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Abstract

This theoretical and methodological paper presents research undertaken to comprehend the social dynamic of religious tourism in a traditional sanctuary located in the Hill of Tepexpan, Mexico. Visitor experience, as tourist or pilgrim, has been little studied in Mexican religious tourism literature, which has focused mainly on quantitative and economics aspects. For this reason, a more holistic and comprehensive way to understand the phenomenon is desirable, especially in destinations that receive a variety of visitors with different practices and motivations.

The Tepexpan Hill Sanctuary has been a sacred place since Colonial times for two ethnic groups: Mazahuas and Otomíes. Their rituals and celebrations are good examples of syncretism between Pre-Hispanic and Catholic beliefs. However, in recent years there has been a rise of visitors that do not belong to the traditional pilgrimages, which may lead to the existence of secular activities and motivations in the hill. Hence, there is a need to understand the social practices of visitors, sacred or secular, in different spaces during their stay in the sanctuary.

Using Collins-Kreiner’s dedifferentiation concept (2010) enriched with contributions from Smith (1992), this research attempts to understand the Tepexpan Hill Sanctuary as a ‘third space’ where tourism and pilgrimage practices coexist (Collins-Kreiner and Gatrell, 2006). Ethnography seems to be the most suitable method of qualitative research as religious tourism implies a quest for meaning in the visit. Studying the similarities and intersections between tourism and pilgrimage is useful for visitor management in religious sites. To achieve a sustainable management of the sanctuary in the future, the proposed research can help to maximise benefits while minimising social and cultural conflicts between actors with different interests in the destination.

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