Source: The Daily Herald
St. Maarten may be only sixteen square miles, but its varied facilities, natural Caribbean setting, strategic location and cultural and religious diversity make it a prime candidate for faith tourism, a multibillion-dollar industry beckoning to be exploited.
With the pressure to find new niche markets to keep tourists flowing to the Caribbean region mounting under the weight of the spiralling fuel and food prices globally, several local stakeholders and faith-based organisations have expressed willingness to go after this fast-growing market.
The International Conference on Religious Tourism tags the worldwide faith tourism segment of the industry at US $18 billion, with religious tourists from North America, where St. Maarten spends much of its marketing dollars, accounting for $10 billion of that amount.
US-based publication The Christian Post has said that now more than ever before, churches are beginning to recognise travel as ministry – an opportunity to experience faith, fellowship and fun, while exploring the world. World Religious Travel Association President Kevin J. Wright is numbered amongst that enlightened group. He said the faith tourism market provided a good opportunity for the Caribbean and the region should position itself to tap it.
“Let the (faith communities) know that you exist and let the travel industry know that you are open to faith tourism,” Wright told participants at the just-ended Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism (CMEx) in Puerto Rico attended by close to 100 journalists, editors and industry experts.
Wright, also Chairman of the World Religious Travel Expo, said the faith-based market was no longer a seniors-only small-budget market of people solely interested in pilgrimage. The “new era” in faith tourism, he stressed, represents people of all ages who are looking for multi-vacation experiences and quality products and services.