Religious tourism: Fastest growing aspect of holiday industry
Tourism is one sector that Nigeria leaders have not really given the needed attention and development but it is also one sector that can really take this country out of economic problems if well developed and harnessed, needed infrastructure provided, an enabling environment created and good government policy implemented. In this write-up, AUSTIN JACOBSON, took a critical look at Religious Tourism, a fast growing aspect of tourism that if properly developed could take Nigeria to the promise land. Excerpt.
RELIGIOUS tourism or Faith tourism is the fastest growth area in the holiday industry. Many of today's most popular tourist destinations are related to ancient places of worship or to the site of apparent miracles.
Religious tourism, also commonly referred to as faith tourism, is a form of tourism, whereby people of faith travel individually or in groups for pilgrimage, missionary, or leisure (fellowship) purposes. The world's largest form of mass religious tourism takes place at the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the annual Pilgrimage to Israel and now included in the Christian pilgrimage in Nigeria is Greece which the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC) is planning to introduce into the pilgrimage calendar.
Religious tourism comprises many facets of the travel industry including Pilgrimages, Missionary travel Leisure (fellowship) vacations, Faith-based cruising, Crusades, conventions and rallies, Retreats, Monastery visits and guest-stays and Faith-based camps.
In Nigeria today, Religious tourism has become the highest earner of foreign exchange for the country's tourism industry; it is also rank the second in Africa after Egypt and the highest in the black race. The springing up of different Pentecostal Churches across the country and the various conventions being held annually and quarterly by this churches have virtually increase the numbers of arrivals from overseas countries who visit the country to attend various religious programmes.
According to the Director General of the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, while speaking with waka-about in Lagos, said tourism statistics have shown that from the various annual conventions held by most of the popular Pentecostal Churches in Nigeria which includes The Living Faith Annual Congress, Winners Chapel, The Redeemed Christian Church of God Congress, The Synagogue Church of All Nations, Christ Embassy and Deeper Life Bible Church among others point to the fact that Religious tourism is increasingly becoming a critical component of the Nigerian Tourism Industry that can be greatly harnessed for economic development.
The Annual Holy Ghost Congress held every December by the Redeemed Christian Church of God is reputed to be one of the largest gatherings of Christian faithful in the whole of black race. Delegates from across the world including Australia and New Zealand travel to Lagos, Nigeria to part take in this yearly event.
An estimated two million worshippers across the globe is said to attend the three days Holy Ghost Congress annually which is usually held at the church headquarters along the Lagos-Ibadan Express Way and during this three days period almost all the hotels in the axis and some parts of Lagos are always fully booked while food vendors and sales of other souvenirs goes on in a large scale.
The inflow of foreign exchange into the country at this period is very high and a lot of employment is generated for the inhabitants of the area. Transport operators in Lagos gains a lot during this period and the economic activities that takes place during this period is very enormous boosting the economic growth of not only the inhabitants living in the axis but also increasing the economic growth of other sectors of the economy that are direct or indirectly involved in the Annual Holy Ghost Congress.
The people living in the area during this periods makes lots of money, the general economy of this area improves astronautically and the general development that has come the way of the area is so much that the rate of economic development along the axis has greatly improved. New hotels are been built which provides employment and residential quarters are also been erected by private individuals who wants to take advantage of the growing development in the axis.
The Christ Embassy is also one of the fastest growing Pentecostal Church in Nigeria, reputed to be the most advanced technology driven religious organization in the black race; the church has branches across the entire world with members spreading across the whole continent. It Operates from Lagos and also holds the Annual Leaders and Partners Conference and popular crusades like Atmosphere for Miracles and Healing from Heaven. All this programmes are attended by worshippers from across the globe and a lot of foreign exchange is generated into the economy of the country through the visit of these members from across the world.
The immigration record on arrivals into Lagos for the past two years through the Muritala Muhammad International Airport indicates that the Synagogue Church of All Nations had the highest arrivals of visitors into Lagos. These visitors are mostly from Europe and South Africa who come to Nigeria to visit the church for one spiritual Conference or the other and other Christian purification purposes.
Currently the foreign population of the church is almost out numbering that of Nigerian and on a visit to the church by waka-about, it was discovered that the European members have virtually taken over most of the administrative aspect of the church which is an indication that foreigners arrive in high numbers into the country to perform Religious tourism in the church.
The high arrival of this Europeans and Africans led to the church building an exotic hotel that will accommodate the visitors and this not only creates job opportunities for more Nigerians but also increase the volume of economic activities in the Ikotun Egbe base area of the church.
House on the Rock, another Pentecostal group hold its yearly festival tagged the Experience in Lagos, with high profile international gospel artistes in attendance, thus boasting the confidence of foreigners that wants to come to Nigeria.