Retail, real estate and religion: Spiritual hotspots brace for a tourism boom

Retail, real estate and religion: Spiritual hotspots brace for a tourism boom
Source: IANS
  • Apparel, F&B and hospitality chains flock to spiritual centres like Dwarka, Bodh Gaya and more.
  • The government’s initiatives to improve air, road and rail connectivity in these areas, are aiding the surge in footfalls.
  • Jefferies says that the most popular pilgrimage towns attract anywhere between 10 to 30 million tourists every year.
India’s retail boom has reached its most key religious centres too. There is a Spykar store in Somnath, while Shirdi’s tourists can now shop for FabIndia kurtas. You can spot a Blackberrys outlet in Bodh Gaya, and a Zudio in Varanasi.

Food and beverage chains like Domino's, KFC and Burger King are not behind, establishing their presence even in isolated religious sites like Puri, Katra, Ajmer and more.

While a lot has been said about the growth of retail and hospitality in Ayodhya, there has been a slow yet steady growth in retail chains’ expansion across pilgrimages in the country.

“This trend reflects a broader shift in tourist preferences, with travellers seeking transformative experiences beyond traditional rituals. The rise of urban spiritual tourism is catering to this desire, attracting visitors to cities known for their deep religious and spiritual significance,” says a report by real estate consultancy CBRE.

The report identifies Amritsar, Ajmer, Varanasi, Katra, Somnath, Shirdi, Ayodhya, Puri, Tirupati, Mathura, Dwarka, Bodh Gaya, Guruvayur, and Madurai as key cities witnessing this retail boom.


Retail brands are adapting their offerings at mall clusters as well as high-street locations. “Local governments and businesses are joining forces to create unique retail experiences. This includes integrating local practices into the design and offerings of shops, restaurants, and hotels,” says CBRE.

Cities like Amritsar, Varanasi, Madurai, Puri, Guruvayur, etc. are leveraging their unique culinary traditions and local fashion expertise to give tourists a taste of town beyond spirituality.

Infrastructure growth aids surges in spiritual tourism

As per a report by Jefferies, the most popular religious centres in India attract an annual tourist traffic of 10-30 million despite the existing infrastructural bottlenecks. And, most such cities are now undergoing an infrastructural upgrade — which will bolster their growth.

The state and central governments are working on well-connected roads, airports, and public transportation. It’s also aiding the development of hotels, guesthouses, and wellness centres to ensure a comfortable stay for the tourists.

“The rapid expansion of spiritual tourism in India is driving the growth of the country's faith-based tourism market. Government initiatives to promote tourism and improve connectivity between pilgrimage sites are further boosting this growth. The rise of online retail platforms offering easy access to faith-based products and services is also a key factor,” says Anshuman Magazine, chairman & CEO - India, South-East Asia, Middle East & Africa, CBRE.

While Jefferies expects footfalls to average 50 million in Ayodhya, other pilgrimage centres too are growing fast. “India boasts of a wide diversity of tourism types including historic monuments, culture & heritage, beaches, hill stations and more. Religious tourism is still the biggest segment of tourism in India,” it adds.

Along with retail chains, high-end hospitality brands are making their inroads into these cities. Apart from Taj, ITC, Lemon Tree, Novotel, J W Mariott and Mayfair are some of the chain brands that are setting up boutique as well as experiential hotels in these cities.

“Major hotel chains are adapting to the evolving preferences of spiritual tourists, offering clean, hygienic, and family-friendly accommodations that command premium pricing. Branded hotels are emerging as key players, offering a blend of comfort and traditional hospitality tailored for spiritual seekers,” says CBRE.