Sacred Places Spiritual Travel Gaining Popularity

One of the newest and hottest niches noticed by the tourism industry is spiritual travel. Not that going on pilgrimages to sacred sites is anything new. According to history, one of the first pilgrims was the emperor Constantine's mother, Helena, who went to the Holy Land in 326 A.D. to visit places linked to Jesus. During the Middle Ages, probably the most popular Christian pilgrimages was to Canterbury Cathedral, as described by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales.

A wide range of spiritual beliefs around the world have espoused the concept of sacred places providing a benefit to those who visit them. In ancient Greece, the oracle site at Delphi was so located because it was believed the area contained an abundance of "plenum," a substance thought to stimulate the human life force.

In popular culture, a resurgence of non-traditional spirituality came to the forefront when the Beatles met up with a guru in India. Soon the tone of the "Fab Four's" lyrics had transitioned from teenage love and hand-holding to deeper explorations of illusion and reality, sung to the music of George Harrison's sitar.

When the New Age movement rose to popularity in the '70s and '80s, destinations such as Sedona, Arizona and Mount Shasta in California became known as power centers where creativity was stimulated and practices such as yoga and meditation became more productive.

The greatest observed growth of spiritual tourism has come about at the closing of the 20th century, and the reason for this phenomenon is believed to be the aging of the so-called Baby Boom generation.

According to Robert Scheer, the former editor of Power Trips, a travel magazine devoted to spiritual travel to sacred places, "After the Baby Boomers grew up, got good jobs and accumulated lots of wealth and possessions, they realized there was still something missing in their lives. That was when they turned to Mother Earth and her sacred places to help them discover their true purpose in life."

When the Chamber of Commerce of Sedona commissioned a survey in the late '90s to determine what it was that drew visitors to their area they discovered that 64% of those who replied said their trip was because they were looking for "some kind of spiritual experience."

For the vast masses of the general public who are not already aware of many sacred places, it takes something like a blockbuster book to get them interested, such as was the case when Dan Brown published "The da Vinci Code" in 2003. Suddenly travel companies were rushing to organize tours to Scotland's Rosslyn Chapel, associated with the mysterious Knights Templar and Rennes le Chateau with its supposed links to the bloodline of Jesus.

It is not uncommon for travelers who participate in spiritual tourism programs to report positive changes in their lives as a result of the experience. For example, a W. Beeton whose tour of England included a meditation ceremony on Glastonbury Tor said, "My meditation has helped me to make some major changes in life where I had been stuck for a long time."

Perhaps the key to spiritual tourism was best summarized by Ila Sarley of Rhinebeck, New York's Omega Institute who remarked, "People are choosing vacations that offer more than a change of scenery and connect them to what's inside as well as outside."

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