But some experts are worried about the effects of the recent surge in religious participation and pilgrimages. "These are big events. These are big crowds. We're going to have to be very careful about how we regulate them," said Lyall Rainey, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Mr. Rainey says he suspects that the increasing number of Muslims in the U.S. will only increase the popularity of Middle Eastern Islamic pilgrimage, which he says has seen a post-9/11 popularity explosion. "It's a big, big thing in the Middle East, and I think there's a lot of overlap in the U.S. with that," said Mr. Rainey. He says this isn't the first time that Muslim pilgrims have grown in the U.S. "I think there's been a small uptick in Muslim immigration in the U.S.
It is an easy and convenient way to travel to a particular place or a particular faith. Everyday officials at the Ministry of Tourism in Istanbul could not be reached for comment. Some of the most popular destinations are churches and shrines. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is popular with foreign tourists, while the Armenian Orthodox Church of Yerevan makes a good base for returning Christians. Tourism is not the only way to be in touch with your ethnicity and religion.
Many of the most popular places in Istanbul are in Armenian or Syrian neighborhoods, in which the native Christians have lived for centuries. The Turkish and Armenian Orthodox churches are always busy with worshippers. Those who are interested in learning more about religion will find plenty of free information on the Internet. The Arabic language is the official language of Turkish and the Turks, and the country is home to many Arabic-speaking minorities. The religious tourism industry is estimated to be worth $110 million per year, and worldwide the number of business visitors from Muslim and Jewish congregations is around three million annually.
Religious tourism activity
The future of religious tourism is not only tied to the economic and political situation in the Kingdom, but in the wider world, too. The Kingdom has become a leading destination for religious tourism, but there is concern over the impact of this trend on the social and cultural fabric of Saudi Arabia. The Muslim Hajj is the most important pilgrimage in the Muslim world, taking in more than 500,000 pilgrims, but the number of Muslim pilgrims in saudi arabia is expected to decline.
For example, in 2012, Hajj numbers were down by the equivalent of 50 percent relative to 2011. Religious tourism activity in Saudi Arabia is closely tied to the political situation in the country. "It is the obligation of the state to ereligious tourismous tourism has a positive benefit for the state," said Nita Chaudhary, a former minister of state for tourism and culture. "It is the duty of the state to take steps to ensure the people of the state enjoy religious tourism." She said the state had not yet developed a strategy to tackle the issue. "We are discussing it at the federal level," she said. "The government is mindful of the role of religious tourism as a pillar of our economy." The religious tourism industry has been growing in India in recent years.
In April, the country's Tourism Ministry said the sector was the country's fastest-growing sector, with sales expected to hit Rs1.27 trillion (US$19.6 billion) by the end of this year. The number of religious tourists has increased by 2. The tourism industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5.6 per cent over the next five years, according to the study. Francisco Sarmiento, chief executive of the Tourism Development Bank, said: "Tourism is a national asset worth more than £300bn and will provide a better quality of life for millions of people, payoung peopleoung people and the disabled." The number of foreign tourists visiting the UK has been climbing in recent years, with nearly a million more people travelling to the uk each year than in 2008. "We hope that this new study will increase awareness of the benefits of religious tourism to the UK and that it will encourage more people to embrace this valuable tourism sector," said Mr Henshall.
Other countries with high levels of religious tourism include the USA, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. Religious tourism is a growing sector, with Britons and Americans showing a growing interest in more non-religious forms of travel. These include holiday outings, education and volunteering.