success in Dallas and one which we anticipate rebooking in following years.”
Whatever the reason for choosing a specific destination, faith and youth groups are all look- ing for the same basic elements. Having a place to meet that is safe, comfortable, family-oriented, trustworthy and, most of all, spiritually inspiring is a must for meetings based on faith.