The European market potential for religious tourism | CBI

The religious tourism market encompasses a wide range of tourism products, including pilgrimage travel, visits to holy sites, church tourism, travel for worship and religious missions. While a large proportion of European residents are Christians, halal tourism has increased in recent years, as has the demand for spiritual tourism. Important target markets in Europe are Germany, Great Britain and France. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the religious tourism market.

1. Product Description

Religious and spiritual tourism refers to travel for religious or spiritual purposes, such as B. Making a pilgrimage and visiting holy places. Also known as sacred or faith tourism, it is one of the oldest forms of tourism. Religious tourism is a niche within the cultural tourism segment, which includes four specialized niches: pilgrimage, visiting holy sites, church, mosque and temple tourism, and travel for mission or worship purposes.

Table 1: Religious tourism niche



Target group



A pilgrimage is a journey to a religious or spiritual place for the purpose of attaining religious or personal enlightenment. Excludes secular pilgrimages such as visiting nature as a source of spiritual inspiration.

Attracts mainly believers; most European pilgrims travel to the Middle East, whether they are Christian or Muslim

Pilgrimage to the Seven Saints of Marrakech

Visit holy sites

These are Travel for the purpose of visiting sacred sites. These include important sites from ancient religions, such as the burial grounds of Native Americans

Attracts mainly non-believers

A Tour to Machu Picchu

Church, Mosque and Temple Tourism

Tours aiming to visit monuments such as churches, temples and mosques

Attracts mainly infidels

Visit to mosques in Istanbul

Missionary or Worship Travel

This is travel for worship, performance of sacred rituals, propagation of the faith, participation in charitable causes, or volunteering from a religious perspective

Attracts mainly believers; closely related to pilgrimage tourism

meditation in a Buddhist monastery in Bangkok; Mercy Ships organizes trips for Christian volunteers in developing countries

Many tour operators combine several of these specialized niches. For example, Pilgrim Tours offers pilgrimage tours, of course, but also tours that include visiting holy sites and churches.

Travellers visiting religious sites can be divided into two main target groups: believers and non-believers. Both are important audiences, but require different approaches.


Believers seek spiritual support or affirm their religious beliefs. They often undertake a pilgrimage for religious reasons or for the purpose of worship. Examples of such trips are the Hajj to Mecca for Muslims, pilgrimages to Jerusalem or the Vatican for Christians, and trips to Bodh Gaya for Buddhists. Most religious tourists are very travel-motivated and therefore willing to spend more money than the average traveler. This inherent motivation also makes religious tourism less vulnerable to economic downturns. Believers like to travel in groups of like-minded people.


Infidels are drawn to holy sites, churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship, not for their religious value but for their cultural significance , architectural importance, aesthetic beauty or their historical value. Non-believers may be religious, but religion is not their primary purpose for travel. Some unbelievers who wish to better themselves by traveling to religious sites require some type of catering designed to provide a spiritual experience with the goal. Collete’s Faith Tours are an example of the implementation of this idea, offering trips to sites and places of religious importance and complementing the trip with a spiritual angle related to the place.

Off for most tour operators Developing countries, Europe is not -Believers offer a much larger market than believers as a very large proportion of European believers already travel to the Middle East.

Religious tourism can be considered a high quality form of tourism due to positive payback be respected for the culture and society of the destination. This form of tourism helps to raise awareness of people’s common heritage, which contributes to its preservation, in addition to the financial gains that can eventually be reinvested in the preservation of local culture and religious heritage. Religious tourism is also a great source for community empowerment and development. Tourists’ interest in local values ​​and communities helps develop a sense of self-determination and pride in the local community, its culture and history.Of course, religious tourism also contributes to regional economic growth, employment and a better quality of life.

Figure 1: Varanasi, a holy city in India that attracts many believers and non-believers

Source: TourmyIndia

Religious sites and places of worship are important gathering places for different types of visitors and hosts. Tourism breaks down cultural and religious barriers and builds bridges between people and communities. This leads to better intercultural understanding, which improves social cohesion. Tourism companies should recognize and understand possible conflicting ideologies, underlying deeper meanings and forms of interaction with religious sites that may conflict with the socio-economic and political norms of the parties concerned.

