Tourism and Spirituality: An Evolving Relationship

Document Type: Critical and theoretical research


University of Central Lancashire, UK


A connection has long existed between tourism and spirituality. More specifically, travel for spiritual purposes has for centuries been a popular manifestation of human mobility. Pilgrimage and other spiritually-motivated travel is widely considered to be one of the earliest forms of tourism and nowadays, religious tourism, in all its forms, has evolved into a major sector of the global tourism market. Over the last three decades, however, an alternative perspective on the tourism-spirituality relationship has emerged. Focusing on the meaning or significance of contemporary tourism, it is argued that tourism is a sacred journey, a secular spiritual experience; in other words, tourism has become a secular alternative to the institution of religion, the contemporary tourist a modern, secular pilgrim. Hence, a conceptual divide exists in the relationship between tourism and spirituality, between spiritual (religious) tourism and tourism as spirituality (religion).  Moreover, that divide is evidenced in much of the extant research into tourism, religion and spirituality.
                As this paper suggests, however, such a conceptual divide over-simplifies the relationship between tourism and spirituality; not only is the distinction between spiritual / religious tourism and tourism as a secular spiritual experience becoming increasing fuzzy – some traditional religious travel experiences, for example, are taking on the aura of commoditised tourism products, with implications for the experience of participants themselves – but also the relationship can be viewed from different disciplinary and theoretical positions. A humanistic perspective, for example, questions the notion of spirituality itself, whilst varying interpretations of religion / spirituality also cast the relationship in different lights. Hence, the purpose of this paper is to explore the complexity of the spiritual dimension of tourism. Reviewing the extant literature, it highlights the dimensions of and limits to research into the relationship between tourism and spirituality and, exploring the phenomenon from a variety of perspectives, challenges contemporary understandings and points to areas demanding further research.