Thursday, November 12, 2015

Broadening Appeal: Religious tourism

In one of the more unlikely of tourism coincidences, the regional government has managed to confirm that guests who wish to partake of overnight hospitality in one of the unfortunately named "cells" at Lluc monastery will have to pay the tourist tax. The government did so, just as various experts were preparing to make their way to the monastery for a two-day chinwag about religious tourism.

If any of the participants plan on spending the night at the monastery, it will presumably be a case of early to bed and none of the staying up until three and drinking the bar dry, as is normally demanded of those attending conferences. If too many cold drinks are to be had by the Lluc conference flock, they will do what all attendees do the day after, which is to fall asleep.

There again, religious tourism sounds as if it is a likely subject candidate for curing insomnia. Despite the imminence of a one-euro per night imposition for availing oneself of a bed in a cell, it is doubtful that the conference will be enlivened by fierce, full and frank debate regarding the government's sustainable tourism tax and its negative impact on a tourism niche or indeed a religious tourist's hunt for icons lurking in the niches of ecclesiastical establishments. Or maybe, just as with every other sector of the tourism industry, outrage will be expressed while at the same time inventories will be drawn up for purposes to which the tax could be put. Maybe the Lluc cells could do with a lick of paint.

For a mere 35 euros, one can head off into the Tramuntana and learn over the two-day conference (today and Friday) about, among other things, the competitiveness of religious tourism, the cultural management of religious spaces, spiritual tourism and the history and future of tourism in the Tramuntana. And there is indeed the option to do an overnight: 95 euros for full board plus the conference. That'll be 96 euros from next year.

Niching tourism according to religion brings with it one major pitfall. If you don't happen to be religious, then the notion would probably be a turnoff. While there is religious tourism which is very much of a religious character, there is also, however, a great deal which doesn't presuppose that one is actually religious. It does rather boil down to how it's marketed, which might explain why the promoter of the Christian theme park in Mallorca (yes, it's still being talked about) insists that it isn't as religious a project as people might think. As things stand, though, the theme park, last heard of destined for Ses Salines, will not be getting the green light in any event: the Council of Mallorca has deemed its development to not be in the "general interest", if only in Ses Salines.

Religious tourism on the mainland has been given something of a boost this year. The 500th anniversary of the birth of Teresa of Ávila, later Saint Teresa of Jesus, has been commemorated. Various tourist routes and "products" were created in her honour. Here is an example of where the religious angle would dominate, but if one strips away the religious element, what one is left with is essentially a form of cultural and heritage tourism, based on religious sites.

In an article a couple of years ago, I suggested that there was potential merit in a tourism product of routes that cover Palma's cathedral and the churches, monasteries and hermitages of Mallorca. Palma alone has numerous sites, while elsewhere there are sites of special significance - Lluc, Miramar (because of Ramon Llull) and now Petra since the canonisation of Junipero Serra. Each town and village has its own site or sites with their stories to tell, while outside towns there are the likes of the Santa Magdalena hermitage near Inca.

Mallorca could never compete with, say, the religious tourism of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and to Spain's spiritual heartland, but it could make a virtue of its own spirituality - a great deal of it linked to the Tramuntana - through the development of tourism that encapsulates the separateness of the island's religious history, one aspect of this being the way in which it was Mallorca that held on to the tradition of the Sibil-la when it was abandoned elsewhere because of Rome's prohibition.

It would all depend, though, on marketing in order to broaden the appeal and to avoid such tourism being pigeonholed as one only for the religious. And a broadening of the marketing message might well appeal to administrations as they now are in Mallorca which aren't necessarily the greatest friends of the Church. They are friends of the island's heritage though, so much so that they would like a tax to help preserve it, and religious sites are key to a great deal of this heritage.

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