Religious or faith tourism is when a group of people (normally of similar religious beliefs) travel for conventions or crusades or fellowship or leisure or pilgrims or retreats to a place.
Religious tours are driven by the existence of modern holy cities and sites like the great mosque of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It is the holiest site in all Islam.
Other holy sites that pull in numbers of religious tourists are the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City; the church of Nativity in Bethlehem; the Western Wall in Jerusalem; and the St. Peters Basilica in Rome. However, the biggest religious tourism takes place in Kumbh Mela pilgrimage in India.
The World Tourism Organization, a United Nations agency through its annual report of 2014 noted that an estimated 300 to 330 million pilgrims visit the world key sites annually.
In Africa, religious tours have been on the increase due to the number of religions that keep attracting old and new followers including researchers from all over the world.
The Vodoun annual festival
In Benin is the biggest, most colourful and most popular festival in Africa. The practice of voodoo as a religion was spread by African slaves Cuba, Brazil, Haiti and New Orleans in America. In Benin alone, the followers of voodoo are estimated to be over 1.2million people, so the numerous voodoo altars found in most villages would not come as a surprise.
This festival is arranged and celebrated annually on the 10th of January. It was declared a public holiday by President Mathieu Kerekou in 1998.
It is a festival that celebrates the culture and tradition of the traditional African religion. The biggest Benin’s voodoo festivals are held in Ouidah, the country’s centre of voodoo worship. This year’s festival will offer tourists the opportunity to visit Benin’s largest wild life park, the Rendjan National Part, which has over 1,700 elephants.
The Osun-Osogbo festival
The Yoruba people in Western Nigeria celebrate this festival annually in August. This festival that started over 700 years ago attracts thousands of Osun worshipers and tourists from all walks of life. It is a two-week-long festival where people celebrate and perform traditional cleansing of the city and the culture reunion of the people with ancestors.
Featuring prominently at the festival is the calabash carrier, the Arugba, a votary virgin (a cultural version of Virgin Mary) who carries a calabash containing materials meant for sacrifice to appease the Osun goddess or river.
The Uganda Martyrs day
Held on 03rd June is an annual celebration in remembrance of the 46 martyrs of Uganda; who shed their blood because of the Christian faith. The feast of the Uganda Martyrs was decreed by the act of canonization in 1964 by the Universal Catholic Church. Pilgrims are attracted from all corners of the world positioning it as one of the biggest Christian events in the world.
The Basilica of the Uganda Martyrs is a Catholic church that is an architectural masterpiece.
Timkat is the Orthodox Tewahedo celebration of Epiphany. It is celebrated on the 19th of January annually lasting for three days, remembering the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river. During that time, the colours of the national flag (green, red and yellow) are displayed in a spectacular fashion. Priests walk the streets donning colorful attire and holding richly decorated umbrellas.
The Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN)
This church receives thousands of local and international visitors, who come to receive religious books and witness blessings and works of God the Almighty through Prophet T. B Joshua. However, to obtain admission as an international visitor, a questionnaire has to be filled out and admission authorized. International visitors can stay for a week and during that time, places like Faith Resort ground (The Prayer Mountain) can be visited. This is a perfect place for a religious holiday.
The Aboakyer Festival
In Ghana, is an annual religious festival held in May each year. It is celebrated by the people of Simpa or Winneba in the Central Region of Ghana. Legend has it that the celebration, which sacrifice, was started to mark the migration of the people from the ancient western Sudan empire led by two brothers and a god. The traditional priest who could communicate between the people and the god instructed them to sacrifice a young member of the royal family. Since this was a tall order, they appealed for an alternative. The next option they were given was to sacrifice an animal of the wild cat family. This too, cost many lives in an attempt to capture one cat; calling for a second appeal. It was granted that they capture a mature bush buck that looked like a deer.
The Durbar festival
This festival has been celebrated for more than 500 years – is an annual festival celebrated in many cities in Nigeria but popularly in Bida, Kano and Katsina. Introduced by Sarki Mujammadu Rumfa of Kano in the late 14th Century, it was celebrated at the climatic point of Muslim festivals Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The religious ceremony starts prayers proceeded by a parade of the Emir (Muslim ruler) and his entourage of horses, followed by music players, all heading to the Emir’s palace.
Pilgrimage to our Lady of Kibeho
In Rwanda is growing years go by. Kibeho is a small town in Southern Rwanda where three girls, Alphonsine, Marie-Claire and Anathalie reported visions of Mary the mother of Christ at regular intervals from 1981. On 15th August 1982, the blessed virgin Mary appeared to Alphonsine visibly sorrowful and crying. In the vision a river of blood, trees exploding into flames and people slaughtering each other were seen. Later the same day, Marie-Claire was given similar visions. This was a prediction of the horrible 1994 Rwanda genocide – the 100 days of sorrow. In those 100 days, from 6th April to 16th July 1994, approximately 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and some moderate Hutus were massacred.
Retreats to Kibeho happen twice a year, in the first and second trimester of the year and many visitors are attracted from all over the world.
Religious tourism is based on the motivations of the tourist were pilgrimages focus on destinations whose activity has become mainly touristic; and where there are religious and spiritual gatherings.