By Joshua Bolding
Deseret News
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011 4:10 p.m. MST

Salt Lake City is tied with Israel as the most attractive spot for faith-based travel, according to a survey of 1,600 tour operators.

The inaugural survey, conducted by the National Tour Association's monthly trade publication "Courier," asked tour operators a series of questions ranging from best group restaurants to favorite cruise line to use while on the job. When asked what their favorite faith-based destination was, operators split between Salt Lake and Israel for the top spot.

Kevin Wright, director of growth markets for the National Tour Association, said the fact that Salt Lake is known for being home to a major religion led to its popularity.

Quebec, known for its distinctive culture surrounding superstitions, finished behind Salt Lake and Israel.

"First of all, it is a destination that receives a lot of visitors to begin with," Wright said. "Secondly, it is one of the best-known religious sites in North America, so that visibility contributes to the numbers that visit each year."

This prominence among religious travel enthusiasts will ostensibly have a positive impact not only on Utah's publicity but its economy as well.

"Tourism is a big part of our economy," Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, said in an email. "Whether they come to visit our national parks, ski on the greatest snow on earth or to visit religious sites like Temple Square, we are happy to welcome them and the business they bring to our hotels, restaurants and other businesses."

While Utah's high ranking may come as no shock to Utah natives, Visit Salt Lake's director of communications, Shawn Stinson, sees this as a welcome announcement.

"It's fantastic!" Stinson said. "It's a wonderful recognition to receive. It's not necessarily surprising, but exciting to hear and receive the confirmation and affirmation of what we promote to faith-based groups."

The announcement, which will be published in the January edition of the Courier and distributed to about 6,000 subscribers in the tourism industry, was made at the NTA annual convention in Las Vegas last week. The convention allows tourism professionals to meet with those in charge of tourist attractions.

Temple Square, the most prominent of religious sites in Utah, is one of the crowning tourist stops offered by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In 2009, Forbes magazine said more than 5 million people visited Temple Square, making it the 16th-most popular site in America.

"We warmly welcome the many travelers who visit Temple Square each year," LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said. "We appreciate their desire to get to know us better and hope each visitor has a meaningful and memorable experience."