Academic journal article European Journal of Tourism Research

Motivation Factors for Visiting Religious Sites: The Case of Lesvos Island

Academic journal article European Journal of Tourism Research

Motivation Factors for Visiting Religious Sites: The Case of Lesvos Island

Article excerpt

Introduction

Religious tourism regards to visitors who "are partially or exclusively motivated for religious reasons" (Rinschede, 1992:52). This is presented with the pilgrim-tourist path continuum developed by Smith (1992).

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO, 2011) estimates that 300 to 330 million people travel annually on religious sites while the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC, 2011) estimates that a total of 140 million pilgrimages travel per year only to 32 destinations alone. Tarlow (2011), states that religious travel is estimated at a value of USD 18 billion dollars and 300 million travellers yearly being one of the fastest growing segments in travel and tourism. Having this in mind, the Greek National Tourist Organization (GNTO) has produced downloadable leaflets with an indicative list of 100 religious monuments (Real Society, 2012) in order to increase religious tourism.

Religious tourism aroused the interest of many researchers and practitioners (Drule et al., 2012). Timothy and Olsen (2006 in Nieminen, 2009), state that religious tourism is one of the least studied areas in tourism research and Poria et al., (2003) state that even less studied is travel motivations of religious tourists. Today, 10 years after, even though the number of studies regarding religious or faith tourism has increased significantly, they are still relatively less than other aspects of tourism (search in scholar.google.com and google.com).

Several studies have been found regarding tourists' motivation for visiting a sacred site (e.g. Drule et al., 2012; Egresi et al., 2012; Rodrigues, 2012; Hyde and Harman, 2011; Chand, 2010; Tîrca et al., 2010; Triantafillidou et al., 2010; Vidic, 2007; Sharpley and Sundaram, 2005; Collins-Kreiner and Kliot, 2000). One would expect that research on religious tourism regarding Greece would be abundant since there are numerous religious sites for visitation, and since it is world-wide known for its monasteries, chapels, etc.

On the contrary, there are very few empirical studies regarding Greece and religious tourism in general. Studies found that refer to Greece, and religious tourism are those of della Dora (2012); Kotsi (2012); Petreas (2011); Terzidou (2010); Aslan and Andriotis (2009); and Terzidou et al., (2008). Focusing even more, on tourists' motivation visiting religious sites in Greece, only two studies to the authors knowledge exist (Terzidou, 2010; Aslan and Andriotis, 2009).

Literature states (e.g. Egresi et al., 2012) that it is vital for religious destinations (i.e. Lesvos) to identify their tourists motivations in order the local authorities could make strategic and marketing decisions for long-term growth.

Furthermore, destination managers and policy makers can gain a better knowledge and a clear understanding of the different market segments based on the wants, needs and benefits sought. With this knowledge, they may build appropriate strategies for revisit and attraction of potential visitors (Priporas et al., 2012; Kamenidou et al., 2009).

Under this context, this research which is exploratory in nature, aims to investigate tourists' motivations for visiting sacred sites in Lesvos Island, i.e. the monasteries and churches. Furthermore, it has as its first objective to record previous visitation to Lesvos Island and the purpose of previous visitation. Its second objective is to examine the source of information regarding the island, and visitation to sacred sites and monuments (mainly monasteries and secondly churches). Lastly, the third objective of this study is to extract the underlying factors of tourists' motivations for visiting monasteries and churches in Lesvos.

This research is considered of great importance for Greek and local authorities as well as for the bodies of tourism planning policy, since it is the first attempt to record tourists' specific motivations regarding Lesvos as a religious tourism destination. …

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