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Religious tourism booms in south Placer County

Hotel stays associated with church conferences on the rise in Rocklin, Roseville
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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The demand for hotel rooms by individuals attending church-sponsored conferences has increased in south Placer County, particularly Rocklin. Now the local hotel trade group, Placer Valley Tourism, wants to grow the marketplace. In the first six months of 2011, religious conferences amounted to 9 percent of trackable room night activity for the 23 hotels in Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln. In the first six months of this year, that number rose to 12 percent according to David Attaway, CEO of Placer Valley Tourism, who made a presentation to the Rocklin City Council on Aug. 14. Only aquatics events and softball tournaments have generated more weekend stays, he added. “What we look at is how many room nights they generate,” Attaway said. “We’re making some very aggressive reach out for events and working with everyone in the community to make those happen.” The trade group has the ability to track hotel stays because they offer grant assistance to groups, like sports leagues and now churches that bring in weekend business. Attaway said many of the large churches in Placer County are drawing crowds, but other organizations outside of the area are choosing to hold conferences in this area. David Harris, conference director for Roseville’s Bayside Church, said May’s Christian leadership conference, “Thrive,” was attended by 3,800 people from 38 states, 6 foreign countries and 142 different churches. Harris said only about 150 of the attendees stayed with host families. The rest stayed in hotels. “We’re very blessed. God has been very good to us. We want to take all that we have learned and share it,” Harris said. He added that conference attendance has doubled since 2008 and the growing pains are forcing the church to look for larger sites outside of the church facilities on Sierra College Boulevard. “(Growth) beats the alternative in any business,” Harris said. Bayside has also hosted worship and women’s conferences as well as one focusing on combating sexual slavery in central Asia. They’re also planning a conference for children. “We get pretty good support from most of the churches in the area. Some of them will bring their whole teams. Others bring their senior leaders,” Harris said. Hotels aren’t the only businesses benefiting from the pilgrimage. Restaurants, like Chick-fil-la and Fat’s Restaurant on Eureka Road, have also seen an increase in customers. “Any local conventions or tourism in our community is appreciated,” Vice President and Director of Restaurant Operations Collin Fat said. “Fat’s has helped in small ways with the church’s fundraisers — with donation of gift certificates — and I know many members who frequent my restaurant in Roseville.” Harris said the church helps local businesses by inviting vendors sell food on their campus, passing out area restaurant coupons and giving conference attendees maps showing locations of local restaurants. “We get calls and emails all the time saying, ‘can you recommend a restaurant or tell me how to get to a mall,” Harris said. “The area lends itself. We’d like to think of ourselves as partnering with the business community — not just being a religious entity on the fringes of it.” The business growth has Placer Valley Tourism thinking about participating in religious trade shows, like Rejuvenate in Columbus, Ohio, in an effort to get the message out that south Placer is open for business. “Those trade shows are not inexpensive, but we’re going to try it out and learn more about the market and see if there is more potential we’re not aware of,” Attaway said. Other churches see the potential for growth. Rocklin’s St. Matthew Lutheran Church Senior Pastor Bradley Cusson points out his regional district of Lutheran churches has yet to hold a conference in the area. “This is a very family oriented community that is real serious about wanting to do right by their kids. Part of that is the spiritual rightness in a sense. So it makes sense that with any type of influence that you would have an upswing,” Cusson said. “This area is being built up to accommodate more of those folks that would come for those conferences.”