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Helping Christian pilgrims find room at the inn
Posted By Karin Kloosterman On July 29, 2009 @ 5:14 am In | No Comments
Travelujah’s new one-stop site for Christian tourists’ travel needs tries to minimize surprises and maximize comfort.
Everyone knows that Jerusalem and nearby Bethlehem are must-sees for any Christian pilgrim to the Holy Land. But where should you unpack your suitcase after visiting the Via Delarosa, the Mount of Olives and all the glorious churches? And where should you go if you’re specifically interested in the Crusades? That’s where the new Israel portal Travelujah steps in.
Founded by an American-Israeli tourism consultant, whose last job was advising the Pontifical Institute of Notre Dame in Jerusalem, Elisa Moed saw a large niche that needed to be filled in Israel’s Christian tourism market. In February, she launched Travelujah.com to provide the ultimate pit stop for every Christian traveller to the Holy Land.
“There was no one-stop, or home, for all the travel planning tools one needs,” Moed tells ISRAEL21c. “As a state we always scratched the surface . . . Christian tourism is really the one area that can be such a huge creator of economic development for Israel, Palestinians and Jordan, and further on through neighbouring countries. It’s beyond peace. No matter what happens this is the cradle of faith.”
Reaching out to all denominations, Travelujah launched around Easter time, and promotes activities of interest to Catholics, Protestants, Baptists and evangelical Christians alike. The site is intended to help a traveler to feel comfortable and at home on his or her journey, as similar sites do in America.
Passing on insider tips
“I’ve been here four years and understand [a Christian tourist’s] comfort level,” say Moed who often helps guests to tailor their trips to their personal interests and can provide invaluable insider tips, such as making sure that they don’t get their passport stamped when they land in Israel if they want to continue on to Lebanon.
She can also describe the interior of a Christian guesthouse or hostel. Her aim is to explain the local culture to would-be tourists to minimize surprises and bring expectations in line with the realities.
So far, she’s had great feedback from users, who have received just the information that they need at the site, whether it’s about booking a day trip to the Galilee region or planning a two-week, high-energy trip, with round-the-clock visits to sites.
Travelujah also connects users to baptism sites and information about wedding celebrations, prayer centers and more. Moed credits the site’s success with her personal relationships with all the services her platform recommends.
I believe in miracles
Travelujah is also a content provider, covering non-Christian elements of faith in the region, such as stories about Judaism and information about Zionism and how they connect to the Christian faith. But, Moed says, “People will eventually flock to what interests them: Miracles, Crusaders, Zionism.”
The site can also help travelers to incorporate Christian spiritual elements into their trip, making it easy to add spiritual guides, ministers or priests and providing resources that can make their stay in Israel a spiritually uplifting experience.
If they are so inclined, people can upload stories and pictures to create their own travel weblog, where personal experiences can be documented and shared.
It’s a wide spectrum of tourists who visit the site, Moed tells ISRAEL21c, sharing stories about helping American consulate officials living in Amman to get the most out of a trip to Israel and about connecting to the virtual tourists as well.
Some tourists are just traveling on a laptop or an office chair, dreaming about one day visiting the Holy Land in the flesh. These tourists connect through the written content and photos and some have even found travel mates on the Travelujah site and made their dream trip come true.
Always room at the inn
“The platform is unique because it’s the first travel platform with a social community that’s not strictly a social community,” says Moed.
Moed’s potential market is a target group of 1.5 billion Christians, most of whom have some interest in the Holy Land, with the area extending to nearby regions like the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt – which also have noteworthy Christian sites.
“Our first phases rolled out Israel and Palestine. The Christian traveler coming here wants to continue on to other sites. It’s natural,” she says.
Travelujah sees itself as gateway to Israel for the Christian tourist, as it offers high quality travel information with a Christian twist. It offers a selection of sample itineraries and helps to accommodate people in different guesthouses across the country.
Coming to connect with the Bible
One example, that’s receiving rave reviews from Travelujah users, is Notre Dame, the largest Christian guesthouse in Jerusalem. The hotel has a rich history in the city and sightseers can gaze out over Jerusalem from its rooftop. It is also the place where much of the Vatican delegation stayed during the Pope’s visit to Israel earlier this year.
Moed worked for a couple of years planning the site. She has raised more than $200,000 from private investors in two rounds and is looking to raise more capital to grow Travelujah.
Based in Ra’anana, Israel, there are three employees and a number of outsourced staff. Travelujah operates with a fee-based business model, whereby it collects percentages from tours, hotels and cars booked through the site.
Traveljulah was designed specifically for its target market, says Moed: “At the end of the day Israel is a great place with great beaches but Christian tourists are coming here to connect with the Bible.”
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