The Mirror Lifestyle Content

The religious segment

We have just bounced back from another Islamic holiday, and this is an appropriate time to discuss religious tourism. 

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But before that, let us use a moment to bless the memory of all the pilgrims (including Ghanaians) who lost their lives in Saudi Arabia due to heat waves. May the mercy of Allah, the Most Compassionate, be upon them.

Religious tourism is the segment whereby people travel individually or in groups for pilgrimage, missionary or fellowship purposes. Also known as faith tourism, it cuts across different religions and targets diverse destinations across the world.

Tourism and its associated practices interact with religious life and the institutions of religion in virtually every corner of the world. The relationship between religion and tourism, however, amounts to far more than places of religion that host tourist visitors.

Tourists and religious adherents often occupy the same spaces; consequently, they both play a role in attributing meanings to these spaces and in sustaining the sacred character of sites that host both casual and deeply committed visitors. In fact, the religious meanings that make a place sacred also make the site a meaningful destination for some tourists.

Religion and spirituality are among the most common motivations for travel. In terms of tourism significance, Eid-ul-Adha, which we just celebrated, is linked to the largest visit to a country annually, Saudi Arabia.

The Hajj receives millions and the only time in recent memory when the number dropped was during the Covid-19 version, which registered only about five million visitors.

The idea of the religious pilgrimage began almost with the dawn of humanity. From the earliest of times, human beings have travelled to holy sites. In today’s world, visits to important religious centres have become more than just a part of the cultural landscape.

Religious tourism is a major product with its own marketing dynamics. It has developed into a much larger and more segmented market. Today's religious travel includes multiple sub-niches that range from the luxury pilgrimage market to backpacking; and from religious institutional travel to volunteer-oriented experiences meant to help those in some form of need.

In Ghana, Exotic Adventure Tours, Adansi Tours, Destination Africa and Sunseekers Tours are the main operators offering a religious tourism package within the Ghana-Benin-Togo circuit.

When thinking of religious tourism, most communities tend to believe that this form of tourism does not apply to their locale, unless they are a major pilgrimage destination.

Religious tourism, however, is not only destination-oriented. It can also imply attracting large segments of the market. Religious tourism is not only a visitation to a particular holy destination, but may also be travel for a humanitarian cause, for reasons of friendship or even as a form of leisure.

Religious travel can be the primary reason for a trip but it can also be part of a trip and provide a destination with additional attractions. Most seriously, it can be a way-out strategy for some struggling economies. Take Egypt.

 This nation and its tourism industry have been going through tremendous hardship. However, Egyptian tourism officials have struggled to think out of the box. They settled on religious tourism and relaunched it as the economic pillow of the country.

To capitalise on Egypt's rich religious heritage, they launched a tourism programme based on following the steps of the Holy Family through Egypt. According to the Christian Bible, the Virgin Mary and Jesus stayed in Egypt for 42 months, visiting 20 different places.

According to the Egyptian Tourism Ministry, the programme will allow people to follow the Holy Family’s journey. They didn’t end there. Remember the story of Moses, Miriam and Pharaoh’s household? Egypt’s religious tourism drive is also focusing on biblical tours that follow the Moses route through the country.

Actually, Egypt could do more. It is one nation that has a distinctive religious identity as a place of refuge, at different points in history, sheltering faithful professing Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, overall, about 330 million pilgrims visit the world's key religious sites every year. A common mistake is assuming that a traveller must be of a particular religion to visit a specific religious site. If you are a non-Muslim, have you ever thought of visiting Mecca during the Hajj?

For example, although the Vatican holds special meaning for followers of the Catholic faith, millions of non-Catholics also visit the Vatican both for its spirituality and for its architectural beauty.

 The island of Curaçao is home to the Western Hemisphere's oldest synagogue and this synagogue is not only a national monument for Curaçao but also one of its major tourist attractions both for Jews and non-Jews alike.

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