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The Significance of Religious Tourism

Dr. Radhika Kapur


In India, religious tourism is the tourism, when the individuals make visits to different
places for religious purposes. India is a secular country, where all the citizens have the right
to practice the religion of his or her own choice. The individuals possess strong religious
beliefs and form the viewpoint that religious tourism would promote their well-being. The
main areas that have been taken into account in this research paper are, perspective of
religious tourism in India, development of religious tourism in India, characteristics of
religious tourism, and issues being experienced in the development of religious tourism.
Throughout the country, not only the wealthy individuals, but also the individuals, belonging
to low income groups and economically weaker sections of the society take pleasure in
religious tourism.

Keywords: Beliefs, Environment, Facilities, Religion, Religious Tourism

India is a secular country, where all the individuals have the right to practice the
religion of his or her own choice. In India, there are number of religious places that
individuals visit. The country has number of temples, mosques, churches and other religious
places, associated with all the religions practiced within the country. Religious tourism is
regarded as the most common form of tourism. The reason being, within the country,
individuals possess strong religious perspectives that if they would make visits to certain
religious places, their aspirations would get fulfilled and they will be able to provide
solutions to their problems. The various places for tourists to visit within the country, are the
Golden Temple of Amritsar, Vaishno Devi, Char Dham and Mathura Vrindavan. Throughout
the country, there are religious places, which nationals and internationals visit.

Religion and pilgrimage tourism is primarily referred to the travel that takes place
outside the usual environment for religious purposes. Though it does not take into
consideration, professional work, for instance, when priests are travelling to other towns or
cities for work. Attending wedding ceremonies or funerals are normally categorized under the
heading of visiting friends and relatives. Nevertheless, in countries, where these ceremonies
have a strong religious connotation, it may be more appropriate to classify them under the
headings of religion and pilgrimage. The wedding ceremonies, funerals or the other rituals
and celebration of festivals have a strong religious connotation, then when travel on a
religious basis is planned by the priests or religious leaders or other individuals primarily in
terms of these aspects, then it is regarded as religious tourism (Griffin, & Raj, 2017).
The concept of religious tourism can be highlighted by stating the example of the city
of Benaras. Benaras is the city that is located on the banks of river Ganga. The city has
around 4000 temples, 3000 heritage sites and 84 ghats. The individuals within the country
and even from foreign countries have generated this viewpoint that if they would bathe in the
Ganga, they would be able to repent against their sins. In other words, in order to obtain
forgiveness regarding their sins or any wrongdoings, they bathe in river Ganga. One of the
most common aspects of making visits to religious places is to pray, as all individuals believe
in the Almighty. In India, the religious places too have been built with artistic and creative
ways that they have attracted individuals.

