Spiritual Tourism in India: Analysing Economic Impact and Growth Potential

Spiritual Tourism in India: Analysing Economic Impact and Growth Potential

Last updated: May, 2024
Spiritual Tourism in India: Analysing Economic Impact and Growth Potential

India, the country where millions of travellers come to seek spiritual fulfilment as part of their tourism journey, makes it an integral part of India’s tourism sector. The spiritual travel activities also enhance cultural immersion and personal enlightenment. In this case study, we look at the economic effects and prospects of growth in spiritual tourism and its influence on the economy of a nation and local communities, as well as cultural heritage preservation. Through analysis of key trends, challenges, and opportunities around how this form of pilgrimage affects economic activity but also fosters greater understanding between different faiths within the Indian spirituality scene.

Understanding Spiritual Tourism

Spiritual tourism, also known as religious tourism, sacred tourism, or faith tourism, is divided into two primary types: pilgrimage and education. Pilgrimage involves travel in the name of religion or spirituality, while for educational reasons, travellers are looking to learn from the experiences of diverse religious traditions, teachings, and practices at important religious sites. They attend lectures or workshops with local religious figures at cultural and historical places they visit. Through spiritual tourism, those who travel may have spiritual encounters, religious convictions, or a quest for inner peace and enlightenment.

In spiritual tourism, people are motivated by their spiritual experiences or their religious beliefs, or to find inner peace and enlightenment. This also involves traveling to places and events that are of special meaning to individuals or groups for religious reasons. Spiritual tourism may take different forms: from pilgrimages to sacred sites; meditation retreats in monasteries; participation in religious festivals and celebrations; visits to the places where significant religious figures or events took place. The motivations of spiritual tourism are various: one might be searching for personal growth and faith, while another is interested in discovering different religions' traditions or nature's harmony with sacred sites.

Some of the most renowned destinations for spiritual tourism globally include pilgrimage sites like Jerusalem, Mecca, Varanasi, Lourdes, and Santiago de Compostela. But spiritual tourism goes beyond specific religious affiliations and comprises various beliefs and practices.

Engaging in spiritual tourism offers individuals opportunities for self-reflection, cultural interchange, and spiritual nourishment, all while contributing to the economies of the visited destinations.

Rise of spiritual tourism in India

As per the Ministry of Tourism data, the number of people engaging in religious tourism in India rose to 1,439 million in 2022 from 677 million in 2021. Along with this growth, the revenues generated by the sector reached a level of US$ 16.2 billion (Rs. 1.34 lakh crores) in 2022, up from US$ 7.9 billion (Rs. 65.1 thousand crores) as noted by the Ministry of Tourism itself.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on spiritual tourism, with global travel restrictions, lockdowns, and health concerns causing a material decline in revenues throughout 2020 and 2021. However, as the pandemic situation improved and travel restrictions eased, revenue from the spiritual tourism sector recovered gradually.

By 2030, more than one hundred million people will be gainfully employed through temporary and permanent jobs driven by India’s Spiritual Tourism alone, which is anticipated to be worth around US$ 59 billion by 2028. These encouraging figures indicate the bright future of the Indian tourism industry as well as its potential. It also emphasizes the necessity of implementing various measures from the government's perspective and other stakeholders because it remains a valuable asset with high prospects, but it requires extra attention to help further accelerate the growth process.

Impact on Hotel and Travel Industry

As one of the Indian hospitality firms under the Tata group, Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL) is striving to make its leading presence stronger in religious tourism, considering that spirituality will definitely have a broader global representation in the future. To this end, the company plans to build properties at spiritual destinations in India, said a senior IHCL executive. Currently, IHCL has 66 hotels either operational or under development in spiritual destinations, including the recently emerging hotspot Ayodhya, and has intentions to expand its portfolio further.

IHCL's spiritual destination portfolio includes properties under the Vivanta and Ginger brands in Katra, Vaishno Devi (North India), as well as Taj at Tirupati, with plans to add a second property. The initiatives target Indian cities with the company’s full-scale commitment. Moreover, even Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, which is known as the world’s biggest hotel franchising company, also sees future possibilities in places with spiritual significance like Ayodhya, Tirupati, Pushkar, and Shirdi. Presently, it runs around seven properties across Amritsar, Dwarka, Ajmer, and Varanasi. Furthermore, data collected from Yatra.com also supports that religious tourism is a crucial market segment.

This proves that there are more than 40% searches on the website that aim at hotels belonging to the category of religious destinations. Remarkably, lots of these queries convert into reservations for towns such as Varanasi, Haridwar, Tirupati, Shirdi, Katra, Amritsar, and Rameswaram, according to Ms. Sabina Chopra, who is COO of Corporate Travel and Head of Industry Relations at Yatra.com.