What is religious tourism, and why is it so significant?

One of the first types of tourism, religious tourism is a rapidly expanding industry. Here is an explanation of what it is and why it is so essential from Peter Wiltshier, Consultant Researcher Community & Tourism Development NZ at Research Consultancy NZ, New Zealand.

Read More: Al Carraway

Religious tourism: what is it?

From the beginning of human civilization, there has been religious tourism. Pilgrims traveled the world to honor the hallowed locations and their protectors. Over the past two millennia, pilgrimage and tourism have combined at holy locations. Rich Europeans have more recently—during the last 200 years—visited unique locations of religious ritual throughout Europe and the New World.

What makes it so crucial?

For thousands of years, people have visited places with unique holy meaning. These places require preservation, conservation, and interpretation, and that is now crucial. Few people watch over these unique locations for prayer and devotion, and even fewer provide the funding needed to keep these locations up to date and run for worshipers and guests. We do distinguish between worshipers and tourists because, in certain particularly rare locations, such as Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal, holy sites accommodate both groups nearly equally.

The history of religious tourism

There are several difficulties in managing religious tourism, each one distinct in scope and nature. Religious sites have been there since the time of the Bible, and pilgrimages in the Judeo-Christian framework are described in the Old Testament. One such event is Elkanah’s yearly journey to Shiloh, where he worships and offers sacrifices (1 Samuel 1:1-28). The New Testament account of Pentecost, when Jews from all over the globe flocked to Jerusalem for the Passover, also contains it (Acts 2: 1–12). While some of these sites are far older, they are still quite valuable as historical places. One issue that arises specifically in the administration of cultural assets is upkeep costs.

Overseeing religious tourism destinations

Since religious organizations hold the majority of religious sites, managing them may provide difficulties as they must strike a balance between the requirements of worshipers and those of their guests. Mosques are the hub of Islamic tourism, drawing tourists from both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Mosques can be visited by Muslims as places of worship or as tourist attractions when they are traveling. Numerous mosques serve as both a place of prayer and a hub for the community. Since the mosque serves as a community center, it will be available for events and gatherings that are not exclusively religious in character and may attract non-Muslims.

Muslim nations, including those in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), are open to tourism in general and religious travel in particular. However, they distinguish between different types of religious tourism and pilgrimage, of which the Hajj is the most well-known. Non-Muslims are not accepted on the Hajj, however they are welcome in places like mosques. Unquestionably the most significant Muslim pilgrimage, the Hajj brings millions of Muslims to Makkah (Mecca) in Saudi Arabia. It is one of the most significant types of pilgrimage that occurs today. For this reason, it’s critical to distinguish between non-Muslim and Muslim tourists to Muslim destinations. For instance, it is forbidden for non-Muslims to go through the Hejaz area, which is home to the cities of Medina and Mecca. The “ownership” of these sites is a source of considerable debate; this is covered below. Similar issues with competing agendas exist in other religions.

Travelers and believers

Visitor-worshippers at religious places have been known to get into arguments. While many tourists consider worshipers to be a part of the experience, some believers find it uncomfortable to be seen. Worshippers are glad to share their place of worship and are proud of the site’s design and history, which draw tourists, rather than feeling like they are a part of a “show.” Cultural barriers are not easily crossed by sacredness. Something that one group of people, like parishioners, may consider sacrosanct, another group of visitors may find it intriguing from a cultural standpoint. Church officials may need to decide when to accept a request to join in a service as a sincere statement of interest or purpose, as some guests may want to participate in worship.

In order to address such demands in a structured and stakeholder-driven manner, developing places of particular significance necessitates the dissemination and sharing of both intellectual and practical contributions. Half a century ago, traditional approaches to development arose with an emphasis on core capabilities and the consensus that fair and free competition would improve quality and provide adequate profit margins. Raising consumer awareness of goods and services and connecting them to marketing strategies is crucial.

Clerics and managers can better understand the requirements of worshipers and visitors by doing primary research and using analysis and synthesis to build audiences for their facilities. In the book, we discuss the value of upkeep and strategies for creating websites that take into account elements in the internal and external environments that recognize the need to stay competitive.

How can destinations for religious tourism remain competitive?

Networks play a crucial role in interacting with the larger community and perhaps expanding their reach to a global level. We highlight the importance of an organizational culture by attempting to use resources that are often not used in the management of religious and pilgrimage sites.

Our book offers excellent strategies for promoting travel to places of worship and pilgrimage, ranging from Salt Lake City, Australia, to China, Nepal, and a variety of significant but varied locations in England, Hungary, Spain, and Ireland. At these locations, cutting-edge methods for managing festivals and events are combined with fresh perspectives via the application of virtual reality technology. Newly developed emulation best practices are associated with locations that have funding managers on staff who are equipped to balance the demands of maintaining and safeguarding the historic sites at the heart of the tourist experience with the hazards of growing visitor numbers.