Perspective of Religious Tourism in India

There are two different aspects of religious tourism in India, one is the faith of the
domestic tourist, who has a spiritual attachment to the deity or the destination with the
possession of religious beliefs and the other is the faith and the beliefs of the foreign tourists.
These are the individuals, who have different religious backgrounds and belong to different
regions or countries. For them, the destination and the religious practices have the dimension
of novelty. A spiritual experience that they obtain in India is different from their own, despite
the ethical values and norms being the same (Diverse Beliefs, 2012). In India, the possession
of religious beliefs, having faith in worshipping the deities and when one is dedicated
towards the achievement of the desired goals and objectives, then they plan religious tourism.
When individuals are planning religious tourism, they usually form a strong belief that all
their problems would get solved, they will be able to achieve their goals and promote well-
In India, there are numerous religious places all over the country that have interested
individuals from not only within the country, but also other parts of the world. Religious
tourism is divided into the following categories, pilgrimages, missionary travel, leisure
vacations, faith-based cruising, crusades, conventions and rallies, retreats, monastery visits,
guest stays, faith-based camps and religious tourist attractions (Diverse Beliefs, 2012). The
religious places are established in accordance to the religions within the country. India is a
secular country, where every individual has the right to practice the religion of his or her own
choice. The major religions of the country are Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Muslim,
Jainism, Buddhism, Parsi, and Zoroastrianism. The Hindus make visits to the temples, Sikhs
to the gurudwaras, Christians to the churches, Muslims to the mosques, Jains have their
temples, and Buddhists, Parsis and Zoroastrians make visits to religious places, based on their
faith. In some cases, individuals make visits to religious places on a daily basis, whereas in
others, they may plan religious tourism to nearby towns or cities or other countries, when
they possess strong religious perspectives and a desire.
Development of Religious Tourism in India
The development of religious tourism in India is understood with respect to the
following points: (Diverse Beliefs, 2012).
Developing Religious Tourism Circuits through a Hub and Spoke Model – One of the
first aspects in this case is the creation of nodules near the religious centres. There is already
a basic infrastructure present and planning of the trips should be required. For example,
Chennai in South India can be a node for excursions to Madurai, Thanjavur, Trichnapalli and
Pondicherry. Madurai is the home of the exquisite Meenakshi Temple, which is regarded as
the holiest temple in India by many people. As the invasion of crowd is already sizeable in
famous spots, a hub and spoke model will ensure the spread of tourists to all the nearby
Providing the Tourists with the Holistic Tourism Experience - Attracting the tourist
segments that are not attracted to the religious sites, needs a holistic package around the
religious spots. Tourists may not find it meaningful to come all the way just for a pilgrimage.
An innovative mechanism to modernize this development can be to market a religious
tourism destination as a substitute tourism destination. For example, Rishikesh is marketed as
both a religious and an adventure tourism destination. Normally, nearby the temples in cities,
there are market places, where individuals can shop and get engaged in other tasks.
Marketing religious tourism destinations needs special training as quite a major part
of the visitors are attracted to these destinations due to reasons like studying old culture,
evolution of practices and research - Only blind faith may not be the attraction of these sites.
These are also regarded as an enabler towards attracting the non-religious strata of the
population. The innovation in this case can be blending the ritualistic part of the religious
tours with informative, cultural and philosophical inputs. Traditional dances, music and
theatre related to the religious shrine will have to be built into the itinerary. Discourses on the
principles of the religious beliefs, workshops on yoga and Ayurveda practices can add
immense values to religious tourism.
Developing Integrated Infrastructure for Religious Tourism Development -
Infrastructure development requires that religious tourism circuits be identified and State
Government is required to streamline the development of the entire religious tourism circuit
existing within a given region or an area. In order to promote religious tourism, it is vital to
make available proper infrastructure and other facilities. In some of the religious places, there
is availability of different aspects, such as exhibitions, water sports, facilities, food courts,
restrooms etc. With the availability of these facilities, the individuals are primarily able to
take pleasure, generate awareness and meet their needs and requirements. When there are
provision of wheelchairs and other facilities, then the individuals, belonging to all age groups
and backgrounds are able to take pleasure in their visit. Hence, in religious places, there are
availability of facilities such as, wheelchairs. When individuals are unable to take their
mobile phones or other items, then facilities are provided to keep them safe, appropriate
pathways are made for the individuals to walk, especially if they have problems in climbing
stairs and so forth. Hence, development of these areas render an effective contribution in
promoting religious tourism.
Improved Focus upon the minimization of the Impact on the Environment and
Maintaining the Ecological Balance - Suitable checks and balances need to be put in place to
ensure that the negative influence of tourism on the environment is minimized. These checks
and balances can be in the form of fines. Religious tourism is prevalent to a given geography
and in this scenario training of the local population deriving its source of livelihood from
tourism in the field of environment management can be the model approach. In religious
places, the individuals are required to maintain their morality and ethics. They need to ensure
that they follow the rules and policies properly and maintain decorum. In most cases,
religious places are crowded, hence, the individuals need to ensure that they maintain their
moral traits, communicate with others in a polite manner, wait patiently for their turn and not
get involved into the act of pushing, as it may hurt someone.
Scrutiny of Religious Trusts - There needs to be a practice for reviewing the financial
status and regulation of religious trusts, as it will alleviate global concerns about money
laundering and the terrorist financing activities. Such a law will also pave the way to make
public names of the organizations that claim tax exemption to ensure superior transparency.
This is especially critical in a scenario, when some of India's religious trusts are among the
wealthiest in the world. It is necessary for the individuals to plan the finances appropriately
and primarily devote them towards the development of the religious organizations.
Developing Appropriate Institutional Framework to Stimulate the Growth of
Religious Tourism - The Department of Tourism of the respective state governments should
establish a separate board to formulate, organize and implement plans to provide the essential
facilities to the devotees and also ensure conservation of cultural atmosphere constant with
sentiments of visiting devotees. The religious aspect of tourism is a crucial enabler in
