NEW DELHI: Spiritual tourism is becoming a major growth area of the Indian travel market with more Indians opting to go on pilgrimage to popular religious cities, such as Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Puri in Odisha, a new report has revealed.

According to travel marketplace ixigo, there has been month-on-month, double-digit growth in hotel bookings on its site for a number of cities with religious connections.

These include Puri (60% growth), which is famed for its Jagannatha Temple, Varanasi (48%), Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh (34%) and Shirdi in Maharashtra (19%), Travel Trends Today reported.

“Spiritual tourism is on the rise. Cities like Puri and Varanasi not only offer travellers a traditional experience, but also enable them to rejuvenate at yoga retreats and Ayurveda spas,” said Aloke Bajpai, CEO & co-founder of ixigo.

“Looking at the spike in hotel bookings via ixigo, it’s safe to say that spiritual travel is now being considered as one of the offbeat travel trends in India,” he added.

“It is fascinating to see that young adults are showing quite a high inclination towards exploring indigenous cultural experiences in our country.”

The ixigo study also looked into outbound train searches to these religious cities and found Lucknow topped the list with about 13% of searches, followed by Mumbai (7%), Hyderabad (6%) and Delhi (5%).

According to Bajpai, spiritual tourism is one of the biggest untapped markets for domestic travel: nearly 60% of domestic tourism in India is religion-based.

“To support this upcoming trend, the government has allocated special budgets for creating infrastructure around religious places,” he added.

That last point appears to be supported by a recent report from the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), which concluded “the government has ...been making serious efforts to boost investments in tourism sector”, such as a five-year tax holiday offered for 2, 3 and 4-star hotels located around UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The IBEF also estimated that the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to the Indian economy is expected to increase from Rs 15.24 trillion (US$234.03bn) in 2017 to Rs 32.05 trillion (US$492.21bn) in 2028.

Sourced from Travel Trends Today, IBEF; additional content by WARC staff