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Religious Tourism Market

Given the importance of believers, religious tourism constitutes a significant market. The number of adherents to the different religions shows the remarkable potential of religious tourism. The world’s largest religion is Christianity, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents—nearly a third (31 %) of the world’s 6.9 billion people. Islam is the second major religion, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 % of the global population (NPR 2015). Besides Judaism is an important monotheistic religion with its 25 million believers (Ktiptik 2015).

According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO 2014), 300-330 million pilgrims visit religious sites around the world annually; this accounted for

27 % of total tourist arrivals in 2012. Tarlow (2011) states that religious tourism has a value of USD 18 billion, and in the USA alone, 24 % of travelers are interested in religious-based tourism activities.

Religious tourism is the second-largest industry in Saudi Arabia, with revenue of approximately USD 8 billion. Two million foreigners, plus an additional 700,000 domestic pilgrims, travel for the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. An estimated five million pilgrims visit Lourdes in France, and approximately 28 million Hindu pilgrims visit the River Ganges in India (Singh 2006). In addition, Montserrat in Spain attracts approximately two million visitors and Fatima in Portugal approximately four million people annually (Saayman et al. 2013).

Although religious tourism is one of the oldest forms of tourism, it has not developed in Turkey as expected. Statistical data show that Turkey has not utilized its religious tourism potential. According to Turkstat (2012), just 0.2-0.5 % (83,000) of the total international visitors to Turkey visited for religious purposes in 2014 (see Table 10.1). According to MoCT (2015), 4.5 % of international tourists visit religious sites. This low number of visitors is somewhat surprising because the country is rich in religious and sacred sites, and all three major monotheistic religions have relationships with the country. However, most of the sites are promoted for their archeological and historical value, rather than for their spiritual significance (Egresi et al. 2012b).

Religious tourism is a niche market in the Turkish tourism industry. The reason for this may be that tourism policy has focused on mass tourism in coastal areas for the last 35 years, with the basic product being “sun, sand, and sea” tourism. Turkey has a large number of shrines, which are basic resources for the development of religious tourism, and religious tourism can be used as a complementary tourism product of 3S tourism.

Turker (2013) presented the characteristics of religious tourists visiting Turkey. According to the travel guides interviewed in her study, most religious travelers are estimated to be US citizens, with 50 % being members of churches and students of theology, and 50 % middle-aged or elderly people between the ages 40 and 75 and with a high-income level.

In light of the changing motivations of tourists and the importance of developing alternative types of tourism for the future of the tourism industry, the MoCT has attempted to develop new types of tourism. In the 2023 Tourism Strategy of Turkey, a tourism product diversification strategy is advocated. The Strategy designates a “faith tourism” corridor comprising cities of religious importance. This corridor consists of the provinces of Hatay, Gaziantep, §anliurfa, Mardin, and also

Table 10.1 Religious visitors to Turkey, 2001-2014


Number of religious visitors


Total visitors

















Source TurkStat (2015) the city of Tarsus, laid in the point of origin. To develop this religious route, construction of a split superhighway linking Tarsus and Mardin has been planned in order to enhance the accessibility of the region and increase the number of visitors to it.

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