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Research Paper: Papal Visits Drive Religious Tourism
There are diverse types of tourism that has been observed to gain popularity in contemporary times. The religious and pilgrim tourism is one of the types of tourism that have consistently exhibited increasing trends in popularity . As revealed, “the global religious travel market is a nearly $20 billion-per-year industry, with trips of the spirit in a strong period of ascendancy”. Aside from travelling to mystical places with religious underpinnings, one has observed that visits of popular religious personalities, like the Pope, could stir tourist attractions to the scheduled destination. In Pope Francis’ recent visit to the Philippines, news reports disclosed that the mass in Manila drew close to seven (7) million people, deemed to be the largest in papal events . In this regard, one contends that papal visits to foreign countries provide significant impetus for driving religious tourism, which paves the way for economic growth.
Religious and Pilgrimage Tourism
Religious tourism was described as a type or classification of tourism that is predominantly faith-driven . Concurrently, pilgrimage tourism is defined as “a collection of travel of representatives of various faiths a pilgrimage purposes; (where) pilgrimage (means) the desire of believers to worship the holy places” . According to Raj & Morpeth (2007), “religious tourism refers not only to the form of tourism with strong or single-minded religious motivation of pilgrimage, but also to those non-pilgrimage tourists, such as travelling to the religious sites for sightseeing, cultivation, and recreation” (p. 99). The authors affirmed their definition of religious tourism as “a special tourist activity oriented by religious culture, with the help of eco-cultural environment; and it refers to such special tourist activities such as worshipping, research, sightseeing, and culture carried out by religious followers and lay tourists” .
The Pew Research Center published relevant statistics that present religious diversity on a global scale. As shown in Figure 1, the size of major religious groups as of 2010 revealed that 31.5% are Christians and seconded by Muslims at 23.2% .
Figure 1: Size of Major Religious Groups, 2010
Source: Pew Research Center, 2014
“2,173,180,000 Christians (31% of world population), of which 50% are Catholic, 37%
Protestant, 12% Orthodox, and 1% other.
1,598,510,000 Muslims (23%), of which 87-90% are Sunnis, 10-13% Shia.
1,126,500,000 No Religion affiliation (16%): atheists, agnostics and people who do not identify with any particular religion. One-in-five people (20%) in the United States are religiously unaffiliated.
1,033,080,000 Hindus (15%), the overwhelming majority (94%) of which live in India.
487,540,000 Buddhists (7%), of which half live in China.
405,120,000 Folk Religionists (6%): faiths that are closely associated with a particular group of people, ethnicity or tribe.
58,110,000 Other Religions (1%): Baha’i faith, Taoism, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Tenrikyo, Wicca, Zoroastrianism and many others.
13,850,000 Jews (0.2%), four-fifths of which live in two countries: United States (41%) and Israel (41%)” .
These figures are relevant since, from the world population of 6.9 billion, it could be deduced that as much as 6.4 billion people have religious affiliations which represent a total of 93.5% of the world population. As such, from the tourism industry’s perspective, the composition could be considered relevant drivers of religious and pilgrimage tourism where appropriate strategies could be designed to attract these clientele.
Moreover, religious tourism was acknowledged as a big and lucrative business . As revealed, “world religious travel is one of the fastest growing segments in travel today. Religious travel is estimated at a value of USD 18 billion and 300 million travelers strong” .
Pope Visits to Recognize and Acknowledge Pilgrim Sites
In the book written by Stausberg (2011) examined the influence of religion in tourism, and vise versa. Likewise, the ethereal appeal of sacred places were noted to be prompting strategies to encourage tourism in specifically identified places. As acknowledged, “some places are more special (perhaps sacred) than others, and this is the core of the intimate relationship between human beings, place and travel, and religion” (Norman & Cusack: Description, 2015, par. 1). However, Tarlow (2010) emphasized that in some instances, sacred places or religious sites do not necessarily monopolize the rationale for religious tourism. As acknowledged, “while a recent study reported by the Associate Press found that Israel was the number one preference of faith-based travellers followed by Italy and then England, faith-based tourism does not have to be built around a pilgrimage site” (p. 1).
