Marketing spirituality
: a tourism perspective

  • Muhammad Farooq Haq

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This thesis is a study about marketing of spirituality from a tourism perspective with an aim to increase tourist numbers engaging in domestic and international tourism. Due to lack of research in this area the study conducted was of an exploratory nature. Qualitative methods were adopted for data collection based on in-depth interviews.

    Spirituality is a multi-dimensional construct based on dimensions such as religion, music, culture, people, places, food and tourism. As a result spirituality can not be marketed in its entirety. An approach is needed for marketing spirituality, hence a tourism perspective was adopted.

    Spiritual development based on tourism by groups and individuals is considered as spiritual tourism. There are different cultures influencing tourism flows. In order to avoid a uni-cultural direction Australia and Pakistan were selected as two countries in this study. The study investigated characteristics of Australians and Pakistanis involved in spiritual tourism, for the purpose of this study they were considered as spiritual tourists.

    Spiritual tourism is a unique experience and is based on personal needs of people. Therefore this thesis proposed relationship marketing as the core strategy to market spiritual tourism. The relationship marketing strategy presented in this study is based on four elements of product, people, communication and collaboration.

    Spiritual tourism is an emerging type of tourism that has yet to be recognised as a separate area of tourism. There is little literature directly related to spiritual tourism. In order to define the research problem for this study literature review on the subject area was conducted based on other relevant disciplines. The literature on special interest and cultural tourism, pilgrimage and tourism marketing was studied to conceptualise spiritual tourism. There was no specified strategy for marketing spiritual tourism although it has been practised since antiquity. Part of the reason for lack of marketing strategies is that by its very nature spiritual tourism has been accroded different meanings based on cultures and geographies.

    A study of the literature in the above mentioned areas enabled spiritual tourism to be described as a type of tourism where tourists traveled to destinations associated with spiritual places, events and people; for their spiritual development regardless of their religion.

    In this thesis, a conceptual framework was developed for spiritual tourism as an extension of special interest and cultural tourism. Pilgrimage, religious and sacred tourism are recognised as subsets of the spiritual tourism conceptual framework. After conceptually recognising spiritual tourism, a marketing strategy was designed based on general marketing and tourism marketing literature.

    There has been no study, to date, which is related to marketing of spirituality in the marketing literature. Therefore, a research study of an exploratory nature was required to address the research question on how to increase the number of tourists travelling for their spiritual development. The study focussed on attitudes and behaviours of spiritual tourists and was effectively accomplished by employing only qualitative methods for data collection. The qualitative data collected for this study was analysed by adopting a research paradigm or ontology.

    A comparison of various paradigms used for exploratory and qualitative studies led to adopting critical realism. Critical realism offered the most effective ontological basis for the study aiming to follow the belief that there is a ‘real world’ to be discovered, even if it cannot be ascertained perfectly. Moreover, it has represented an important point of epistemological departure from mainstream realism and has proven its ability to inform and facilitate research in strategy and marketing areas.

    The research samples for this study were limited to Australia and Pakistan due to their contrasting cultures and the researcher was familiar with cultures and geographies to bear on critical reflective analysis. Both these countries were selected for their different emphasis on what constitutes spiritual tourism. Pakistan as a country has a reputation of being traditionally a religious state where devotees travel around for spiritual guidance and development. Although Islam is the predominant religion in Pakistan, religious symbols and relics associated with other faiths have also attracted many tourists over the years. A study of all these domestic and foreign travellers seeking spiritual development from various religious perspectives provides helpful insights for this study.

    Australia is generally known as a land of the carefree and happy people where fun seems to be the motto of life. Moreover, indigenous Australians always enjoyed a strong tradition of spiritual connection to their country and ancestors. This is largely due to the presence of a spiritual and historical richness of indigenous culture, people and relics, and above all else existence of spiritual treasures on the country. Recently there has been a rising recognition from many non-indigenous Australians of this spiritual connection, which has led to the social recognition of spirituality as an experience among all Australians and hence there has been an increasing number of spiritual travellers within and outside the country.

