Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Religion draws more tourists to Scotland PILGRIMAGE TOURISM:

Photo I took In Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh in 2005

RELIGIOUS tourism to Scotland is set to treble in the next decade, according to experts.

Building on the success of the Rosslyn Chapel in Lothian, which has seen visitor numbers rocket since it featured in Dan Brown's bestseller The Da Vinci Code, other sites across Scotland which have a religious and spiritual connection can expect several hundred thousand more visitors in years to come as tourism moves closer to culture and history.

At present, religious tourism to Scotland is valued at GBP80-100 million, with visitors travelling to places such as St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh, the Orphir Round Kirk in Orkney, the Pictish memorials in Shetland, and on pilgrimages to Iona.

But new estimates predict that will rise to GBP300m by 2014, as more and more people use their holidays to search for spirituality and meaning.

Ian Yeoman, an expert in future tourism trends at VisitScotland, said that the agency was preparing for far more tourists with an interest in going to places with a religious significance.

He said: "Today's consumers, especially in the ageing population, are looking for a more authentic experience when they travel. They are more travelled and cultured than in the past, and want to experience other cultures - as well as being wealthier.

"Religion and, perhaps more important, the interest in spirituality are going to drive this market with more and more people coming to Scotland with an interest in seeing churches and other places of worship."

He said visitor numbers are rising noticeably already: 680,000 people said they visited a religious site last year on trips to Scotland; up 13per cent from 2004.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who addressed a meeting of tourism chiefs last Thursday about the potential for higher visitor numbers in the sector, said the importance of pilgrimage and tourism should not be understated.

Pointing to the millions of people who go on pilgrimage tours every year around the world, he said that visitors to places of prayer would boost overall tourism to Scotland.

He said: "If they provide an attraction to those people outside of Scotland, it will indeed raise the profile of Scotland as a whole as a place to visit."

Yeoman stressed, however, that churches, cathedrals and holy sites that currently operate as places of worship would retain their real function rather than become overwhelmed with tourists, gift shops and tea rooms.

He said: "We have worked with churches to improve what they offer visitors if they want help or advice, but their core purpose is not tourism, it is worship.

"It is about joined-up thinking about the future: for example, we anticipate that the interest in Buddhism will increase, but the attraction of Buddhist retreats is remoteness, so there would not be as much potential to develop in that area. Places on church trails will see increased visitor numbers."

A spokesman for the Church of Scotland, which has a connection with a majority of religious sites in Scotland, said that there were several places of interest that tourists may want to visit.

"The biggest tourist draw is St Giles Cathedral which last year had almost 500,000 visitors - during last month alone there were over 70,000 visitors. St Mary's Kirk in Haddington is a three-star Scottish Tourist Board attraction and one of the oldest churches in Scotand."


The following sites are proving popular with religious tourists:

Glasgow Cathedral.

Italian Chapel, Lambholm, Orkney.

Samye Ling Monastery, Langholm, Borders.

Holy Island, off Arran.

Pluscarden Abbey, Elgin, Moray.

St Andrew's Cathedral, St Andrews, Fife.

St Paul's Cathedral, Dundee.

Heylipol Church, Isle of Tiree.

Paisley Abbey, Paisley.

Melrose Abbey, Melrose Findhorn, Moray.

St Mary's Parish Church, Haddington.

Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh.


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