Religious Tourism in Galicia: The Case of El Camino de Santiago

Religious Tourism in Galicia: The Case of El Camino de Santiago

María del Mar Rodríguez Domínguez (University of Vigo, Spain) and Mercedes Vila Alonso (University of Vigo, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5730-2.ch006
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Against the massification of some tourist products, the development of new and more complex tourist models is of interest, where the combination of several products in the offer of the same destination can be successful. One of the niches to consider is the great increase of religious tourism, whose origin could be placed in ancient pilgrimages. Considering it as a niche does not mean, in the first place, that it is a minority; and, secondly, and perhaps more importantly, that it can serve as the axis on which the complex tourism offer that is sought is articulated. The objective of this chapter is to perform the analysis of the Camino de Santiago product to demonstrate that it can be the axis of Galicia's tourism offer. In addition, the profile of visitors to the city of Santiago will be analyzed, discriminating them as tourists or pilgrims, since an adequate understanding of the demand will allow a better management of resources.
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Introduction To Religious Tourism: Conceptualization

The tourism sector has undoubtedly been one of the pillars of the Spanish economy, both due to its contribution to GDP and its role in the trade balance. However, the model which its development was based on, focused on mass sun and beach tourism, showed its first signs of exhaustion back in the 80s 1.

One of the factors that can explain this crisis lies in the qualitative changes in demand. In the last years, lifestyles have been modified and, as a result, the tourist demand has been segmented in the search for more personalized alternatives. This trend is expected to increase even today, and as a result, the sector has had to respond with a greater diversification of the offer. In this new scenario, governments have seen the opportunity to design differentiated tourism policies, based on their specific tourism resources (Bayón Mariné et al., 1999).

However, we must emphasize that this diversification in the offer has also led to “mass tourism” in other products traditionally more limited in their consumption, such as nature tourism, cultural tourism, historical-artistic tourism or religious tourism, which is our topic here.

Religious tourism is a niche market that has certain similarities and differences compared to other types of tourism products. The main difference lies in the motivation of the trip from the tourist's perspective, which, in this case, and from a very generalist view, would be faith. Traditionally, this category includes visits to shrines or sacred places, visits to saints’ tombs, attendance and participation in religious celebrations, as well as pilgrimages.

Therefore, one of the fundamental characteristics of this type of tourism is the need for some type of religious resource to develop a product and, thus, any destination will not be valid, but only some very specific ones.

On the other hand, the number of followers of each religion will determine the possibilities of developing a business with sufficient growth expectations, since we would be talking about a captive-type demand, where tourists could feel “morally” forced to visit these religious places. That is, there is a certain mandatory destination, which would place this type of tourism in a category similar to that of VFR (visit friends or relatives), study trips, visits to museums and cities of origin of social leaders (singers, footballers or even successful entrepreneurs and world famous people).

However, a slightly broader view of the concept would also include spaces highlighted by their high historical-cultural value. That is why we could determine that religious, cultural, traditional, spiritual, and scenic patterns would be included in the composition of religious tourism, which often interacts in the intention and the decision to undertake the trip (Aulet & Hakobyan, 2011). In this sense, we could put for example the Camino de Santiago itself, although in its origin it has clearly religious connotations, there is also cultural and historical-artistic heritage.

The conceptualization of religious tourism is very complex, according to most authors, due to the fact that it is formed by two great realities: tourism and religion, which have, according to Parellada (2009), value by themselves, combining, on the other hand the ancestral character of religion and the relatively modern reality of tourism. That is why, for its correct definition, we must ask about tourist’s motivations, consumer behavior, expectations and experiences (Aulet & Hakobyan, 2011).

Although traditionally it is considered a niche market, we cannot make the mistake of thinking that it is a minority product and disregard its importance. The reason is that, according to estimates, religious and spiritual tourism represents about 20% of world tourism (Lanquar, 2007) and, in fact, the UNWTO (2014) estimates that between 300 and 350 million tourists visit sacred places every year. In fact, many authors identify religious tourism as a massification of the pilgrimages that have been around since antiquity, motivated by the transcendent nature of the human being.

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