Religious Tourism: Experiencing Faith and Different Cultures

The birthplace of three great religions, Jerusalem, receives millions of international tourists annually, a good part of whom are interested in getting to know places important to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The birthplace of three great religions, Jerusalem, receives millions of international tourists annually, a good part of whom are interested in getting to know places important to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Vatican City, one of the most well-known tourist destinations in Rome and the centre of Catholicism, receives more than 10 million visitors a year, mainly Catholics, from around the world. Brazil, a country of great cultural diversity, also has wide religious diversity, which ranges from Afro-Brazilian beliefs to eastern religions, Protestantism, Christianity, Evangelism and Pentecostalism.

Classified as part of the cultural category, religious tourism, according to specialist studies, involves more than 60 million people around the world, while in 2012 in Brazil almost 4 million domestic journeys had a religious motivation, as people travelled to get to know sacred places. These included: churches, for example the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida, in São Paulo; temples, such as the Free Ecumenical Temple, linked to the LBV (Legion of Good Will), in Brasília; the Cathedral of Faith of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Belo Horizonte; the Al-Khatab Mosque, the third most visited tourist destination in Foz do Iguaçu (PR), which is also visited by many non-Muslims; and the Spiritualist Chico Xavier Memorial, in Uberaba (MG), the construction of which will be completed in 2015.

Irrespective of the definition of religious tourism, about which there are various theories, this is a segment which drives the economy and circulates income, whether through travel by Brazilians or by visitors from other countries, who come to Brazil to get to know places considered to be sacred. The people that go to these places need accommodation (whether it be simple or more sophisticated), visit restaurants and cafés to dine and buy arts and crafts, as well as other products. According to the World Religious Travel Association, the religious tourism segment circulates US$ 18 billion annually and engages around 300 million people around the world.

A person that- due to their faith or another reason- visits a sanctuary experiences a certain reality, an experience linked to the place and, at the same time, consumes products and services, as well as enjoying access to artistic, architectural and gastronomic tourism. Therefore, religious tourism, when appropriately planned and structured, also plays a role in promoting cities as an area to visit, improving the quality of life in the area for the local population. This has been the case, for example, in the region where Sister Dulce da Bahia lived, who was canonised in 2011 by the Catholic church, and in the Brás area in São Paulo where the Temple of Solomon, the world headquarters of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, is located.

Getting to know the religious celebrations of a nation also means getting to know a little about their culture. During the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, groups of evangelical missionaries from various nations invited tourists to participate in trilingual services and other religious activities held in local evangelical churches. In some host cities, such as Brasília and São Paulo, catholic churches celebrated mass in four languages - English, Spanish, French and Italian. In turn, Muslim visitors had access to an electronic guide in English with various items of information, including the direction of the sacred city of Mecca from the host cities.

A survey carried out by the Ministry of Tourism in 2011 showed that Brazil has 96 religious destinations distributed across 344 cities. In October, two large religious events to be held by the Catholic church will bring millions of faithful visitors to Brazil. More than 200,000 people are expected, on the 11th and 12th, in Aparecida do Norte, a city in São Paulo, which annually receives more than 10 million visitors. During the same weekend, the "Círio de Nazaré" religious procession in Belém (PA), including a river procession on the 11th, should involve 2 million people. In 2013, according to data from the Pará government, the "Círio" generated income of approximately US$ 28 million for the State economy.

Socio-economic activities related to religious tourism

  • Religious tourism travel agencies
  • Travel agencies in general
  • Air and road transport
  • Accommodation systems, including houses for temporary rent
  • Arts and crafts related to religious articles
  • Religious items industry
  • Local trade in general, including restaurant services
  • Support services (car rental, entertainment etc.)

Source: SILVEIRA, Emerson, Religious Tourism in Brazil, in Tourism Under Review, vol. 18, May/2007