    By no means is spiritual travel restricted to indigenous Australia. The maiden Australian Sainthood of Mary MacKillop has opened a new window towards modern Australian spirituality. In relation to the link between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, spirituality is becoming more relevant to the Australian psychology. Another trend that has been observed from interviews with Australian spiritual tourists is the popularity of multi-faith festivals and gatherings. Many Australian respondents in this study, from different cultural and religious backgrounds informed that they travelled to attend such events to participate in the national integration based on multi-faith understanding and friendship. All these factors highlight a substantial research into marketing of spirituality within the context of tourism in these two different countries.

    The second category of Australian spiritual tourism mentioned above signifies the indigenous culture, land and people. The literature review in this thesis accepts Australian indigenous tourism as spiritual tourism, but none of the Australian participants referred to any indigenous people or places as part of their spiritual tourism experiences. Even the two respondents from indigenous backgrounds talked about their spiritual tourism associated with multi-faith events and not connected with the indigenous spiritual or cultural heritage. Therefore, in the findings and discussion chapters the significance of Australian indigenous tourism as spiritual tourism could not be empirically justified.

    Due to the exploratory nature of this study, qualitative methods were employed for data collection and hence in-depth interviews were conducted with spiritual tourists in Australia and Pakistan. Based on the interview transcripts, cross-case content analysis was conducted. Since more than one language was used during the interviews, no software such as Nudist, NVivo or Atlas.ti was employed. Triangulation of the information collected from multiple sources which included academic literature, public and private tourism data, government travel statistics and cross-case content analysis, lead towards the emergence of categories.

    Various categories and sub-categories were identified from the the triangulation of different sources of primary and secondary data. A complete picture of diverse characteristics of Australian and Pakistani spiritual tourists was formed by the categories. The major categories were of three types: firstly; categories common in both countries, secondly; categories unique to Australians only and finally; categories unique to Pakistanis only.

    Details of the three types of categories is given below:

    1. Six common categories emerged from the data analysis from both countries. They were: inclusive and exclusive spiritual tourism, inspiration from reference groups and opinion leaders, faith and reasoned knowledge, social and individual, electronic and non-electronic media and special events.

    2. Four categories were recognised from the interview analysis from Australian respondents only. They were: identity and self-recognition, cost effectiveness and quality of service, geographical proximity and destinations as compared to sites.

    3. Only one category was extarcted from the interview analysis from Pakistani respondents only; that was healing from spiritual tourism.

    The total eleven categories recognised in this thesis are the key findings of this study. These categories could be employed in a research in areas of tourism, economics, ethnography, geography or international business. Since this thesis focuses on marketing of spirituality from a tourism perspective, all eleven categories were analysed to design a strategy for marketing spiritual tourism. In order to adopt a relationship marketing strategy, segmentation of spiritual tourists was required.

    For segmentation purpose, the analysis of categories implied that the most relevant category was the characteristic of Australian and Pakistani spiritual tourists being either ‘inclusive’ or ‘exclusive’. The inclusive spiritual tourists appreciated all religions and travelled for spiritual growth to various religious destinations and events, while the exclusive spiritual tourists only travelled to destinations and events linked to their own religion. Based on this category of inclusive or exclusive spiritual tourism, four segments of spiritual tourists were specified for both countries, they were: inclusive spiritual tourists, exclusive Christians, exclusive Muslims and exclusive others.

    The identification of segments of the spiritual tourism market offers a foundation on which to position spiritual tourism products and build relationship marketing strategies. The strategic maket positioning of spiritual tourism is proposed to be based on the eleven categories recognised from the data analysis conducted in this thesis. Eventually, relationship marketing strategies based on product, people, communications and collaborations; were presented for each of the four segments of spiritual tourists specified above.

    This thesis fills a gap in the academic literature on tourism and marketing. The concept of spiritual tourism has been identified, which is based on special interest and cultural tourism literature that conceptually encompasses religious tourism and pilgrimage. The segments of spiritual tourists identified in two different countries and relationship marketing strategies for marketing spiritual tourism to each segment contribute to the theory and managerial practice. The contribution to marketing and tourism theory is found in the justification for recognising and conceptualising spiritual tourism as a new and emerging market.
    Date of AwardAug 2011
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPhilip Bretherton (Supervisor)

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