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Religion and Tourism Relations Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 7th, 2019

Executive Summary

The relationship between religion and tourism is complex. Therefore, this relationship can only be explained by revisiting religious tourism. This essay provides an insight into the various dimensions of religious tourism. For that reason, it provides a better understanding of religion and tourism relations through religious tourism practices.

This essay acknowledges that religious tourism is a multi-purpose trip. Therefore, the relationship between religion and tourism has resulted into the sharing of sacred and secular spaces. This explains why religious tourism is one of the largest contributors of tourist flows. Additionally, it is one of the growing niches in the tourism market. Consequently, the relationship between religion and tourism has created a multi- billion industry.

Religious tourism is worth around $18 billion. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) also estimates that 300-330 million people visit major religious sites every year. In addition, this essay provides examples of good practices in religious tourism. For instance, there are sections explaining how governments, religious authorities and tour operators can manage events and religious sites. Additional, there are explanations on how these practices can be implemented in a way that promotes sustainable tourism.

For instance, it emphasizes on the use of modern information and communication technologies to market new products. The changing trend in religious tourism has also been explored in the essay. There is evident that most countries are taking religious tourism as a serious industry. Consequently, proliferation of modern infrastructures such as five stars hotels in pilgrimage sites is common place. Additionally, the purpose of religious tourism is slowly shifting away from spiritual enrichment to leisure.

This essay also provides an insight into the problems facing religious tourism. For instance, restrictions in international travel that hamper growth of religious tourism have been highlighted. In addition, terrorism has been indentified as one of the major impediments to religious tourism.

Lastly, this essay has provided recommendations on future developments in the religious tourism industry. For instance, there is special emphasis on the need to promote the prosperity of the local population. Consequently, locals will have the reason to preserve monuments and other heritages.


Citing Hitrec (1990), Vukonic argues that the word ‘tourist’ is derived from the Latin name ‘tornus’. Tornus refers to an obligation to visit religious shrines in Rome. For that reason, all forms of modern tourism are thought to have originated from religious tourism. However, there is little scholarly evidence to support this claim (Vukonic).

Additionally, people visit places with religious attractions every year. Some scholars argue that journeys made for religious purposes should not be termed as tourism. However, just like an ordinary tourist, a religious tourist consumes good and services on his way or at his destination. He, therefore, generates economic benefits that are similar to any other tourist.

Consequently, religious pilgrimages are undoubtedly a form of tourism. To best understand the relationship between religion and tourism the spatial approach is used (Shinde). In this regard, tourists and adherents of certain religions occupy the same place. For that reason, they both have a role in maintaining the identity of that place as a sacred site. Additionally, religious tourism has a spiritual and a recreational component.

Therefore, religious tourism enables people to appreciate commonalities among people in spite of their religious beliefs (Abelow). For that reason, religious tourism can result into a spiritual awakening for any person. Religious attractions fill a person with a feeling of sacredness. Consequently, a relationship between a tourist and the attraction is created. Accordingly, a tourist gets the urge to repeat the experience.

Nonetheless, these travels are closely or remotely connected to holidays. In addition, the world has become more open and festive. Likewise, globalization has opened religious tourist sites to the outside world. Therefore, leisure and holiday activities are slowly supplementing religious satisfaction in this form of tourism.

Apart from providing spiritual nourishment and leisure, religious tourism has other benefits. For instance, religious tourism can be used to increase awareness and protect the heritage of an attraction site. The relationship between religion and tourism relation is also an important tool in peace building. For that reason, the inter-cultural and inter-religious interaction experienced during pilgrimages can be used to foster unity and peaceful co-existence. For that reason, religious tourism is a multi-purpose trip.

Globalization has also commercialized religious tourism (UNWTO). For that reason, globalization has made this form of tourism a marketable product. The trend in religious tourism is, therefore, slowly changing. For instance, pilgrim sites have began to appreciate modern infrastructures such as five stars hotels. In addition, information and communication technologies are now extensively used in promotion and advertisement of these sites.

Moreover, most countries have embraced freedom of movement as an important factor in enhancing religious tourism. Some countries have also embarked on the measurement and management of the flow of people and traffics in major religious events. Additionally, some countries have reverted to maintenance and rehabilitation of neglected religious and cultural monuments. This initiative has occurred after these countries realized that these sites have an economic value.

