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Pilgrimage travel rising

Sacred sites increasingly sought after by travellers

Australians are increasingly adding pilgrimage holidays to their bucket lists, with a growing number of travellers flocking to ancient cities and sacred sites ranging from Mecca and the Holy Land, to Santiago and Japan. 


Western Wall, Jerusalem


Anthony Goldman, joint Managing Director of Australia’s premier luxury travel advisory group, The Goldman Group, says pilgrimage travel is popular with multi-generational groups with diverse interests, travellers retracing ancient routes for religious reasons and those looking to combine leisure travel with educational purpose or exotic experiences.


“From admiring natural wonders of the world to exploring ancient art and artefacts, a new generation of tourists is now looking to walk the well-trodden paths of pilgrims past,” says Anthony Goldman.


“Our research confirms that more Australian travellers are planning adventures to unconventional destinations in far-flung parts of the world as the popularity of experiential, spiritual and cultural travel grows, compared with the traditional ‘flop and drop’ holiday,” added Goldman.


The Australian Luxury Traveller 2019 survey, conducted by the Goldman Group, confirmed that Australian travellers are contributing to the global trend towards experiential travel with nearly half (49%) agreeing that they travel to have experiences that are transformational. The survey also found that when on holiday, 53% of Australian travellers are most interested in experiencing historical sites and heritage attractions, and 48% travel to taste the local cuisine, while 36% seeking to immerse themselves with arts, museums and culture. 


Commenting on the survey’s findings, Goldman says: “This survey demonstrates that the famous Aussie spirit of exploration continues to inspire travellers, especially as they have more free time and disposable income with which to traverse the world and enrich their lives with travel.”


Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

So, where to next? According to the Goldman Group, trending destinations for Australians keen to combine journeys of discovery with scenic beauty and unique cultural experiences include Israel and Jordan, following pilgrims’ trails in Spain, France and Portugal, the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea, and exploring the historic shrines of Japan.


“We’re fielding a growing number of requests from travellers keen to take a break from their stressful and busy lives to plan authentic, cultural experiences which combine walking, hiking and meditation with spiritual discovery, spectacular scenery and local cuisine and culture,” Goldman says.  


“One perennially popular pick is the well-travelled Camino Frances pilgrimage trail from the foothills of the Pyrenees in France across northern Spain to the shrine of St James at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Travellers can choose from diverse routes through France, Portugal and Spain taking in mountains, vineyards, forests, farmland, ancient villages, towns and cities along a combination of pathways, tracks and roads, with options to accommodate all levels of fitness, stamina, as well as various modes of travel, timeframes and budgets,” he says. 


“Europe is also home to many other pilgrimage routes, such as the thousand-year old St Jacob’s Way from Salzburg in Austria into the beautiful countryside and ecclesiastical sites of the Alps, the Great St Bernard Pass in Switzerland, the medieval Via Francigena route in Italy, and the English trail from Winchester to Canterbury visiting Becket’s shrine,” added Goldman.


“The island of Tinos in Greece is another pilgrim’s favourite who have historically flocked there to experience the healing powers of an icon of the Virgin Mary. Meanwhile in India, the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the banks of the River Ganges both attract thousands of visitors looking to tick these significant sites off their travel and spiritual bucket lists,” concluded Goldman.


Camping in Mecca


In the Middle East, Mecca in Saudia Arabia hosts millions of Muslim pilgrims each year during the annual Haj, while countless travellers join various pilgrimages through the Holy Land each year for a first-hand look at significant biblical sites such as Galilee, Nazareth, Cana, Mount Carmel, the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Holy Sephulcre, Mount Zion, Bethlehem, Jericho, Jaffa, Tiberias and the Garden of Gethsamene.


“From following in the footsteps of Jesus on Palm Sunday to experiencing a peaceful meditation on the Sea of Galilee, we’re fielding requests from a growing number of travellers of diverse denominations who are interested in exploring faith, history and heritage sites in countries such as Israel and Jordan,” said Goldman. 


Closer to home, Mr Goldman said the Kokoda Track is still high on the bucket list for many Australians, often travelling in groups of families or friends, as they seek to physically and mentally challenge themselves to engage with a well-known period in Australian history by walking in the footsteps of our war-time heroes through the rainforests of Papua New Guinea.


As for the next big thing in pilgrimage holidays, Anthony Goldman predicts Kumano Kudo in Japan, which is twinned with the Camino do Santiago in Spain, will become increasingly popular.


“Already a UNESCO world heritage site, this region features several historic trails and grand shrines through stunning scenery which ranges from misty forests to waterfalls, hot springs, waterways, gigantic trees and unique rock formations. Japanese pilgrims have been trekking the mountainous Kumano for centuries, but foreign travellers are only now discovering this area’s marvellous mix of ancient architecture, intriguing rituals and natural beauty.”


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Published: 23 July 2019

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