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Religious Tourism

Religious and spiritual tourism refers to travel for religious or spiritual purposes, such as undertaking a pilgrimage and visiting sacred sites. Also known as sacred or faith tourism, it is one of the oldest forms of tourism.

A pilgrimage is a sacred journey, undertaken for a spiritual purpose. Pilgrims are different from tourists: they travel for spiritual reasons, not just to relax or for fun. Pilgrimage is a search for meaning, purpose, values or truth (and in this sense, like life). For Muslims pilgrimage is one of the five pillars, a part of trying to live the Islamic life fully. For Hindus, sacred journeys to various destinations in India are an aspiration – the focus here is on Varanasi. Buddhists make pilgrimage to Bodhgaya to remember the Enlightenment of the Buddha. Jewish people remember their history and develop their spiritual lives by visiting the Western Wall at Jerusalem. Christians visit Bethlehem to remember their belief in the coming of God in Jesus. The life of faith is like a journey and daily prayer or visits to places of worship are important in this journey too.

Table 1: Specialist niches of religious tourism

Specialist nicheDescriptionTarget groupExamples
PilgrimagesA pilgrimage is a trip to a religious or spiritual place with the aim of experiencing religious or personal enlightenment. Secular pilgrimage, such as visiting nature as a source of spiritual inspiration is not included hereAttracts mostly believers; most European pilgrims travel to the Middle East, whether they are Christian or MuslimPilgrimage to the seven saints of Marrakech
Visiting sacred sitesThese are trips for the purpose of visiting sacred sites. This includes important sites from ancient religions, like Native-American burial groundsAttracts mostly non-believersA tour to Machu Picchu
Church, mosque and temple tourismTours with the aim of visiting monuments, such as churches, temples and mosquesAttracts mostly non-believersVisiting Mosques in UAE
Travel for the purpose of mission or worshipThese are trips for the purposes of worship, performing holy rituals, spreading faith, being involved in charity, or volunteering from a religious perspectiveAttracts mostly believers; closely related to pilgrimage tourismMeditating in a Buddhist monastery in BangkokMercy Ships organises trips for Christians to volunteer in developing countries

Travellers who visit religious sites can be divided into two main target groups: believers and non-believers. Both are important target groups, but they require different approaches.


Believers seek spiritual support or reinforce their religious beliefs. Often, they undertake a pilgrimage for religious reasons or for the purpose of worship. Examples of these kinds of trips include the Hajj to Mecca for Muslims, pilgrimages to Jerusalem or the Vatican for Christians, and travelling to Bodh Gaya for Buddhists. Most religious tourists are very motivated to travel, so they are willing to spend more money than the average traveller. This inherent motivation also makes religious tourism less vulnerable to economic lows. Believers like to travel in groups of like-minded people.


Non-believers are attracted to sacred sites, churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship, not because of their religious value, but for their cultural significance, architectural importance, aesthetic beauty or historic value. Non-believers may be religious, but religion is not their main purpose for travelling. Some non-believers who seek self-improvement by travelling to religious sites require some form of catering geared to offering a spiritual experience with the destination.

For most developing country operators, Europe’s non-believers offer a much bigger market than believers because a very large part of European believer travellers already goes to the Middle East.

Religious tourism can be considered a high-quality form of tourism, because of the positive payback for the destination’s culture and society. This form of tourism helps to raise awareness of people’s common heritages, which helps with their preservation, in addition to the financial gains that can eventually be reinvested into conservation of the local culture and religious heritage. Religious tourism is a great source of community empowerment and development as well. The interest of tourists in local values and communities helps in developing a sense of empowerment and pride in the local community, its culture and history. Naturally, religious tourism also contributes to regional economic increase, employment and better quality of life.



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