Religious Tourism Booms Post-Pandemic

Religious Tourism Booms Post-Pandemic

Religious Tourism Booms Post-Pandemic

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23 April 2024

By Ishika Kumar

Recent talks in the media have discussed changes in the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, asking if it will remain a mere cultural symbol or become sacred. While we wait to see, one thing certain is that its opening has boosted religious travel to surreal levels.

Ayodhya’s property scene has changed a lot, with land prices rising as hotel chains and builders compete for spots. Better air connections make Ayodhya more attractive, with airlines adding flights to handle over 4 million visitors in the next week. The nearing completion of the Rs. 1,800 crore Ram Temple, set for December 2024, puts a spotlight on spiritual travel, especially after the pandemic.

Tourism Ministry data for 2022 shows huge earnings from religious trips, with about 1,433 million domestic pilgrims travelling. 

Among those interested in this growing sector is the Uganda-based Madhvani Group, which has been in India’s spiritual tourism scene for nearly ten years, partnering with Sarovar Hotels. They run luxury properties in Bodhgaya, Tirupati, and Rajkot under the Marasa brand. Roni Madhvani, a director at the group, talked about their journey and plans in a recent interview. They aimed to provide luxurious stays with spiritual vibes, inspired by their pilgrimage struggles. 

Despite initial setbacks due to the pandemic, religious tourism in India bounced back after restrictions, driven by a newfound interest in spirituality and peace. The opening of the Ram Temple has made Ayodhya more appealing, drawing in more tourists and boosting the local economy. Improvements in infrastructure like transportation and lodging aim to enhance the visitor experience for all kinds of travellers, including those interested in religious travel. Despite the pandemic’s global disruptions in hospitality and tourism, the Madhvani Group stays committed to expanding, considering market trends and regulations. Government efforts to revitalise religious sites offer more opportunities.

The rise of “praycations” as a new trend, along with younger people showing interest in pilgrimages, suggests changing preferences in pilgrimage experiences. The entire idea of ‘temple dates’ being romanticised on social media has people of all ages interested in religious endeavours involving travel for the same, attracting tourism like bees to a sweet flower. The group’s properties usually attract older visitors, but they expect this to change with infrastructural improvements reshaping pilgrimage patterns. Spiritual spots are gaining popularity in India’s travel scene, with significant increases in searches over the past two years, according to an analysis by MakeMyTrip.

According to MakeMyTrip’s report on 22 April, searches for places like Ayodhya shot up by 585 per cent, while Ujjain and Badrinath saw jumps of 359 per cent and 343 per cent respectively in 2023 compared to the previous year. The report highlights smaller cities embracing spiritual journeys. It also shows a 25 per cent increase in people taking more than three trips a year in 2023 compared to 2019.

For international travel, Dubai, Bangkok and Singapore are still top picks, making up 30 per cent of all foreign travel searches from India. But places like Hong Kong, Almaty, Paro, Baku, Da Nang and Tbilisi saw significant growth in searches in 2023. In India, Delhi NCR and Goa were the most searched destinations from major cities. Delhi led with 11.4 per cent of searches in 2023, followed by Mumbai, Bengaluru and Goa. Tier II cities like Lucknow, Thiruvananthapuram, Indore and Bhubaneswar saw increased searches for domestic flights. 

Travel interest peaked in November 2022, with a 45 per cent increase in searches compared to before the pandemic. MakeMyTrip has about 100 million active users annually searching for travel. Family travel bookings increased by 64 per cent in 2023 compared to 2022, followed by a 23 per cent growth in solo travel. Couples made up 50 per cent of all bookings.

The report also notes how spontaneous Indians are in travel planning, with 46 per cent booking domestic flights less than a week before travel, while about half of the international bookings are made at least two weeks ahead. Alternative accommodations like homestays and villas saw a 24 per cent growth in bookings in 2023 on MakeMyTrip. Hostels and apartments had the highest search growth, at 39 per cent and 31 per cent respectively. Weekend getaways were the fastest growing in the domestic hotel category, with Jim Corbett leading with a 131 per cent growth in searches, followed by Ooty and Munnar. Maharashtra contributed the most to domestic hotel searches, while travellers from Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka preferred villas. Hostels were most searched in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Goa.

2024 shall only increase these numbers as predicted by experts and the boom is ongoing with exceptional travel for religious purposes.