Nonetheless, some international travel laws hamper internationalization of religious tourism (UNWTO). For instance, the fight against tourism has been used as an excuse to reduce the freedom of movement. Moreover, countries are tightening their immigration law. In addition, there are also tougher visa requirements which are applied in a selective manner. Although these measures do not target tourism, they have a negative effect on its development.

This essay provides an insight into the dimensions, destinations, inter-cultural and inter-faith aspects of religious tourism. For that reason, it provides a better understanding of religion and tourism relations through discussing religious tourism.

Overview of the Religious Tourism Industry

According to Abelow, religious tourism is a multi-billion industry. The World Religious Travel states that this industry is worth around $18 billion (Abelow). Therefore, economic impact of religious tourism should not be underestimated. Additionally, more than 300 million tourists traverse across the world for religious purposes.

Abelow estimates that these tourists make over 600 million trips worldwide. Furthermore, tourism growth has followed a trend similar to that of the growth of religion (Scott and Jafari). In the last five decades, the Middle East has received a higher number of tourists than any other part of the world.

Accordingly, the flow of tourists is increasing at the rate of 10% in the Middle East (Scott and Jafari). It is worth noting that religious tourism is the main form of tourism in the Middle East. For that reason, it is clear that religious tourism is the fastest growing form of tourism. With the popularity of religious tourism increasing, new markets for budget and luxury travel are being opened. Consequently, sacred and secular spaces are being shared on the global stage.

Major Development in Religious Tourism

Globalization is one of the factors that have enabled the commercialization of religious tourism (UNWTO). For that reason, globalization has made this form of tourism a marketable product. A few years ago, paying to enter a house of God was something strange. Furthermore, pilgrims were exempted from taxes and, therefore, countries gained nothing from them. However, this is changing and most countries are transforming religious tourism into a serious industry.

Previously, religious pilgrimages were thought to be holy. Therefore, they were a preserve of a particular religious group. Nowadays, pilgrimages and other religious travels have been secularized (UNWTO). Additionally, most countries are ignoring religious consideration and teachings to enjoy gains from religious tourism (Vukonic). In the last decade, many countries have experienced growth in their economy.

For that reason, the middle and upper class have accumulated sufficient disposable income for travel (UNWTO). Religious tourism, on the other hand, provides great opportunities for those seeking leisure and spiritual nourishment. Religious tourism, therefore, provides an opportunity to all people regardless of their faith, religion and philosophy.

Religious tourism refers to travels made to pilgrimage sites (Shinde). Therefore, religious tourism is a form of tourism where the motivating factor is religious. Additionally, the destination for a religious tourist is a sacred, pilgrimage or a religious heritage site (Shinde). However, these travels are closely or remotely connected to holidays nowadays. For that reason, although religious tourists are motivated by religious satisfaction, leisure and holiday activities are supplementary opportunities (UNWTO).

Consequently, the client base of religious tourism is slowly changing. Initially, people visiting religious sites were mainly locals or members of a particular religious group. Today, these areas are receiving an increasing number of foreigners. These foreigners are also not particularly from a religious group associated with these sites. Moreover, pilgrimages are also accompanied by services such as tour operations and a package of leisure related activities (Shinde).

For that reason, there is a realization that the worlds is more open, festive and free (UNWTO). Most countries have also developed overlapping markets for this industry. These markets include spiritual, physical and leisure (UNWTO). Although this is a late realization, it has an enormous room for growth. However, this growth will be effectively realized if inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogues are fostered (UNWTO). Moreover, travel sites must respond to the new expectations from the people.

In order to accrue maximum benefits from religious tourism, some countries have invested on the necessary infrastructure (Vukonic). These infrastructures include good accommodation, shops, entertainment facilities and other facilities that meet the needs and interests of tourists.

For instance, Saudi Arabia has spent US $100 million on the extension mosques in Mecca (Vukonic). Roads and airports have also been built to connect Mecca with other parts of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has also embarked on innovative ways of monitoring traffic and people when an enormous mass of people visit Mecca and other pilgrimage areas.

For instance, a closed circuit television network is being used to regulate the flow of people and traffic (Vukonic). Deterring the maximum number of visitors at a place of pilgrimage or a religious gathering is important as overcrowding has in the past led to stampedes. Accordingly, these happenings have dissuaded people from visiting these interesting places.

Accommodations meant for pilgrims and other visitors have also been improved. For instance, luxury hotels have replaced the simple accommodation associated with these visits (UNWTO). These hotels are also offering foods and services that meet the needs of all visitors. Therefore, an economic way of thinking is slowly finding inroads in religious pilgrimages. For that reason, the future of religious tourism looks bright.

