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Tourism to sacred sites is growing exponentially, with these numbers expecting to double by the year 2020 (UNWTO, 2014 and Tourism & More, 2014). According to Alen (2012), 60% of visitors to sacred places in Israel are strictly tourists as opposed to pilgrims. In addition, there is an identified changing nature and demand of these contemporary sacred site visitors, of which the typical faith-based visitor is no exception (Kartal et al., 2015). Thus, catering to the diverse requirements of these contemporary sacred site visitors, to include aspects such as the demand for satisfaction from spiritual renewal services, as well as entertaining experiences Ambrose & Ovsenik (2011), challenges traditional management focus and practices at these ecclesiastical heritages. Especially where such pressures for ‘entertainment’, in turn pose operational challenges for sacred site managers, particularly, where there is the need to adapt traditional management practices in ways that meet the needs and expectations of the ever-changing contemporary pilgrims (Enongene & Griffin, 2017.p. 27). As exemplified, in the demand for innovative management approaches at sacred sites by religious and pilgrimage tourism scholars Bethlehem Declaration (2015), where such demands, often constitute a missionary challenge, for these custodians, who might not be up to date with the operational complexities of catering to an increasingly growing number of visitors, with diverse, sophisticated and often changing needs.
Despite the above observations and arguments, an extensive review and critique of extant literature within the religious and pilgrimage tourism scholarship, revealed a paucity of empirical exploration into how the changing needs and expectations of contemporary sacred site visitors is being catered to. As well as the implications for upholding traditional spiritual values, from a managerial point of view globally, and in the Irish context. Thus, constituting a significant gap in literature the study seeks to fill. In doing so, observational techniques and semi-structured interviews, with key custodians across a diverse category of Irish sacred sites was utilised as primary data collection instruments.
Findings revealed how the pressure of catering to a multiplicity of visitor’s needs seems to be detracting custodians from their original spiritual focus. While extensive structural and procedural changes was highlighted as posing significant challenges, with regards to upholding traditional spiritual values, site authenticity, integrity, identity and representativeness. Thus, the study has significant implications for the future of religious heritages and their sustainability for future generational consumption, given the prevailing circumstances.
Ambrose, M, & Ovsenik, R. (2011) Tourist Origin and Spiritual Motives. Management Vol.16 (2), pp. 71-86.
Alen, B. (2012). Number of Tourist Visiting Holy Places Rising. Tourism Review New: respected voice of tourism
https://www.tourism-review.com/number-of-tourists-visiting-holy-places-raises-news3223 (Accessed on 28 July 2018)
Bethlehem Declaration (2015) International Conference on Religious Tourism: Fostering socio-economic development for host communities http://middle-east.unwto.org/event/bethlehem-declaration (Accessed on 21 November 2015)
Enongene, V., & Griffin, K. (2017) Christianity-Contemporary Christian Pilgrimage and Traditional Management Practices at Sacred Sites, in Leppakari, M and Griffin, K. Eds. Pilgrimage and Tourism to Holy Cities: Ideological and Management Perspectives, CABI, Wallingford, 25-44.
Kartal, B., Tepeci, M., & Atli, H. (2015). Examining the Religious Tourism Potential of Manisa, Turkey with a Marketing Perspective https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/TR-09-2013-0048
Enongene, V. (2018). Catering to Diverse Visitor Requirements at Ecclesiastical Heritages: Challenges for Upholding Spiritual Values, Site Authenticity, Integrity and Identity. Future for Religious Heritages: Europe’s Legacy for the Future FRH Biennial Conference at UNESCO Paris, France, October 2018