Pilgrimage tourism to harmonize religious and economic development

Linh Ngan
Linh Ngan
05:30:41 - September 10, 2020

There is a huge number of pilgrims traveling to another city or country for religious purposes each year, which opens a threshold for developing pilgrimage tourism. So what does it take to invest in this type of tourism and what benefits can it bring?

What is “pilgrimage tourism”?

Pilgrimage tourism is a subtype of religious tourism in which the pilgrim goes on a trip for religious or spiritual purposes other than just simply sightseeing, viewing of religious monuments and artifacts. A pilgrimage is an ancient form of mobility and a fundamental precursor to modern tourism and pilgrimage tourism entirely or powerfully motivates tourists for the achievement of religious attitudes and practices.

According to the World Tourism Organization UNWTO, religion and pilgrimage tourism refers to all travel outside the usual environment for religious purposes, excluding travel for professional purposes (like priests traveling for work). Attending wedding parties or funerals are generally classified under the heading of Visiting Friends and Relatives. However, in countries where these ceremonies have a strong religious connotation, it may be more appropriate to classify them as activities in pilgrimage tourism. 

Pilgrimage is the type of tourism that has been practiced since antiquity and in several of the world’s religions. The world’s largest mass religious assemblage takes place in India at the Kumbh Mela, which attracts over 120 million pilgrims. Other major pilgrimages include the annual Hajj to Mecca, required once in a Muslim’s life.

Why should pilgrimage tourism be invested in?

At present, all countries of the planet are determined to develop pilgrimage tourism in a huge way, according to the American Geographical Society. UNWTO estimates that about 300 to 330 million tourists visit the world´s key religious sites every year, with approximately six hundred million national and international religious voyages in the world. With such potential, countries with diverse cultures and religions should exploit their own rich resources to promote pilgrimage tourism.

UNWTO is clear in its enthusiasm for religious tourism, with Secretary General, Taleb Rifai, suggesting that “religious tourism can be one of the most effective tools to foster inclusive and sustainable development”. As a result, pilgrimage should be concentrated on for development as it can raise awareness of humanity’s common heritage, provide resources for preservation, contribute to local development as well as build cultural understanding. This type of tourism brings improved acceptance among special nations and civilizations.  Similarly, it helps in defensive surroundings, old monuments and cultural manifestations

Besides being beneficial to various cultures and religions all over the world, pilgrimage tourism also offers fabulous opportunities for generating revenues, an obvious statistic of which is that it can earn over 3.5 trillion USD worldwide. Furthermore, earning foreign exchange and providing employment are other contributions from pilgrimage tourism to the country or destination.

What challenges does this type of tourism pose for destination management? 

In order to manage and develop pilgrimage tourism, authorities must appreciate the multiplicity of heightened meanings, deep yet conflicting ideologies, and modes of interaction surrounding pilgrimage sites, which may conflict with the socio-economic and political norms espoused by the tourism industry and other outside forces. Therefore, managing pilgrimage tourism requires a deep understanding of the experience sought, the site itself and the interaction between participant and site.

As religious sites and monuments welcome numerous pilgrims each year, they are easily exposed to overtourism, which can cause permanent damages to these sacred places. Therefore, pilgrimage professionals should be focusing on the preservation of these attractions along with promoting and calling for pilgrimage tourists, according to UNWTO. Another “crucial challenge” should be overcome is to ensure and maintain the upholding respect for local traditions and religious practices as the demeanor from people may cause a drawback once these traditions and practices are commercialized for tourism.

Pilgrims usually gather in mass whenever a holy ceremony or event related to their religion about to occur; however, in the current situation, such a tendency may cause some severe damage to the health and safety of the public all over the world. So in order to soothe these pilgrims who sometimes easily become too sensitive if they find any threat towards their religion, destination management should be flexible and implementing suitable measures that meet them half-way so that they do not feel that they are prejudiced and targeted just because of their faith.

And last but not least, pilgrimage tourism development must be conducted closely with the inclusive development of local communities so that its development stays sustainable and beneficial to both culture and economy.

Conclusion

To this day, travel such as this for spiritual, linked to spectacle motives has remained important, and in few countries is this more obvious than countries such as Italy, Israel, India, France and many others. Thus, pilgrimage tourism is a significant and constant element of the tourism industry. Many industry-focused publications have talked of how religious tourism in general and pilgrimage tourism in particular is a “rapidly growing segment within the tourism industry” and countries as well as destinations should be considering their potentials in religion as a foundation for pilgrimage tourism development.

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