On the occasion of the centenary of the apparitions of Fatima (1917-2017), the International Congress on Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage will be organized jointly by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Ministry of Economy of Portugal and the Municipality of Ourém.
The Congress will reflect on the potential and the role of religious tourism and sacred places as a tool for socio-economic and cultural development of destinations. Knowing the motivations that lead millions of peoples to travel to sacred places is an essential condition for the sustainable development of destinations. The visitor of sacred places in general and the one of Fatima in particular, is characterized by a remarkable loyalty to the visited site. Hence, it can be said that tourist’s loyalty is in these cases an essential element of the relationship that the religious tourist and the pilgrim establish with the destinations which they are visiting.
Thus, a key principle is to preserve the spirit of the destinations, authenticity and integrity in the way that they are managed and promoted while making them accessible for all. On the other hand, these places of spirituality have the potential to drain part of their tourist flows to other tourist attractions in the region, therefore, with adequate promotion strategies; it is possible to get visitors to lesser known areas and complementary places that are offered in holy places. Additionally, religious tourism destinations are usually less affected by trends and economic crisis.
Taking note of the United Nations (UN) declaring 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, the congress will discuss how effective partnerships, in sacred places, can benefit local communities and encourage their sustainable development and socio-economic empowerment in the long run. It will also discuss the need for specific policies for protection and management of religious and sacred sites that take into account the distinct sacred or spiritual value associated with the place, as a key factor for their conservation.