Religious tourism or pilgrimage probably dates back to when humans started believing in supreme deities. Throughout history and even in legends, people have traversed great distances for their beliefs, whether they are traveling to holy sites or searching for relics. Travels driven by faith remain common to this day. But what good does it do in this age where traditions are being shirked?
Usually, people who travel for religion are visiting places that are sacred to their faith. This does not necessarily mean that the place has the same religion and culture as theirs. By experiencing other cultures, religious tourists can learn the lifestyles, customs, manners, values, and even the language of the locals. This experience broadens their understanding of people of diverse backgrounds, and could teach them empathy and compassion.
Cultural experiences also allow comparisons between cultures. A tourist may observe a cultural practice that is alien to them but has a lot of advantages in the locale. When they return home, the tourist may bring this practice with them and achieve similar positive effects in their own community.
A better understanding of faith
Travel in itself is an excellent learning experience. For religious tourists, it would primarily allow them to learn more about their respective religions. Whether a Muslim is going on the Hajj to Mecca, a Mormon joining an LDS Israel tour, or a Christian missionary providing service to a distant community, they may learn so much about their faith. It could lead them to gain a better understanding of how they could positively practice their beliefs, outside of the teachings in their usual congregations, and to have a greater passion and belonging in their religion.
When tourists show interest and appreciation for the unique values of a community, the locals may feel empowered, and take pride in their identity, history, traditions and environment. This could encourage them to further develop their communities and preserve their heritage sites.
Any form of tourism brings in revenue for communities. Aside from sustaining livelihoods, it also creates more opportunities for locals. Since they are visiting the area because of their faith, religious tourists may also be more generous in supporting the local community through donations or purchases of religious souvenirs.
Most types of tourism depend heavily on the economic climate and on seasonal destinations, where tourists visit only on certain occasions in a year. While this may be true for some pilgrimages, such as the Hajj that happens on the last month of the Muslim lunar year and the Roman Catholic Holy Week, religious travel is less likely to have economic ups and downs even in unstable economic times.
Religious tourists are faithful and committed travelers who tend to save money for their religious travels, regardless of the state of the economy. They also have different motivations, such as a part of religious obligation to fulfill a spiritual quest, to show support for a particular cause, or merely for leisure, so they may visit religious destinations in any time of the year. When their destinations are going through economically trying times, faith-based tourists could provide a steady flow of income to the local economy.
In most societies, culture and history might be closely tied with religion. Part of what makes religious tourism an enduring practice can be its purpose as an anchor for the heritage and roots of entire communities to remain afloat in the wave of modernity.