Meeting industry suppliers are embracing the religious market like never before, according to Warren Breaux, vice president of marketing at Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, Nashville, Tenn.

"Hotels are courting religious meetings because they represent long-term, consistent business," Breaux said in a panel discussion at the close of the Religious Conference Management Association’s 31st World Conference and Exposition, held January 28 to 31 in Charlotte, N.C. Religious meetings aren't canceled when times are tough, he added.

Linda de Leon, CMP, also a panelist and a meeting planner with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, stressed that "we will continue to meet" and hold religious meetings, no matter what. "Our faith will see us through difficult times, because we know who holds the future," said de Leon, the recipient of RCMA’s President’s Award for 2003.

The panel’s third member, Robert F. Bedell, president and CEO of the Indianapolis CVB, said the challenging economic times are forcing CVBs to carefully evaluate and reinvent themselves. "CVBs are going to have to change," he said. "The tough economic times have been beneficial in a strange way to CVBs—they’re helping others understand what CVBs do."

Educational offerings during the four-day conference included RCMA’s Behind-the-Scenes Experiences, which give religious meeting planners the chance to learn about the inner workings of convention centers and hotels.

RCMA announced that its 2006 conference will be held in San Jose, Calif. It will be RCMA’s first meeting in California since 1987, when it met in Long Beach. RCMA will meet in Pittsburgh in 2004, and St. Louis in 2005.

Also during the Charlotte conference, four meeting planners were selected to serve three-year terms on the RCMA Board of Directors: Stella Beene-Vinson, meeting planner/travel coordinator for The United Methodist Church’s Section of Chaplains and Related Ministries, Nashville, Tenn.; Jim Cullumber, vice president of communications for the Christian Church Foundation, Indianapolis; Donald Ehler, annual conference coordinator for the Conservative Christian Conference, Hillsboro, Wis.; and Melvin L. Worthington, CMP, meeting planner for the International Association of Free Will Baptists.