Religious tourism, refers to as faith tourism, is a type of tourism, where people travel individually or in groups for pilgrimage, missionary, or leisure (fellowship) purposes.
Religious tourism usually involves followers of particular faiths visiting locations that some people regard as holy sites.
In many instances, religious tourists journey to these sites on the anniversaries of events that are of importance to followers of specific religions.
Traditionally, those involved in religious tourism were referred to as pilgrims but in modern times that term that is not as widely used since many non-religious individuals also embark on trips to holy sites because many of these sites are of cultural or historical as well as religious interest.
Some travel companies arrange all inclusive trips to temples, churches, sites where religious figures were reportedly martyred, and various other locations that hold some kind of historical or mythical significance.
These trips often take the form of guided tours, sometimes visiting a number of sites in one day or during one tour. Many sites in Israel are of significance to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Many sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and elsewhere are linked to historical figures or events associated with just one of these three major religions.
Many travel firms also offer package tours to locations in India that are of importance to Buddhists and Hindus, while other tour companies cater to followers of other religions.
Religious communities located throughout the world sometimes arrange trips to holy sites.
These groups often organize events to raise funds to cover the cost of the trip so that members who lack the means to cover their own costs are able to go on the trip.
In some instances, religious groups contact other members of the faith who live close to the holy sites and arrange for travelers to stay in monasteries or other properties that are operated by members of the religious faith.
While religious tourism often takes the form of lengthy group trips, in other instances it can take the form of a day trip or a brief visit to a holy site.
There are many locations throughout Europe, Africa, Central and South America that are regarded as holy by some Christians because people claim to have seen visions of religious figures at these sites.
During religious holidays and celebrations, many people from the surrounding areas visit these sites and religious ceremonies are held to mark particular occasions.
Similarly, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and believers in other faiths often embark on brief pilgrimages to holy sites in Saudi Arabia, India or other parts of Asia. Therefore, religious tourism can involve both formal travel arrangements or impromptu trips to nearby sites.
Lungile Tshuma, Business correspondent
RELIGIOUS groups should constantly hold conferences across the country as religious tourism has proved to be essential in growing the economy through steering up both domestic tourism and increased arrivals, an official has said.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) head of corporate affairs Mr Sugar Chagonda said tourism players were elated by the pace at which religious tourism is growing in the country. His remarks comes hard on the heels of media reports that the recently held PHD Ministries conference led by Walter Magaya held in Harare attracted tens of thousands of people, some from outside the capital city and from neighbouring countries. Some of the people who attended the conference came from countries like South Africa, Botswana and also as far as Tanzania, a development Mr Chagonda said “steers up economic activity.”
United Family International Church leader Prophet Emmanuel Makandiwa in August also held the “Judgment Night 3” at the National Sports Stadium that was estimated to have attracted more than 100 000 congregants from around the country and abroad.
“Religious tourism is good as the country experiences large volumes of people visiting. People coming from around the globe do come into the country and some of these people later visit some of the tourism sites of their choice. Through these religious conferences domestic tourism is also steered up as people across the country do come and converge on a particular city and economic activity, that is, an increase in the circulation money in that particular place will be improved,” said Mr Chagonda.
“If we look at the recently held church conference by Prophet Walter Magaya, hundreds of people from neibhouring countries like South Africa, Botswana and Tanzania and the number of arrivals also means that it was increased. If you also recall that last year thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses members came to Harare from all African countries and hotels were fully booked and as a result tourism was steered up and this is the reason why we encourage religious tourism.”
Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Eng Walter Mzembi has been on the fore front advocating for an increase in church conventions. Recently, he said religious tourism presented a major opportunity for Zimbabwe as it accounts for a significant portion of global arrivals.
The minister said, for example, 60 percent of tourist arrivals into Nigeria visit prophet T B Joshua’s Synagogue Church Of All Nations. International statistics also show that out of the five billion domestic arrivals, people moving within their borders, between 45-50 percent are for religious tourism.
Through religious tourism, Mr Chagonda said the sector’s aim of growing the country’s annual tourism earning from $1 billion as of December to $5 billion in 2020 is becoming more attainable. He also encouraged other church organisations which command a large following and has branches outside the country to host conventions in the country.
“As the association we are very certain that religious tourism is going to help us achieve a lot of goals. Tourism has the potential to contribute more than any other sector to the country’s fiscus.
“While as the tourism sector we have challenges that we are facing just like some industries, we hope that our efforts in promoting religious tourism is going to bear fruit as we have already seen that religious tourism steers economic activity through improved domestic tourism and an increase in arrivals in the country,” he said .
“We call upon churches with branches abroad to host conferences in the country and as the association we will help them organise and facilitate some of the issues that might need our attention.”