News entry

Defining Spiritual Tourism

Spiritual Tourism is a concept coined recently from an academic standpoint, probably because the word spiritual is difficult to define and this label can include different types of supply.  Spiritually motivated tourists are an emerging niche (Aulet, Vidal-Casellas, & Crous, 2015). According to the UNTWO, it is estimated that about 330 millions of tourists visit every year the main religious places, being the spiritual motivation one of the most important among them (Lanquar, 2007). Bywater (1994) also mentioned that spiritual travel occupies an important segment of international tourism and has been growing steadily.

ATLAS defines spiritual tourism as “a religiously oriented form of tourism, which is emotionally satisfactory, includes visits to the architecturally significant temples, participate in retreats or follows pilgrimage routes in Europe” (Fernandes, McGettigan, & Edwards, 2013).

UNWTO associates this niche to ecumenical tourism, international exchange and spiritual and cultural interest travel; it is associated with craftsmanship, archaeology or education that can be practised as means of exchanging spiritual values and ensures a better understanding amongst each other. In this sense, in 2013 the UNWTO organised the first International Conference on Spiritual Tourism for Sustainable Development with a view towards enhancing the positive effects of spiritual tourism on the economic and social advancement of communities and societies. The conference drew particular attention to the following areas: a) understanding and safeguarding of spiritual, religious and cultural values and assets in the context of tourism, b) development, management, promotion, and interpretation of spiritual tourism products, and, c) socioeconomic inclusion and empowerment of local communities, in particular of vulnerable groups (UNWTO, 2013).

A spiritual tourist can be described as someone who visits a place out of his/her usual environment, with the intention of spiritual growth (in relation to God or the Divine), regardless of the main reason for travelling (Medhekar & Haq, 2012:214).

Spiritual tourism, as mentioned, is a broad concept that involves tangible and intangible products and services. The tangible items will include churches, mosques, temples, shrines and other centres with a spiritual focus. The intangible products and services will include organized spiritual events, seminars, festivals and gatherings with spiritual motives (Medhekar & Haq, 2012).

Based on this and on further research carried out trough academic literature review and different case studies, we can define three blocks or areas of action for the SPIRIT-Youth project:

a) Spiritual Tourism related to Cultural Tourism, both artistic and historical interests.

b) Spiritual Tourism related to Eco-tourism, Natural Spaces and Rural Landscapes

c) Spiritual Tourism Itself, that can be religious orientated or not, but related to intercultural and interreligious dialogue such meditation activities, pilgrimages routes …

A new market in this sense is growing, composed by new actors and new consumers. Indeed, one can notice the increasing number of places of "retirement" for those who are interested in spiritual vacations; and the offer of spirituality courses, personal development and alternative therapies is also growing. Holidays are becoming an important space for personal development, spirituality and creativity. As such, this type of tourism can be associated with creative tourism (self-expression), slow tourism, health and wellness activities and tourism in natural environments, all within a framework of sustainability. Therefore, it coincides with one of the main motivations of the young tourism market, which is learning from their travel.

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