The underserved religious tourism market segment drew 450 million tourists during 2010, or approximately 60% of the country’s 740 million domestic travelers, according to estimates from India’s Department of Tourism. By contrast, foreign tourist arrivals numbered only 5 million for the year in 2010, though both segments continue to grow.
Religious tourism has long been a fundamental characteristic of India’s domestic travel industry. “Pilgrim tourism forms an important segment of domestic tourism,” said Kashmira Commissariat, COO of tour operator Kuoni India’s outbound division. “India, as a confluence of different religions, has always attracted pilgrims from all over the world,” as well.
Religions that have their origins in the country include Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Islam has been practiced in India since the seventh century, while Christianity came to India in 52 A.D. India also serves as home to a sizeable population of Zoroastrians (Parsi), Bahá'ís , Ismaili (followers of Aga Khan) and Jews.
The top shrines in India, whether Tirupati, Vaishno Devi, Ajmer Dargah or Golden Temple, each draws an average of 50,000 to 100,000 visitors a day. Shirdi, the Abode of Sai Baba, sees a daily visitor level of 70,000 people on weekdays; weekends inflate to approximately 100,000 visitors, according to figures released by the management of these shrines.
Gaurav Sarin, associate VP of business development and quality assurance at Best Western India, said pilgrims stay one and half days at Best Western’s Shirdi property. Rajat Gupta, associate director of sales at Country Inn & Suites By Carlson Hotels India, said the approximate stay of religious travelers is two days; at Carlson’s Ajmer property, guests generally stay overnight. What is less definitive, however, is where those stays occur.