economic development of the local region. The nature of economic development relies
comprehensively on the institutional mechanisms of any region and the infrastructural
development undertaken to motivate the development of that particular region. Hence, in the
above scenario, it is important that suitable institutional mechanisms be put into place to
rationalize the effects taking place as a result of religious tourism.
Costs of Religious Tourism Products - The costs of religious tourism products needs
to be in accordance with the different sectors of the individuals visiting the sites. In India, the
prices paid are only for the tertiary services made available and not for the actual services of
the religious flavours, one intends to experience. Hence, efforts need to be taken to ensure
that the pricing of the tourism products is such that it reimburses for educational and cultural
services provided to those, who are interested. There are certain factors that need to be taken
care of, while determining the costs of these products. The majority of the pilgrims usually
belong to middle classes, therefore, the pricing of products needs to be done in accordance to
their budgets.
Limiting the Influence of Globalization on Places with an Endemic Flavour of Being a
Distinct Religious Tourism Attraction – The religious tourism is based upon the practices,
traditions, norms, values, beliefs and customs of a particular region, which needs to be
maintained. For instance, there are number of religious places that have been built by
historical rulers and they have some significance, which highlights crucial information
regarding the rulers. It is the first and the foremost duty of the individuals, including both
nationals and internationals to preserve the architecture, ethnicity and the values that are
associated with the religious places. It is only by preserving these values that one will be able
to maintain a genuine and an original religious tourism product.
Improving Linkages to Specific Religious Tourism Circuits to Promote Them -
Attracting tourists to rural and remote religious areas will require making improvements in
the connectivity to these regions in order to develop them into commercially viable tourism
sites. The Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India has developed a specialized
infrastructure for the development of Buddhist Tourism Circuit by making improvements in
the international airport near Gaya and provided a strong incentive to the development of
Buddhist Tourism Circuit. Hence, it can be stated that with the development of transportation
networks, the individuals are able to make improvements in their connections. These would
lead to promotion of the specific religious tourism circuits. The airport operates flights
directly from key SAARC countries such as China, Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka,
and so forth.
Characteristics of Religious Tourism
The religious tourism is often synonymous with cultural tourism, spiritual tourism,
pilgrimage tourism, and cultural heritage tourism. The reason being, in most cases, the
individuals get engaged into cultural activities, visit pilgrimages and implement spiritual
functions as a part of religious tourism. In most of the religious places, there are organization
of functions and events that are associated with cultural and spiritual values. In India,
religious tourism has rendered a significant contribution since ancient times. Since ancient
times, individuals have been engaged in making visits to religious places with the main
motive of fulfilling an objective or a desire. For instance, within the families, they preferred a
male child. Hence, to have a male child, they performed religious ceremonies within their
homes, as well as planned visits to the religious places. In some cases, when planning of
religious tourism took place, the individuals either made use of transportation facilities or
walked, if the religious place was located at a near distance. The characteristics of religious
tourism have been stated as follows:
To Perform Pilgrimage as an Act of Worship – It has been comprehensively
acknowledged that majority of the individuals carry out religious tourism to perform
pilgrimage as an act of worship. When individuals are planning religious tourism, they
possess the viewpoint that their wishes and desires would get fulfilled. The Muslims and the
Jews, who plan their trips to Mecca, usually have the motive of implementing the acts of
worship and salvation. In all the religions, there is a belief that all the individuals, who are
healthy and financially strong, should undertake the journey to the holy shrine at least once in
their lifetime (Chapter 2, n.d.).
To Express Gratitude, Confess Sin and to perform a Vow – All the individuals at
some point of their lives perform a sin or a wrongdoing, for which they strongly regret and
seek repentance. In order to seek repentance, the individuals make a visit to the holy places,
and worship the deities. There is a strong belief among the individuals that when they will
bathe in the river Ganga, which is regarded as the holy river, then they will be able to obtain
forgiveness for their sins and wrongdoings. The individuals also possess the belief that when
they will express gratitude, confess sin and perform a vow in the religious place, then they
will be able to seek forgiveness and promote their well-being.
To Achieve Social and Spiritual Salvation – Socially, making religious trips to the
societies is regarded as the mark of piety, which carries significance in almost all societies.
Among the Hindus, the visit to the holy places is regarded as one of the means of
accumulating religious merits, whereas among the Buddhists, it is considered as the first stop
for the enlightenment. Another aspect that is related to the characteristic is that among all the
religions, it is common to find out the older members performing pilgrimage as a stage of
retiring and as a mark of final departure from the social life (Chapter 2, n.d.).
To commemorate and celebrate certain Religious Events – In India, the celebration of
festivals are significant. All the religions have their own festivals, which they celebrate with
the worshipping of deities, making visits to religious places, enlightening their homes,
performing rituals within their homes and in some cases, they even plan religious tourism.
Diwali is the major festival of the Hindus. In some cases, the Hindus also plan religious tours
to other cities and towns. For instance, the city of Benaras has many temples, heritage sites
and ghats. During the Diwali celebrations, the ghats are enlightened and there are
performance of religious ceremonies.
To enhance ones Knowledge – There have been introduction of courses and programs
in educational institutions related to religion. Researchers in some cases, conduct research
studies as well as work on research projects related to the significance of religion,
significance of religious education, religious tourism and so forth. There are numerous areas
to explore and gain knowledge regarding religion. When individuals need to acquire in depth
knowledge and understanding concerning religion, then they plan religious tourism. When
planning of religious tourism is done, with the main purpose of enhancing one’s knowledge,
then individuals need to acquire knowledge regarding various areas; these include, history,
architecture, significance, and how this research study or the project would be beneficial to
the community as a whole.
Communication – Religious tourism involves a great deal of communication with the
individuals, within as well as outside the places of worship. The communication normally
takes places with the religious leaders as well as the individuals, who possess strong