To sustain religious tourism , two criteria must be met:

  • Conservation of religious sites or monuments
  • Respect for local traditions and religious practices

The The primary reason for travel may be religious, but visiting a religious site or place of worship may just be part of another trip or provide additional attractions for a particular destination. The level of religious tourism can be anything from small scale, visiting specific places of worship (temple, altars, etc.), to medium scale, like visiting Mecca, Jerusalem or the Vatican, and even large scale, like visiting Israel a whole.

2. What makes Europe an interesting market for religious tourism?

The global religious tourism market is one of the largest tourism segments. In 2018, an estimated one-third of the 1.4 billion international tourists traveled for religious reasons. This means that around 450 million trips abroad were made for religious purposes. The popularity of faith-based tourism cannot be underestimated, as even 25% of travelers are interested in this type of tourism.

For many countries, religious tourism around its historical and religious heritage is an important part their country’s entire tourism market. Saudi Arabia, for example, received 13 million religious tourists in 2019 and is expected to more than double that number to 30 million by 2030. In the state of Gujarat in India, almost 36% of all tourist visits are spiritual tourists. The religious tourism market in Brazil is one of the largest tourism segments in the country and is estimated at 14 billion euros generated by 20 million trips.

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to affect all tourism segments. All markets are expected to decline as virtually all attractions and accommodation have had to close, at least temporarily. The overall European outbound tourism market is expected to shrink by 39% in 2020 and then return to the same levels as 2019 in 2021. Of course, these estimates are highly dependent on the duration and impact of the pandemic.

In an example of how the pandemic is affecting religious tourism, this segment is ranked as the second largest source of revenue in Iraq’s southern governorates specified oil. Religious tourism typically generates billions of dollars each year and creates thousands of jobs in Iraq, but in the city of Najaf, which used to host about 5,000 visitors a day, 300 out of 350 hotels are closed. The effects of the COVID-19 crisis are already being felt in Mexico, where millions of religious travelers are normally expected, but most religious sites have been empty this year.

3. Which European countries offer the most opportunities for religious tourism?

Although Christianity is the most widespread religion in Europe, it is divided into different branches and churches, and these also differ in European countries. Table 2 shows demographic data on religion in the main European source markets for religious tourism: Germany, UK, France, Italy, Spain and Netherlands. Most of these source markets provide opportunities for Christian pilgrimage and worship travel, as well as visiting holy sites and tourism to places of worship for non-believers.

Table 2: Percentage of population per religious movement

Religious movement

(according to own information)



United Kingdom













Orthodox Christians
















Other Christians



16 %






Private home seekers (28%) Via someone I know (26%) At the travel agency counter (27%) Online commercial services – Private home seekers (23%)

Top reasons for returning to the travel destination

Natural features such as landscape, weather conditions (44%) Quality of accommodation (33%) Cultural and historical sights (13%)

Main sources of information for decision-

Recommendations from friends, colleagues and relatives (44%) Personal experience (39%)

Region of residence

Rural area or village (41%) Small or medium-sized City (40%) Large town or city (18%)

Source: EU, 2016

United Kingdom

The potential foreign market for religious tourism in the United Kingdom is also significant. With a population of 66 million and a gross domestic product of €2.3 trillion, the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world and the second largest in Europe. With a GDP per capita of 44,000 euros a year, the British have less money to spend than the Germans. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UK GDP is expected to contract by 6.5% in 2020 and grow by 4.7% in 2021. The UK officially left the European Union on February 1, 2020 (Brexit), but the country will remain in the EU common market under the same EU rules for a transitional period until December 31, 2020. It is currently unclear what will happen after that as the EU and UK negotiate post-Brexit terms.

Although the UK economy is smaller than Germany’s, British travelers prefer destinations in developing countries more than German travelers. British travelers find discovering new cultures very important, with 52% finding exploring new cultures an interesting aspect of their holiday, which is a key indicator of interest in religious tourism. British travelers spend an average of €2,100 on their summer holiday. Turkey (1.6 million trips), Thailand (1.0 million trips) and India (1 million trips) are the top destinations in developing countries for British travelers, who typically only speak English and no other foreign language.

The UK is one of the main sources of religious tourism in Uttarakhand, India.

