Religious Tourism - India's Very Unique Selling Proposition


By

Sonia Goel
Senior Lecturer (Marketing and Economics)
Khandelwal College of Management & Technology
Bareilly
 


Introduction-

The international tourism market is no longer about "one shoe fitting all." It is divided into specialized segments ranging from shopping to adventure sports and from animal safaris to nightlife. Each region of the world is seeking to exploit its strengths. India's competitive advantage lies in the area of religious tourism because its religious heritage and culture is unique.

Religious tourism has a big future in India. India is richly endowed with ancient temples and religious festivals. Religions originating in India, be it Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism or Buddhism, have a vibrant culture and spiritual philosophy. Together, they present a viable, alternative way of life as compared to the materialism and confrontation prevalent in the West.

There is a revival of religious attitudes not only in India but the world over. The second and third generations of the Indian Diaspora are actively seeking out their roots in religion.

The religions of Indian origin are also proving to be an attraction to many persons of non-Indian origin because these religions advocate a pacifist and inclusive approach to life. This is evident from the posts that can be read on the numerous blog sites devoted to religion. And there can be no better way to introduce these aspirants to Indian religions than to entice them to come to India and undertake and experience religious tourism themselves.

Temples and Festivals

Within its distinct segment, religious tourism in India offers a variety to attract different kinds of tourists. In time, it has the potential to become a commercially viable endeavour. To begin with, there are pilgrimages to several world-renowned temples and shrines, such as Tirupati, Vaishno Devi and Sabarimala. For those seeking more enduring pilgrimages, there are the Char Dhams (four holy sites) at the four corners of the country and the twelve Jyotirlingas scattered across the land.

But traveling to temples and seeking the blessings of the gods is only one aspect of religious tourism and an aspect that may not interest many. Foreigners to India are fascinated by the gaiety and pomp that marks religious festivals. These can also be made nodal points for promoting religious tourism in India. Some fairs like the Kumbh at Haridwar and Pushkar camel fair already draw significant tourists, but much more can be done.

Durga Puja in Kolkata is a spectacle beyond compare. Myriad statues of Kali with her blood soaked tongue and garland of skulls in every nook and corner of the city will enthuse those not accustomed to such crowds. The Rama Lila in the hinterland of Uttar Pradesh is another experience that cannot be had anywhere in the world. The one at Ramnagar goes back two centuries without a break and can be showcased as a historical and social event as well.

Creation of Infrastructure and a Holistic Approach

While, in principle, religious tourism in India has immense potential to evolve as a niche segment, there are hurdles to be overcome. The first hurdle is the poor tourism infrastructure in general, and perhaps the even poorer infrastructure of religious centers. Adequate facilities for lodging, boarding and travel will have to be created.

What needs to be done is to create nodes near religious centers, where there is already a basic infrastructure present and plan day trips from there. 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.

The second aspect that will need to be taken care of will be to provide the tourists with a holistic religious experience. Tourists may not find it worthwhile to come all the way just for a pilgrimage.

A packaged trip that offers the different hues of religious tourism will have to be prepared. This would require blending the ritualistic part of the religious tours with informative, cultural and philosophical inputs.

Information on the mythological significance of the places of pilgrimage will need to be provided in advance so that tourists are better prepared. Traditional dances, music and theatre related to the religious shrine will have to be built into the itinerary. Discourses on the essence of the religious beliefs, workshops on yoga and ayurvedic practices can add immense value to religious tourism.

Religious tourism in India can provide an experience that cannot be had anywhere in the world. But for it to fructify, the seeds will have to be sown and the saplings will have to be nurtured.
 


Sonia Goel
Senior Lecturer (Marketing and Economics)
Khandelwal College of Management & Technology
Bareilly
 

Source: E-mail August 17, 2010

          

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