Spiritual sojourns soaring: A boom in pilgrimage tourism fuels India’s travel industry

Driven by a desire for religious exploration and search for inner peace, a surge in pilgrimage tourism is rewriting travel trends. This growth is fueled by a potent mix of factors, from increased infrastructure and government initiatives to a shift in demographics., according to industry experts.

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There has been a sharp 102 per cent increase in searches for pilgrimage destinations like Ayodhya, Ujjain, Badrinath, and Amarnath in May 2024 (year-on-year), according to EaseMyTrip. This data, according to industry experts, reflects a growing yearning for spiritual experiences.

Amritsar, the holy city synonymous with the Golden Temple, takes the lead with a 22 per cent rise in flight searches for May 2024 compared to May 2023. Other prominent destinations like Tirupati and Varanasi are close behind, witnessing a 17 per cent and 10 per cent increase respectively in flight searches during the same period. 

Spiritual tourism

“The popularity of spiritual tourism is evident from the staggering numbers… underscoring its importance to India’s economic growth,” according to Nishant Pitti, CEO and Co-Founder of EaseMyTrip. This growth, however, comes with a price tag. The surge in demand is pushing domestic airfares up by an estimated 7-10 per cent. Despite the rising costs, travellers remain enthusiastic, demonstrating the profound significance they place on their spiritual journeys, Pitti adds.

Hotels, particularly premium properties, in pilgrim destinations are anticipating record-breaking occupancy rates, thanks to the pilgrimage boom. Industry experts predict these hotels will reach 70-72 per cent occupancy for the financial years 2024 and 2025, the highest ever recorded. This translates to a significant financial boost, with Average Room Rates (ARRs) expected to climb to a range of Rs 7,800-Rs 8,000 by FY2025, according to EaseMyTrip. This rise in ARRs signifies a potential revenue growth of 7-9 per cent for the hotel industry, following a robust 14-16 per cent growth estimated for FY2024.

Traditionally, pilgrimage travel was associated mostly with senior citizens. However, the landscape is undergoing a fascinating shift. Tier-II cities and towns across India are now showing strong interest in pilgrimage tours, indicating a wider geographical reach for spiritual tourism.

Fascinating shift

Perhaps the most remarkable change is the evolving demographics, Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head – Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India) Limited, observes. “While historically India’s GenS (seniors) was the key segment for pilgrimages, we are witnessing a growing interest from the younger traveller segment comprising working professionals, millennials and GenZ.” Tour operators are catering to this new audience by offering innovative “pilgrimage plus” tours that combine religious experiences with local adventures, creating a well-rounded spiritual journey.

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Another interesting trend is the rise of family travel within the spiritual tourism segment. This highlights a growing desire for shared experiences that strengthen family bonds while fostering spiritual growth. According to SOTC, there has been a 20 per cent increase in travel spending, suggesting a preference for longer spiritual tours with a minimum duration of 3 days. This extended travel period allows families to delve deeper into the cultural and religious significance of their pilgrimage destinations.

The economic impact of this spiritual tourism boom is impressive. Projections indicate that spiritual tourism will generate a staggering ₹59 billion by 2028. This revenue stream, coupled with the expected creation of 140 million jobs by 2030, underscores the significant contribution this sector is making to India’s economic growth. 

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