Table 5: Key statistics on British travelers’ attitudes towards tourism

Most popular type of accommodation

For trips of 13 nights or more: Paid commercial accommodation, such as a hotel, e.gThe COVID-19 pandemic is expected to shrink Italy’s GDP by 9.1% in 2020, but it will then grow again to 4.8% in 2021. Of the 60 million Italians, an overwhelming 85% are Christians. Italy’s outbound tourism market is worth €30 billion annually. Italian travelers prefer culture to nature and have a relatively high penchant for discovering new cultures. According to Europ Assistance, 34% of Italian travelers see it as an interesting holiday activity, suggesting that Italians are also interested in religious tourism, such as religious tourism. B. visiting religious sites, churches and other places of worship. Italian travelers often don’t plan their trips too far in advance.


Spain itself has some of the most popular religious sites and locations, such as Santiago de Compostela. Religious tourism is very popular in Spain, but the country also has a large foreign market worth €24 billion. Spain’s population of around 47 million makes it a large market to focus on when entering the European market. The country’s GDP per capita is €31,000. The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to shrink Spain’s GDP by 8% in 2020, but then grow by 4.3% in 2021. Spaniards prefer culture over nature: 56% of Spanish tourists see discovering new cultures as an important aspect of their holiday, suggesting they may also be interested in religious tourism.


The Netherlands has only 17 million inhabitants but a relatively high GDP of €870 billion, which makes €50,000 per capita, the seventh largest in Europe. Dutch workers receive mandatory holiday pay of at least 8% of their annual salary, suggesting that Dutch travelers have more disposable income for travel. The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to shrink Dutch GDP by 7.5% in 2020 and grow by 3% in 2021.

4. What trends are offering opportunities in the European religious tourism market?

Media Impact on Southeast Asia Destinations

Influenced by mass media, including Hollywood movies, blogs, books, social media, but also by tourist representations of certain people and places, Southeast Asia has seen an increase in the number of spiritual tourists. Combined with the positive effects of spiritual practices, these travelers seek activities that include meditation, yoga, and other spiritual pursuits. They travel to learn and practice meditation such as mindfulness, relaxation, self-awareness and self-growth. Improvements in tourism infrastructure have increased access to religious sites and increased popularity, but strategic marketing and site development has helped increase attendance.

Media Impact Example 1: Eat, Pray, Love

In 2010, the popular film “Eat, Pray, Love” was released. This film is about a woman searching for the meaning of life. She visits Italy to discover food, India to discover prayer and Bali to discover love. The film stimulated and transformed tourism to these destinations as more tourists travel for worship.

Figure 2: A poster of the film Eat, Pray, Love

Source: Flickr

The Quest for Authenticity

The quest for authenticity is an emerging trend among travelers in search of more authentic experiences, such as going to Example of immersion in the spiritual and cultural traditions associated with specific religions and pilgrimage sites. The immersion often involves participation in or connection with the local community.

An example of this is a visit to the Dani tribe in Indonesia combined with other religious sites. Although many Dani today are Christians, they still have many rituals and ceremonies derived from their ancient animist gods. Note that uniqueness is valued by European travelers, but it also comes with risks. For example, a European tour operator offered tours to the Dani tribe, where visitors could participate in the Dani religious pig festival, including slicing up a pig and eating its raw meat, which might be too far for European tourists.

Halal tourism on the rise

Islam is the fastest growing religious group in the world. Muslims are expected to account for up to 25% of the world’s population by 2030, including a growing and thriving middle class with increasing spending power. It is important for tourism companies to comply with certain religious requirements, such as These include preparing food according to halal rules, adjusting meal times during Ramadan, providing worship facilities, providing separate swimming pools for men and women, and providing entertainment for Muslims. Halal tourists often travel with their families and stay around 17 days.

In search of the unusual

A growing group of people are currently looking for more unusual vacations and more variety in their travels .Travelers are now not only better informed, but over-informed by the internet and social media, leaving this new group of travelers looking for something different than the usual tourist destinations they are familiar with. What they are looking for is to see and experience something that they and the rest of the world have not yet done.

In the context of religious tourism, which used to be associated with a lot of sightseeing, e.g. B. a walk through Jerusalem or when visiting religious archaeological sites, unusual experiences have become much more important. One such example is a trip to Suriname to meet people from different religious backgrounds living together.

This study was conducted on behalf of CBI by Molgo and ETFI.

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Content Creator Zaid Butt joined Silsala-e-Azeemia in 2004 as student of spirituality. Mr. Zahid Butt is an IT professional, his expertise include “Web/Graphic Designer, GUI, Visualizer and Web Developer” PH: +92-3217244554

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