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Tourism Tidbits Archive

Religious and Pilgrimage Tourism in Uncertain Times

December 2017

The month of December is on of the times of the year when much of the world is faith oriented.  It is also a time of the year when emotions run high, the weather is a challenge, and when the threat of violence and disease are ever present.  Tragically periods of high religious intensity also lead to either passive or active acts of violence.

Although Faith based industries are not a one-month a year phenomenon, during the month of December it is wise to remember that religion, like any ideology, can produce great amounts of passion, passions that can be both positive and negative.  Religious and faith-based tourism are major businesses and have long impacted the tourism industry.  One of the oldest forms of tourism is religious tourism originally presented to the world as “pilgrimage tourism” or as it is now known, faith based tourism.  The Bible speaks of the Israelites ascending to Jerusalem at least three times a year not only to pray but also to play.  Likewise, the Islamic world is famous for the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca.  Other cities around the world have developed religious tourism sites such as Rome, Italy and modern Jerusalem, Israel

Although there are many differences between travel by the faithful to a religious site and a theme park, interestingly enough there are also many parallels between what would appear to be two very different venues.  What is fascinating about religious tourism is that it parallels many of the two.  For example, in modern (and from what we can learn from ancient texts, also in the ancient world) both religious sites and theme parks produce secondary industries.  Be these, the souvenir industry or the lodging industry, a series of dependent industries quickly develop around the site. Secondly one has to believe for the pilgrimage or theme park to make sense.   Thus entering into theme parks or religious pilgrimage sites is an exercise in emotion rather than cognition.  Religious or faith-based tourism, however, is not only about pilgrimages. Faith based travel may take place for life cycle events, for missionary work or humanitarian projects, and for religious conventions and conclaves.  In many of these cases large crowds form and that means that religious tourism is subjected to issues of security, of health and of safety.  To help you deal with this growing travel trend.  Here are some essentials to help the busy travel and tourism professional.

  • Religious tourism is big business.  It is estimated that in the US alone some 25% of the traveling public is interested in faith-based tourism. When one adds to this the number of people who travel for faith-based conventions, and faith based activities such as weddings, bar mitzvahs or funerals, the number become extraordinarily large. World Religious Travel is one of the fastest growing segments in travel today. Religious travel is estimated at a value of US$18 billion and 300 million travelers strong.
  • Faith based tourism, although often dominated by group or affinity groups is also gaining ground among the individual leisure travel.   Especially among young people (who compose about one third of the faith-based visitors) there is a great number of people who seek spiritual aspects to their vacations. Think through what areas of your community offer a chance to increase self-awareness or spirituality.
  • Religious travel is often less prone to economic ups and downs in the market place.  Because faith-based travelers are committed travelers they tend to save for these religious experiences and travel despite the state of the economy.  Faith travelers tend to have different motives for travel then do travelers for other reasons.  For example, the faith-based traveler often travels as part of a religious obligation or to fulfill a spiritual mission.  Faith-based travel can provide a steady flow of income to a local tourism economy.
  • The religious and faith based market has the advantage of appealing to people from around the world, of all ages and of all nationalities.  Tourism and travel professionals should be aware that this market might well double by the year 2020.  To add to this number many faith-based travelers prefer to travel in groups rather than as individuals.
  • Religiously aware professionals will do best with this market. From airlines to hotels, those travel and tourism professionals who are sensitive to religious needs are going to do better.  Among the things to consider are types of food served, types of music played and when activities take place.  As in other forms of tourism it is essential to know your market. For example, airlines that do not offer vegetarian meals may loose a portion of the faith-based market whose religion has specific food restrictions.
  • While a recent study reported by the Associated Press found that Israel was the number one preference of faith-based travelers followed by Italy and then England, faith-based tourism does not have to be built around a pilgrimage site.  There is no doubt that it helps to have a major religious center, such as Jerusalem, Mecca, or Rome most locales will never have such holy sites.  Lack of a religious center does not mean however that a location cannot develop faith-based tourism.  Florida has created its own Bible land, and multiple cities around the world have found ways to incorporate religious holidays into their tourism product.
  • Connect your local secondary industries with your faith-based tourism.  All too often the spirituality that visitors seek is lost at the level of supporting industries.  During faith based tourism periods it is essential that hotels and restaurants connect with the arts and cultural communities to develop an overall faith based product rather than a mishmash of unrelated offerings.
  • Even smaller tourism locations ought to consider dedicating at least some time to developing local faith-based tourism.  Often tourism professionals have little or nothing to do with the faith-based community other than knowing their own religion’s leader(s).  Take the time to meet with local religious leadership, ask them if they attract visitors for family events, religious retreats, or faith-based study.  Often these people feel disconnected from the tourism community and have a great deal of both marketing knowledge and expertise to share.  While working with these religious leaders see if you can develop a joint business plan and never forget to ask them how you as a travel or tourism professional can be of help to each one of them.
  • Be aware of new and exciting resources.  For examples the website www.grouple.com has a whole section dedicated to religious travel. Major religious institutions also maintain travel centers for people of their faith.