Definition of religious tourism
Religious tourism can be defined as travel with the core motive of experiencing religious forms, or ancillary products such as art, culture, etc. India is an ancient civilization and boasts of rich cultural and religious heritage. In India, in the blog, we shall analyze the International scenario of Religious tourism and the scope of Religious tourism in India. Religious tourism is a significant and rapidly growing segment within the tourism industry. It is sometimes referred to as faith tourism, faith-based travel, Christian travel, Muslim travel, or any other religious denomination linked with the words ‘travel’ or ‘tourism’.
International scenario of Religious tourism:
As a sector, religious tourism is not well researched and documented. But in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, religious tourism is the most significant type of tourism, and consequently the authorities measure it as a clearly defined activity.
More than 7m pilgrims visit Saudi Arabia’s holy sites every year with religious tourists spending about US$10,000 per visit. The revenue from the pilgrims to the holy city of Makkah, Madinah and other religious sites in the kingdom, accounts for about 3 percent of the kingdom’s gross domestic product
In 2013, more than 3.5 million tourists visited Israel. Twenty-two percent defined the goal of their visit to Israel as a pilgrimage which accounts for almost 0.77 million religious tourists.
Religious tourism in India:
India is a land of pilgrimages. India has the unique distinction of being the birth-place of four important religions of the world – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Practically, all religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism , Sikhism and Sufism have their major and minor pilgrimage centers in different parts of the country. Apart from the holy rivers and the teerth sthanas, India also houses the Shakti Peeths, the Jyotirlingas as well as the four sacred shrines of Adi Shankaracharya in the four corners of the country. Some important circuits based on the importance of the religious places can be identified. According to a recent annual report by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), 2014 is expected to be a year of “above-average growth” for travel and tourism in India. WTTC’s Annual Economic Impact Report 2014 for India shows travel and tourism’s economic contribution is expected to grow by 7.3 percent this year, outperforming the general economy by 2.5 percentage points. Revenue from domestic tourism is expected to increase by 8.2 percent this year compared to 5.1 percent in 2013, the report noted.
Initiatives taken by the Government to boost Religious tourism
With a view to overcome challenges, facilitate travel to and stay at religious places, The Ministry of Tourism has already identified 35 destinations in phase I and shall cover another 89 destinations in phase II. The historic places associated with these religions are spread all over the country. Both foreign and domestic tourists would like to visit more than one place of their religion if proper planning and requisite facilities are made available to them. These religious circuits would cover Hinduism, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and Sufi circuits.
Integrated Tourism Circuits:
Jain tourist circuit:
Sufi Tourist Circuit:
Hinduism Tourist Circuit:
Sarv Dharam Tourist Circuit:
There are other Religious tourist circuits in the pipeline as well such as National mission on pilgrimage, rejuvenation and spiritual augmentation drive (Prasad) and a national heritage city development and augmentation yojana (Hriday). “Hriday” will be launched in Mathura, Amritsar, Gaya, Kanchipuram, Vellankani and Ajmer this year. Furthermore, “Sarnath-Gaya-Varanasi Buddhist” circuit would be developed with “world-class tourist amenities” to attract tourists from all over the world.
Recently, Uttarakhand Governor, Aziz Qureshi, suggested creation a separate authority on the lines of Vaishno Devi and Tirupati shrine boards for the development and management of different religious centres in the state including Chardham.
Scope of Bed and Breakfast scheme in Religious Tourism:
During my PhD thesis on Bed and Breakfast accommodation in Delhi, survey revealed that tourists who come for a pilgrimage or for visit to monuments or business or outdoor activities do not necessary need the facilities which are only available in regular hotels like spa, round the clock restaurant, gym etc. However, these Tourists certainly need exchange of thoughts and one on one information with the host. These tourists might prefer staying in a Bed and Breakfast accommodation.
I reviewed 48 BnB Units in which total 16389 Domestic tourists stayed. It is surprising to observe that there is a large group of domestic tourists numbering 5614 out of total of 16389 preferred to stay in cheaper accommodation having tariff range of Rs. 1000/- to Rs.2000/- They are generally the pilgrims who come to Delhi to have darshan of shrines and hails to get an accommodation in dharmshalas and sarais.
Ideally if a religious tourist wishes to visit Akshardham temple, then he would seek a nearby BnB accommodation in East Delhi. Such B&B owners should be sure that they have special arrangement of the followers of that faith like Swami Narain group and the rooms should be so decorated that it looks as if these are the rooms only meant for the followers of that faith. Similarly, if it is near some mosque or some dargah like Nizamuddin Aulia dargah, then B&B owner may draw special attention of those persons who come for prayers for Salim Chisti Sahib. For this purpose, they may make mention as to what are other important religious or suffiana facilities are available nearby. Similarly, other owners who have a famous Gurudwara nearby may attract tourists belonging to Sikh religion and so on.
It is very unfortunate that in some of the religious places, hygiene and sanitation are not up to the mark. The tour guides and touts are not generally tourist friendly. In a few religious destinations, there is no last mile connectivity up to the shrines. It is upto the local municipalities of the cities to deploy appropriate manpower for cleanliness and educate the stakeholders near the shrines to make tourists comfortable. There is a silver lining that the Swachchta Abhiyan and Smart cities concept is likely to provide convenience and encourage inter-alia religious tourists particularly NRI’s and other foreign tourists to visit Indian shrines.
Though Govt of India has taken the right steps towards building a religious ecosystem in India but it remains to be seen how the policies are developed and the benefits thereof. As someone passionate about the tourism industry, I am keeping my fingers crossed hoping for the best results.
Report of the Working Group on tourism, 12th Five Year plan, Ministry of Tourism, Govt of India.
“Role of Bed and Breakfast scheme of Delhi in Development of Tourism in Delhi” Ph.D. Thesis by Dr. GG Saxena
Diverse Beliefs: Tourism of Faith; Religious Tourism gains ground; Report by FICCI and YES Bank Ltd.