Types of Attractions in Religious Tourism

Travels made as a means of fulfilling a religious purpose have been part man’s history. However, religious tourism remains among the least explored activities in the tourism industry (Vukonic). Nonetheless, religious tourism is gaining roots in developed and developing countries.

There are three main types of religious tourism (UNWTO). These types are classified according to their dimensions and the places where they are in practice. They include pilgrimages whose activity has become touristic, religious gatherings and religious routes that lead to pilgrimage sites, monuments and sanctuaries (UNWTO).

Additionally, in a bid to market and enable access by lower classes, religious tourism is gaining prominence. Furthermore, religious tourism is being internationalized (UNWTO). Through these changes pilgrimages are regaining the status they once enjoyed (UNWTO). Consequently, religious gathering and attraction sites are attracting millions of people all over the world. For that reason, pilgrimage and religious routes are once again acting as links among people of different nationalities.

Pilgrimages are the most common types of religious tourism. Interestingly, pilgrimages are thought to be the predecessors of modern tourism (Vukonic). A pilgrimage confirms the fundamental characteristic of tourism as a change of residence due to some reasons (Vukonic). Additionally, most religions incorporate pilgrimages in their doctrines. Therefore, this is a common practice among Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Most of the pilgrimages are made in centralized areas.

Historically, visitors have always streamed in these areas for religious purposes. Religious gatherings, on the other hand, are held to mark a religious event. Some of these events include a visit by a prominent religious leader, marking an anniversary or a jubilee. These gatherings have the capability to attract millions of people. Pilgrimage routes such as the Way of St. James are also a major attraction (UNWTO).

To make then more attractive, the routes are enriched with cultural events. However, lifestyles have changed, and many religious travels are not inclined to religious purposes only. Today, the motives for these pilgrimages are more secular than religious. Therefore, most people are visiting this attraction for education and leisure. For that reason, there are minimal or no differences between other types of tourism and religious tourism.

Role of Religious Tourism in Solving Major Problems in the World

Religious tourism is characterized by the ethics that shape the behaviour of pilgrims and tourists (UNWTO). This ethical behaviour transforms religious tourists into agents of dialogue among cultures and civilizations. For that reason, pilgrimages are a way of weaving together peaceful coexistence between different people. In addition, pilgrimages and religious gathering encourage solidarity in fighting major problems facing the world such as poverty.

Religious tourism is, therefore, one of the most effective methods of dialogue among religions and cultures. Furthermore, religious tourism presents a clear understanding of the economic, ecological and cultural dealings of a particular group of people (UNWTO). For that reason, it is an effective way of communicating the various problems affecting a particular people.

Additionally, ecumenism is also a good way of promoting mutual acceptance and cooperation worldwide (UNWTO). Although it is a Christian doctrine, ecumenism can be successfully applied to solve inter-religious conflicts. For that reason, promoters of religious tourism should incorporate this principle in their plans as it brings harmony to the society.

Moreover, tourism destinations with a combination of attractions from different faiths favour inter-faith dialogue. Such encounters are facilitated by continuous meeting at major religious tourist sites. When these kinds of encounters are encouraged, the world will truly become a global village. In addition, tourism will be promoted to greater heights since people will feel welcomed in all parts of the world despite their religious and cultural inclinations.

Impediment to the Development of Religious Tourism

Various obstacles stand in the way of developing religious tourism sustainably. Some of the main impediments include lack of respect to human rights and limitations in the freedom of movements. For instance, there is discrimination in the issuance of visas.

In this regard, some countries do not allow people from certain parts of the world to enter their countries when religious tourism is on the peak for security reasons. Terrorism is also another impediment to the development of religious tourism. For instance, in countries such as Mali, particular groups of people do not uphold the right to heritage.

They seem not to understand that this heritage enriches their cultural diversity. The destruction of religious monuments in northern Mali is, therefore, an insult to religious tourism. Coincidentally, terrorism is a major problem in countries where tourism totally relies on religious practices. A typical example of these countries is Iraq. In Iraq, there are numerous pilgrimages sites for the Muslim faith. For other faiths, these sites and other attractions are also a joy to watch.

Nonetheless, Iraq lacks a stable government and experiences frequent terrorist attacks. Consequently, Iraq does not reap full benefits from religious tourism despite housing major attractions. Lack of insufficient information is another setback to the development of religious tourism (UNWTO). For instance, information on the volume and dynamics of religious tourism is either absent or unreliable. Consequently, it is very difficult to develop a religious tourism strategy.