The current study asserts that papal visits to foreign countries provide significant impetus for driving religious tourism, which paves the way for economic growth. One of the most documented pope exhibiting the greatest apostolic travels, who eventually gained the reputation of “the most widely travelled pope in history”, is Pope John Paul II . Pope John Paul II was reported to have visited Jordan in 2000 and Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2009.
“The visit helped Jordanian tourism officials to promote religious or so-called faith tourism and sharpen Jordan’s image as the “Guardian of the Holy Places”. Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) appropriated the Pope as the symbol for representing the Holy Land, reinforcing Jordan’s status as an authentic part of the Holy Land. By the time Pope John Paul II visited Jordan in 2000, he recognized five holy sites as pilgrimage places and Jordan had been accepted as a part of the ‘Holy Land’” .
Moreover, Pope Francis was also reported to have visited Jordan in 2014 and the visit was deemd to be an important contributor to boosting tourism. As noted,
“The Baptism Site reportedly increased in visitors by 13.7 percent from January to May this year, in comparison to the same period last year. This is likely to continue to see even further growth after the visit of Pope Francis. Overall, there has been an 8.3 percent increase of in tourists visiting the top five Christian religious sites in Jordan for the first quarter of 2014, verses the same period in 2013” .
The perceived rationale for the boost in religious tourism in sites visited by Popes would be the affirmation and acknowledgement that indeed, these sites have historical religious values. Especially for Christians who make as much as 31% of the world population, affirming sacred sites by the Supreme Pontiff is a form of confirmation that the promoted sites are worth visiting. Therefore, aside from the sites that were identified to have a direct relationship on the life of Jesus Christ, other sites that were mentioned in the Holy Bible have been announced as significant places for religious and pilgrim tourism. As such, local tourism agencies or organizations with private accommodations within these areas design marketing strategies to attract tourists and to boost productivity and financial success.
Pope Visits Attracting Significant Numbers of Visitors
Concurrently, ever since Pope Francis has been elected as the Supreme Pontiff, news around the world attested to his charismatic appeal for driving people to places where he plans to visit. In an article entitled “Argentine Jesuit as pope spurs mission tourism in Brazil”, the report specifically stipulated that “the election of Argentine Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope has revitalized tourists' interest in the ruins of Jesuit missions in the borderlands between Argentina and Brazil” (EFE, 2015, par. 1). In addition, in the anticipated visit of Pope Francis to Washington, DC in September of 2015, Niedt & Cooper (2015) indicated that there are prospects for increasing regional tourism based on the experience with Pope Benedict’s visit in 2008. As averred, the Pope’s visit could potentially increase booking in hotels in the area and invite people from faraway states to get a glimpse of the Pope.
Another remarkable evidence of Pope Francis’ charismatic appeal in attracting people, local community members, visitors, and tourists in places that he visited is his apostolic journey to the Philippines. News reports disclosed that a Sunday mass at Rizal Park attracted as much as six (6) million people; an increase of 1 million from attendees recorded to have attended a similar mass at the same venue when Pope John Paul II visited the country in 1995 . The immense appeal affirmed the Pope’s innate ability to attract people, both Christians and non-Christians alike, to see him and experience the spiritual aura. The impact of the visit, aside from spurring religious tourism, included advocating for social and political change. As emphasized, “the immense significance of his days-long visit to the Philippines had to do with his three-pronged emphasis on ending systemic corruption and social injustice; tackling climate change; and exercising responsible parenthood” . It was therefore commendable, on the part of the Pope, to have acknowledged awareness of current events that could affect continued adherence of Catholic doctrines by the faithful. In addition, the Philippines has been known to be the largest Catholic nation in Asia with about 130 million Catholics . The Pope, in his messages in one of the masses, emphasized the importance of being promoters of the Catholic faith. Pope Francis affirmed that
“The Apostle tells us that because God chose us, we have been richly blessed! God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Eph 1:3). These words have a special resonance in the Philippines, for it is the foremost Catholic country in Asia; this is itself a special gift of God, a special blessing. But it is also a vocation. Filipinos are called to be outstanding missionaries of the faith in Asia” .
