Do you know the top destinations for religious pilgrims? Amadeus does, and the technology company offers a top ten list that reminds travel sellers of the importance of the market.
An estimated 300 million religious travelers have embraced the value of visiting spiritually meaningful destinations, and the ancient practice of pilgrimage continues to be as popular as ever, Amadeus says.
Citing a religious tourism study reported by ASTA, Amadeus notes that 4.5 million Americans have traveled on a faith-based or religious vacation, and by the end of this year, an additional 9.7 million will have done so.
In addition, the study revealed that religious pilgrims:
• Plan an encore: Four out of five past religious travelers intend to repeat the experience.
• Go in groups: 73 percent opt for a guided tour group.
• Value variety: 60 percent want a "balance" of faith-based and traditional touring activities.
With interest in religious travel gaining momentum, Amadeus suggests agents consider these 10 destinations as a starting place to send clients.
The Amadeus list includes:
1. Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
Israel and the Holy Land top the list for Christians – both Catholics and Protestants. The church stands on the grounds of Golgotha, the place where Christians believe Jesus was crucified. Admission is free. It’s open year-round.
2. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Italy
One of the holiest sites in Catholicism, the basilica has great historical and artistic importance because Michelangelo and renowned artists and architects designed and painted it. Admission is free, it is open to the public – and worshipers must cover their shoulders and knees.
3. Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Islam’s most sacred city, Mecca was designated by the prophet Muhammad as the place where all Muslims should point themselves during daily prayers. While only Muslims may enter Mecca, the country of Saudi Arabia is filled with rich history, tradition and culture.
4. Western Wall, Jerusalem
Also known as the Wailing Wall, this Jewish holy site is located in the Old City of Jerusalem. All religions are welcome; men must cover their heads, women their knees and shoulders, and men and women pray separately. The most popular (and crowded) times to visit are Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
5. Golden Temple, Amritsar, India
The holiest shrine in Sikhism, this temple actively welcomes spiritual worshipers and prayer warriors. Open to all faiths, visitors must cover their heads and remove their shoes.
6. Lumbini, Nepal
Birthplace of Buddhism’s founder, Gautama Buddha, the temple features a sacred pool. Nepal is landlocked in the Himalayas between China and India, and getting to the temple is for die-hard pilgrims willing to take on the challenge. All visitors to Nepal mustn’t miss the world’s “mother of all mountains,” Mount Everest.
7. Varanasi, India
This city on the Ganges River is a holy site for Hinduism, where worshipers engage in waterfront rituals such as bathing, meditating, fire prayers and cremations.
8. Baha’i House of Worship, Delhi, India
Shaped like a lotus flower, the temple features four daily prayer sessions representing a plethora of world religions. All are welcome. Admission is free; it’s open daily except for Mondays.
9. Ise Shrine, Ise, Japan
This Shinto shrine is a collection of many sites located throughout the city of Ise. The inner shrine contains the Sacred Mirror, a national treasure and religious artifact. In some shrines, only Shintos are allowed to enter.
10. Salt Lake Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah
This grand temple is located on a 10,000-acre complex in Salt Lake City, and serves as the headquarters for the Mormon religion. While temple visitors must be Mormon, the gardens and visitor centers are culturally and architecturally fascinating for pilgrims of all faiths.
For today’s travel planners religious pilgrimages offer lucrative sales potential, Amadeus says.