Recommendation for Future Developments in Religious Tourism

The hospitality industry is one of the rapidly growing industries globally (Kana). Therefore, it is one of the industries that are creating jobs and building new careers at the moment. Commercially, religious tourism is developing at an alarming rate.

For that reason, this industry must overcome a number of operational problems in order to sustainably manage facilities, sites and the heritage of these sites (UNWTO). Products within this industry must, hence, be developed carefully and marketed in a way that meets the changing needs of clients. Accordingly, religious tourism should seek to totally satisfy guest by offering quality services.

Most of the sites visited by domestic tourists are yet to be fully exploited (Kana). Moreover, they are not managed in a way that offers comfort to the visiting tourists. For that reason, the quality of services offered in these destinations must be upgraded. Some sites, especially those in troubled regions, lack good roads and comfortable accommodation. For instance, there is a shortage of hotels in most parts of Iraq (Kana).

Shockingly, the few hotels available are not being exploited in a manner that derives full benefits from the visiting tourists. However, there are many hotels and accommodations in the provinces of Najaf and Karbala. These provinces host major religious attractions in Iran. However, very few hotels are first class. Majority are from second to fourth class. Therefore, they lack the luxury of five stars hotels (Kana).

Therefore, good accommodation should be offered and major roads leading to these sites upgraded (Kana). Hotels are an important element in tourism and, therefore, must be of the required standards. In addition, the human resource within these hotels must be competent. Moreover, marketing of these sites as major tourist destination must be intensified (Kana). Promoters should embrace latest communication and information technologies to advertise these sites to other parts of the world.

For religious tourism to be characterized as sustainable, it must foster local development (UNWTO). Furthermore, it must provide economic, environment and cultural benefits to the local people. The UNWTO has recommended objectives that must be fulfilled before any form of religious tourism is termed sustainable. Some of these objectives include economic feasibility, local growth and provision of employment.

Other objectives include visitor satisfaction, environmental conservation and enhancing cultural richness. It is believed that communities will only support tourism if the industry generates income to sustain their members. According to Shinde, indigenous religious entrepreneurs play a big role in developing relations in religious tourism. Religious tourism is a modern form of traditional pilgrimage economy.

For that reason, indigenous entrepreneurship with knowledge on socio-cultural activities, ritual exchanges and religious protocols must be tolerated in areas receiving high numbers of religious tourists (Shinde). Consequently, these local entrepreneurs will be able to develop innovative products that suit the demands of their visitors. This is what is happening at Vrindavan in India (Shinde). This act also encourages campaigns aimed at education people on the need to maintain and preserve major attractions.


Religious tourism impacts on the local community positively. The host quality of life, therefore, is transformed. For instance, some social-economic changes take place within the community. For that reason, religious tourism is an agent of development. Ensuring long-term conservation of religious sites is a means of ensuring sustainability in religious tourism. According to UNWTO, there is a need to develop a dynamic relationship between religious and cultural heritage values.

Consequently, the interests of the host community, tourists and the religious community are served. Most importantly, communities should acknowledge that religious tourism is now a multi-purpose trip. For that reason, services offered at attraction sites must meet the needs of both the religious and secular population. Additionally, it is important to deal with the major problems affecting the religious tourism industry.

For instance, law on immigration and visa application must be relaxed to facilitate free movements across borders. Most importantly, there is need to disseminate information on major religious tourist attraction using modern information and communication technologies. Finally, the world has changed and nearly everything has been commercialized. Consequently, countries with religious attractions must follow suit.

Works Cited

Abelow, Lorraine. 2009. Religious Tourism is Rapidly On the Rise. Web.

Kana, Alaa Gado. “Religious Tourism in Iraq, 1996-1998: An Assessment”. International Journal of Business and Social Science 2.4 (2012). Print.

Scott, Noel, and Jafari Jafar. Tourism in the Muslim World. 2010 Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2010. Print.

Shinde, Kiran. Entrepreneurship and Indigenous Entrepreneurs in Religious Tourism in India International Journal of Tourism Research 12 (2010) 523–535. Print.

Vukonic, Boris “Religion Tourism: Economic Value or an Empty Box”. Zagreb International Review of Economics & Business. 1.1 (1998): 83-94. Web. <>.

World Tourism Organization 2007, Tourism and Religions: A Contribution to the Dialogue among Religions, Cultures and Civilization. PDF file. Web. <>.

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