The message confirmed that Pope Francis indeed has an ‘asian stratetgy’ . Knowing that the Philippines is the forefront of the Catholic religion in Asia would signficantly assist in promulgating the faith through his charismatic appeal. The Pope also used this strategy to call for social and political change; which are deemed crucial and necessary in promulgating religious tourism .
The Pope is acknowledged as the Supreme Leader of the Christian faith, the dominant world religion. Therefore, depending on the leadership skills, style, and personality traits, the Pope become an effective medium to boost religious tourism. As revealed from the studies, past visits by the recent popes in the last decades have attested and affirmed that these leaders have immense charismatic appeal. As such, based on the authority and power vested by the position as the leader of the Catholic Church, the Popes possess, exhibit, and manifest bases of power that enable influencing millions of devotees to achieve specifically identiifed goals – according to the doctrimes and teaching of the Catholic religion.
Pope Visits to Assist in Economic Growth
In another light, the case study presented by Pourtaheri, Rahmani, & Ahmadi (2012), the authors explored the impact of religious tourism on rural and economic development. The findings confirmed that religious tourism facilitates economic growth in rural areas where religious and sacred sites attract tourists. As emphasized, “tourism is an option for enhancing rural lifestyles and for inducing positive changes in the distribution of income in underprivileged regions” . In addition, local folks find sources of livelihood in sacred sites pegged as religious travel destinates and enable job creation. Likewise, recognition of the local and national government of the relevance of preserving and maintaining the religious sites in pristine condition ensure that funds are continually earmarked for economic progress and development.
The aspect of economic growth is also seen to be evident in places where the Pope has signified his intentions to visit . In the Philippines, preparations were reported to have been made months prior to his visit in terms of channeling funds for road repairs, building of infrastructure, and setting up accommodations . As disclosed, “few of the preparations made include restoration of the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport in Tacloban City, which was ruined by super typhoon Yolanda in November 2013 and Typhoon Ruby earlier in December of this year” . Other important preparations include security checks and protocols needed and anticipated during the Papal visits. These preparations enable the facilitation of economic growth through infrastructure projects and developments in destination places. Moreover, based on experience, these areas provided brisk opportunities for small local businesses to provide products and services which are anticipated to be needed by the people attending the papal visits.
The case studies affirmed that papal visits have immense attracting power to stir religious tourism and eventually enable economic progress. The current research initially provided definitions of religious and pilgrimage tourism, as relevant in understanding the concept. In addition, statistics in world population by religion was crucial to identify the target market for religious tourism. From the statistics, it was revealed that the Christian faith composed the largest segment at 31% of world population; making this form of tourism a lucrative prospect. Moreover, since the leader of the Catholic faith is the Supreme Pontiff, it was a natural repercussion that using his leadership style and skills, the Pope applied strategies that spurred tourist visits to places he has visited.
The research and case studies validate the veracity of one’s contentions and supports the thesis statement effectively. From experiences of nations where past and the current Supreme Pontiff visited, robust activities in terms of preparations for the visit, in conjunction with the charismatic appeal of the Popes, contribute to increased attendance in papal events. Statistics provided by local and national tourist agencies affirm that the number of visits increased to the sacred places affirmed by the Popes, as well as in countries that were promoted through the papal visits. Moreover, as soon as intended and planned visits have been scheduled by the Vatican, reports have disclosed immense preparations being made in anticipation of the papal visits. The planning and preparation phase required use of government funds for various infrastructure and repair projects to ensure that the destinations are in pristine and secure conditions. As such, the places visited by the popes are retained as religious and pilgrim attractions that continue to generate tourist visits around the world.
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