A spiritual summon to a site of religious fame initiates religious tourism. The visit to legendary shrines and temples is considered the holiest of the holy acts a tourist engages in his life span. It is more than just a visit but is a spiritual quest. It is driven by faith, an ardent soul searching mission at the altar of God no matter what form of religion does he advocate. The expedition may be in large groups or people may travel on their own all alone accompanied by a powerful impetus from within to find security and justification to his religious beliefs and ideals. It is a pilgrimage where focus is more on the spiritual drive and to be in oneness with the almighty rather than running in pursuit of material pleasure.
For many, religious tourism becomes one of life’s prime targets. Without this goal realized the journey from birth to death remains incomplete and unfulfilled. There are instances where the devout and the faithful have mobilized all the resources acquired during lifetime to meet this goal of great significance. It is this sacred target towards which his brief stay in this world is directed at witnessing events and incidents beyond explanations offered by logic. It is this goal towards which he had strived all his life and without which life becomes meaningless.
It may be an act of penance, a search for self actualization or an expression of profound reverence towards the creator that has instilled the desire for religious tourism in him. However, religious tourism has shifted its emphasis and mode from what it used to be centuries back. No one travels on foot over long distances any longer. Customized travel has invaded the scene with fast jet liners and long cruises across seas coming up. Travel agencies and trouble free tourism arrangements have walked in between.
Religious tourism had become customer friendly with the elimination of hazards and pointless hardship so that the faithful may concentrate on his religious mission with more focus and collected devotion. The annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca in Saudi Arabia ranks top at the helm, in the sector of religious tourism. It is an amazing sea of human congregation belonging to Islam gathered together with a devout mission. The world has famous religious tourist destinations built around different religious beliefs of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Sikhism to name only a few among the most important and awe inspiring sacred cults.
Wonderful and imposing religious monuments, temples, shrines, cathedrals, gurdwaras and Jewish synagogues have fascinated tourists around the world. The splendid architecture and the divine vibes have conjured up the right mix of appeal that the tourist literally feels the presence of the Almighty. It is an attraction strong enough to draw tourists from all over the world with a religious zeal beaming about them.
Religious tourism can be classified under the following broad heads like Faith oriented expedition camps, holy pilgrimages, missionary travels and leisure holidays. Based upon statistical data supplied by World Tourism Organization, the world’s most important religious destinations see an approximate visit by around 300 to 350 million pilgrims annually. Fundamentally, the entire global population can be grouped under pronounced banners of specific religions leaving out a negligible proportion of non believers, pagans and animists. The desire for being in a divine unification with the almighty is very basic. In one point in life this quest becomes overwhelming resulting in the need to make a trip to a religious site of worldwide fame.
Jerusalem for the Jews and Mecca for the Muslims inspire as much religious attraction as does Varanasi for the Hindus and Vatican for the Roman Catholics for that matter.
A specific feature of religious tourism is rather than having an evenly spread crowd over a year. These sites see expeditions linked with anniversaries, dates of births of prophets and legendary messengers from heaven. Ages back, the travelers to holy sites had been termed as pilgrims, but a modern day tourist may not be in search of spiritual attainment. The religious sites simply pull him on with its historical importance and mythological significance.
From the standpoint of being a revenue earner to a country’s tourism industry, religious tourism niche offers contributions at a commendable scale. For instance, the annual Islamic Hajj brings in around $ 16.5 billion to Saudi Arabia’s exchequer, which is roughly close to 3% of the country’s GDP. Holy visits to Balaji Tirupati temple in southern part of India pour in heaps of gold donated by the devout tourists to the tune of several million dollars. Religious tourism is thus a pillar of strength for a nation’s economy.