December is one of the times of the year when much of the world is faith-oriented. Faith based industries, however, are not a one-month-a -year phenomenon. Religion and faith are major businesses, raking in US$18 billion from 300 million participants every year and its impact is likely to double by 2020.
One of the oldest forms of tourism is religious or as it is now known, faith based tourism. The Bible speaks of ascending to Jerusalem at least three times a year for each of the Biblical harvest festivals. Likewise the Islamic world is famous for the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. Other cities around the world have developed religious tourism sites such as Fatima in Portugal, and Lourdes in France.
While there are many differences between travel by the faithful to a religious site and a theme park, there are also many parallels between what would appear to be two very different venues. What is fascinating about religious tourism is that it parallels many of the two. For example, in modern (and from what we can learn from ancient texts, also in the ancient world) both religious sites and theme parks produce secondary industries. Be these, the souvenir industry or the lodging industry, a series of dependent industries quickly develop around the site. Secondly one has to believe for the pilgrimage or theme park to make sense. Thus entering theme parks or religious pilgrimage sites is an exercise in emotion rather than cognition.
Religious tourism, however, is not only about pilgrimages. Faith-based travel may take place for life cycle events, for missionary work or humanitarian interest projects and for religious conventions and conclaves.
Although the socio-psychology of religious tourism deals is based on emotion, faith-based tourism is big business. To help you deal with this growing travel trend, here are some essentials to help the busy travel and tourism professional:
It is estimated that in the US alone some 25% of the travelling public is interested in faith-based tourism. When one adds to this the number of people who travel for faith-based conventions, and faith-based activities such as weddings, bar mitzvahs or funerals, the number becomes extraordinarily large. World Religious Travel is one of the fastest growing segments in travel today. Each year, religious travel attracts 300 million participants and rakes in US$18 billion.
Faith-based tourism, although often dominated by group or affinity groups, is also gaining ground among the individual leisure travel; especially among young people who compose about one-third of the faith-based visitors. There is a great number of people who seek spiritual aspects to their vacations.
Religious travel is often less prone to economic ups and downs in the market place. Because faith-based travellers are committed they tend to save for these religious experiences and travel despite the state of the economy. Faith travellers tend to have different motives for travel from travellers for other reasons. For example, the faith-based traveller often travels as part of a religious obligation or to fulfill a spiritual mission. Faith-based travel can provide a steady flow of income to a local tourism economy.
The religious and faith based market has the advantage of appealing to people from around the world, of all ages and of all nationalities. Tourism and travel professionals should be aware that this market might well double by 2020. To add to this number many faith-based travellers prefer to travel in groups rather than as individuals.
Religiously aware professionals will do best with this market. From airlines to hotels, those travel and tourism professionals who are sensitive to religious needs are going to do better. Among the things to consider are types of food served, types of music played and when activities take place. As in other forms of tourism it is essential to know your market. For example, airlines that do not offer vegetarian meals may lose a portion of the faith-based market whose religion has specific food restrictions.
While a recent study reported by the Associated Press found that Israel was the number one preference of faith-based travellers followed by Italy and then England, faith-based tourism does not have to be built around a pilgrimage site. There is no doubt that it helps to have a major religious centre, such as Jerusalem, Mecca, or Rome. However, most locales will never have such holy sites. Lack of a religious centre does not mean, however, that a location cannot develop faith-based tourism. Florida has created its own Bible Land, and multiple cities around the world have found ways to incorporate religious holidays into their tourism product.
All too often the spirituality that visitors seek is lost at the level of supporting industries. During faith-based tourism periods, it is essential that hotels and restaurants connect with the arts and cultural communities to develop an overall faith-based product rather than a mishmash of unrelated offerings.
Even smaller tourism locations ought to consider dedicating at least some time to developing local faith-based tourism. Often tourism professionals have little or nothing to do with the faith-based community other than knowing their own religion’s leaders. It is recommended that tourism professionals take the time to meet with local religious leadership, ask them if they attract visitors for family events, religious retreats, or faith-based study. Often these people feel disconnected from the tourism community and have a great deal of both marketing knowledge and expertise to share. While working with these religious leaders, professionals are advised to explore ways of developing a joint business plan and never forget to ask them how they, travel or tourism professionals, could be of help to each one of them.
This is a re-edited article from Tourism-Review.Com, originally written by Dr Peter E Tarlow.