Religious tourism is as old as the pilgrimages to the Holy Land from the seventh century and it became something of a coming of age encounter as those of holy orders and of a mature commitment to Christ - these sometimes took a full year - usually by foot.
These pilgrimages were not only to the Holy Land but across Europe to holy sites to such places as Lourdes and shrines, healing waters, holy paintings, St Peter's in Rome and the like.
Sometime ago I wrote about aDenbighshire village group who restored a holy well which continues to receive visitors. 19% of tourists to Wales visited a place of worship during their stay.
Bishop of Monmouth, Dominic Walker explained that religious tourism is when people who, may or may not be Christians, go on holiday or on a day trip to visit churches or shrines because they are primarily interested in history or architecture but in so doing may learn something of the Christian tradition and the Christian faith.
I've been involved in Australian tourism ministry since 1996 when we established "Australia's Bush Orchestra" in Moruya on the New South Wales south coast.
When travelled overseas researching tourism ministry I've found that most functionaries of ministry associated with tourism are non-hands on. Rather they allow visitors to reflect. This means, by these operators own admission, that in the most part, no one knows whether a response to Jesus Christ and His Salvation was forthcoming.
The issues therefore associated with Christian tourism apply to Great Britain as they do to Moruya or to any other tourism product where a Christian component has been inherently displayed.
Both the USA and Great Britain know how to market its history. In this sense they have a ready audience and those with the vision for evangelism have the capacity to go one step further than simply providing a "site" - in the case of England, the great Cathedrals.
Australia's Bush Orchestra
As one who has a passion for Tourism Ministry establishing 'Australia's Bush Orchestra' from 1996 through to 2005, visitors would take a bush walk through a tall ironbark forest under the sound of a natural bush symphony of bird song dominated by the call of the Bell Miner (Bellbird) and read the plaques of 14 great evangelists.
Tourists throughout the world visited and as they wandered around and came for their cuppa and a short video at the end of their walk. I'd engage them in conversation, I discovered British people love eccentricity - right up their for them!
Learning the importance of the art of conversation was crucial as that was how Jesus imparted truth. We discovered that a ministry centred around tourism was very much a people-oriented ministry.
And this is what I found lacking in his researches around the world. Very few people knew how to take the next step, from the "site" to "conversational evangelism".
Now, I've developed a Queensland Gold Coast Tourism Ministry with art and has been able to incorporate much of this additional research into the market place of ministry.
My numerous visits to the UK have demonstrated that the "money spinner" for the nation is tourism which rivals Britain's major industries. It therefore is imperative Christian outreach becomes relevant. On only one occasion can I recall a Cathedral tour guide explain the many components within Cathedral worship within an evangelical context and passion for the Salvation of souls.
In Australia, Newcastle Cathedral is on the tourist route where visitors are taken on guided tour. Two of the guides have been retired ministers, Reverend George Mainprise and Reverend Roger Reid who are taking Christian Tourism to a new level.
P&O for many years enjoined a chaplain to be on board their Easter voyages. The reports that kept coming back was the number of Jonah's on board such cruises, running away from the touch of the Lord upon their lives.
Some major hotel chains where there is a willing local minister either have a chaplain on staff or a chaplain on call. The pastoral ministry is a significant part of their overall business plan.
There is this dichotomy in tourism. The possibility of a range of exciting, enthralling experiences including a sugary short term love affair with all the advertising glitter, and on the other hand, a pastoral program that when the wheels fall off, someone is there as a catcher.
Sounds very much like the local church and why Christians need to be part of tourism ministry.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html