viewpoints and perspectives regarding faith. There are some religious places within the
country, where individuals feel that all their needs and desires would get fulfilled. Hence, for
this purpose, they are involved into effective communication with others. When a person is
involved in religious practices, then he usually needs to achieve his desired goals and
objectives and promote well-being of himself and his family. Hence, for this purpose, he is
involved in communication with religious leaders and another aspect of communication is
enhancement of knowledge.
To Develop Special Interest in the Tourism Products – The individuals, who are
planning religious tourism, develop a special interest in the tourism products. These include,
the theme parks, interpretation centres, bird watching, spa, exhibitions, water sports, boat
rides and other recreational components (Shanthakumari, 2017). In some of the religious
places, individuals are able to find these products and they take pleasure in observing them.
When religious places promote leisure and recreational activities too, then the individuals are
able to not only enhance their knowledge in terms of religious places, but also enjoy watching
various other events, especially exhibitions, presenting various ethnic and artistic items.
To Generate Employment and Socio-economic Benefits – The religious tourism
generates employment opportunities for the individuals. The generation of employment
opportunities primarily takes place through capacity-building. Therefore, in this manner, the
development of tourism would act as a catalyst in building entrepreneurship, small business
enterprises and economy diversity. The individuals, who are interested in working in this
area, are provided with the opportunities to develop their skills and abilities, so that they are
able to render an imperative contribution in improving the socio-economic benefits. The
various categories of employments are, as priests, religious leaders, preachers and so forth.
The individuals are required to inculcate knowledge and information within themselves in
terms of religious beliefs, norms, values, traditions, principles and standards.
To Ensure Authenticity and Original Character of the Religious Place – There are
numerous religious places in India that have been established since ancient times. These
religious places have their significance. Hence, what is of utmost significance on the part of
the individuals is to ensure that their authenticity and original character is maintained. In
most cases, when the devotees make an entry into the religious place, then there is a security
check. They are required to keep their valuables outside and then are permitted to go inside to
offer their prayers. It is vital to ensure that their authenticity and original character is
maintained. The religious authorities ensure that proper rules and policies are formulated and
individuals follow them appropriately.
To ensure Peace and Harmony – In India, individuals normally possess the
viewpoints that religious tourism would be beneficial to them in the promotion of peace and
harmony and resolution of conflicts and disputes. In every household, among the family
members or in their employment, individuals do sometimes get involved into occurrence of
conflicts and disputes. This in most cases is unfavourable and disappointing. Therefore, in
order to promote peace, agreeable and congenial atmosphere and relationships among the
individuals, one plans religious tourism. Therefore, it can be stated that promoting of peace
and harmony is also one of the important characteristics of religious tourism.
Issues being experienced in the Development of Religious Tourism
Tourism acts as a fundamental enabler in facilitating development of basic
infrastructural facilities, produces income for the local community as well as the government,
balances regional development strategies through the authority effect, and nurtures peace and
socio-cultural harmony. The development of new activities within tourism does contribute in
diversifying tourism (Cevallos, 2016). The tourism development in any region needs to be
regulated. The regulation of religious tourism, primarily takes into consideration, the factors
that would lead to its appropriate structure and organization. In order to lead to effective
development of religious tourism, the prevention of the following is required
(Shanthakumari, 2017).
Infringement of Carrying Capacity - Most of the religious places within the country,
major or minor, experience short term, but intense seasons that modify the dynamic forces
and the changing aspects of the region for the rest of the year. The Char Dham Yatra in
Uttarakhand is one such example. It begins from May until November and puts a severe
pressure upon the transport infrastructure of the Garhwal region. When there is occurrence of
monsoons and a lot of road construction is still under progress, then the region also
experiences landslides. Hence, environmental issues, such as occurrence of landslides
imposes detrimental effects within the course of development of religious tourism
(Shanthakumari, 2017).
Waste Management – Waste management is regarded as a vital aspect that has
generated awareness among the individuals in terms of various areas, such as recycling, and it
has guided the individuals into the era of plastic. The absolute volume of travel in this niche
makes the figures overwhelming. While the trains still accomplish to engage a majority of the
travel volume. Quite a considerable number of major religious tourism sites within the
country are still only reachable by road or foot, or a combination of the two. For instance, in
the case of hilly regions, individuals make use of transportation facilities as well as walk
(Shanthakumari, 2017).
Pollution – Pollution is regarded as an important issue that has been experienced in
the development of religious tourism. There are four different types of pollution that imposes
impediments, these are air pollution, water pollution, land pollution and noise pollution. Air
pollution is when gases or smoke or other harmful substances pollute the air. The areas,
where there is air pollution, the individuals would encounter problems in its development.
Water pollution is the pollution of rivers, lakes and other water bodies. In India, the Ganga is
regarded as the sacred river and it is polluted on a large scale. The main causes of water
pollution is lack of support from the religious authorities, corruption, lack of technical
expertise, and poor environmental planning. Water pollution has imposed detrimental effects
primarily upon the individuals, who are dependent upon the water bodies. Land pollution is
caused due to dumping waste materials on the land. When the roads and the land areas are
dusty and polluted, then the individuals do experience problems in the development of
religious tourism. Noise pollution is caused due to loud noise, it may be from industries,
factories, construction sites, particularly, when individuals are making use of machines or
other equipment.
Monetizing Religion - There is a need to put forward principles and guidelines, which
administers and manages the financial status and regulation of religious trusts as it looks to
alleviate world-wide concerns in terms of money laundering and the activities that are related
to terrorist financing. Such a law will also pave the way to make the public names of the
organizations that entitle tax exemption to ensure better transparency. This is mainly essential
within the situation, when some of India's religious trusts are among the wealthiest in the
world product, intensity and region of travel. Hence, for the development of religious
tourism, it is vital to ensure that financial resources are adequately made use of to promote
well-being of the community and nation as a whole (Shanthakumari, 2017).

