Religious tourism is a faith based travel by individuals and groups. Most people pay pilgrimage to sites at the center of their faith for spiritual cleansing and material blessings, though religious tourism may go beyond pilgrimage to incorporate missionary work and religious conventions.
For example, Anglicans and Catholics trek from different parts of the country and the region on every 3rd June to follow the footsteps of the Uganda martyrs, commemorating and emulating their profound faith. They feel like if they do so, they will get an opportunity to reach the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine site and a sense of cleansing and remarkable blessing will be upon them.
With religious tourism, pilgrims are determined and cannot easily be deterred from their purpose, unlike wildlife tourism which comprises visiting national parks.
It can be risky sometimes, for example with huge crowds involved or the Kaaba of Mecca but people would rather die at the sites in quest of their lifetime spiritual fulfillment.
Indeed, during the INDABA annual tourism expo held in Durban South Africa in May, Stephen Asiimwe the Chief Executive officer of Uganda Tourism Board stated that;
“The uniqueness about faith based tourism is that it is an emotional activity and people do not need a lot of convincing. People will go for religious pilgrims in Israel”. Uganda’s motto ‘For God and My country’ is a testimony of the importance of faith in the cultural, economic and political life of the country. Uganda is religiously diverse with Christianity and Islam as the dominant religions. At the core of their birth and growth are religious sites.
Over the centuries followers of different sects have made pilgrimages to religious sites. In the biblical times, people travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. History indicates that the first pilgrimages were made to sites connected with the ministry of Jesus. Those that followed were made to Rome and other sites associated with the apostles, saints, Christian martyrs and places where there had been apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
The Namugongo martyrs shrine is one of the sites for religious tourism in Uganda which attracts people from different parts of the world to learn and pay tribute to the martyrs who were killed by Kabaka Muwanga of Uganda.
The world’s largest form of mass religious tourism takes place at the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca which attracts about two million pilgrims annually and about 14 million people in the city. The countries in the East African region are joining forces to market the regions as a single destination under the Joint Tourism Marketing Committee (JTMC) and the Uganda Martyrs day is listed as the annual flagship tourism event for Uganda giving religious tourism a credible lift.
Siima Simon Peter is a tour and travel consultant at Prime Safaris & Tours Ltd