Religious tourism is regarded as planning visits to other towns, cities or countries for
religious purposes. The development of religious tourism takes place through developing
religious tourism circuits through a hub and spoke model, providing the tourists with the
holistic tourism experience. It is necessary to ensure that the environment is clean and well
maintained, nearby the religious places. Marketing religious tourism destinations needs
special training, as quite a major part of the visitors are attracted to these destinations due to
reasons like studying old culture, evolution of practices and research, developing integrated
infrastructure for religious tourism development, improved focus upon the minimization of
the impact on the environment and maintaining the ecological balance, scrutiny of religious
trusts, developing appropriate institutional framework to stimulate the growth of religious
tourism, costs of religious tourism products, limiting the influence of globalization on places
with an endemic flavour of being a distinct religious tourism attraction and improving
linkages to specific religious tourism circuits to promote them.

The characteristics of religious tourism are, to perform pilgrimage as an act of

worship, to express gratitude, confess sin and to perform a vow, to achieve social and
spiritual salvation, to commemorate and celebrate certain religious events, to enhance ones
knowledge, communication, to develop special interest in the tourism products, to generate
employment and socio-economic benefits, to ensure authenticity and original character of the
religious place and to ensure peace and harmony. The issues that are experienced in the
development of religious tourism are, infringement of carrying capacity, waste management,
pollution and monetizing religion. Hence, in order to promote religious tourism, it is vital for
the individuals to possess the essential norms, values and beliefs. They should inculcate the
traits of morality and ethics and dedicate wholeheartedly towards rendering service to the
humanity. Finally it can be stated that in India, individuals possess strong religious
viewpoints and perspectives and believe that religious tourism would enable them to provide
solutions to all their problems and promote their well-being.

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Shanthakumari, R. (2017). Challenges and Opportunities of Spiritual Tourism in India.

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