Ram Mandir reinforces Ramayana Trail tourism

Tourism players hop on to Ram Mandir bandwagon

Tourism

August 10, 2020

/ By / New Delhi



Ram Mandir in Ayodhya

With Ram Mandir, Ayodhya lies at heart of Ramayana Trails

The construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya has revived Ramayana Trail as a tourism product, with many new players joining in. The trail is likely to open a new chapter in spiritual tourism within India.

Of the nearly 185 million domestic tourists that the Indian government counted in 2019, as many as 60 pc or about 110 million are believed to have opted for spiritual tourism or pilgrimage. Indeed, for a spiritually-inclined nation like India, doing the rounds of the country’s numerous temples and holy sites has been one of the biggest draws for decades, if not centuries, at least for domestic travellers.

However, so far spiritual or religious tourism was considered as the exclusive remit of the older generation, something that one would undertake after retirement, doing the whole circuit at a leisurely pace.

However, over the past few years, with a religious resurgence in the country, there has been a shift in the kind of tourists who get drawn to the spiritual tourism sites, with many working professionals or even students forming groups to head for a quick dash to the nearest holy town, notably on key religious festivals.

A report published in 2018 quoted travel marketplace ixigo to say that there was a month-on-month, double-digit growth in hotel bookings on its site for a number of cities with religious connections. These included 60 pc rise in Puri, famous for its Jagannatha Temple, a 48 pc increase in number of arrivals in Varanasi, 34 pc to Tirupati and 19 pc to Shirdi.

In the footsteps of Ram

The beginning of construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya has given a substantial boost to spiritual tourism in the country as it could open several new circuits entirely centred around the life and story of Lord Ram. And even more interestingly, it has broadened the market tremendously as millions of young Hindus have been closely following the developments surrounding the temple over the past few years.

With Ayodhya being at the heart of the story of Ram, Uttar Pradesh was always an important centre in any Ramayana Trail. Over the past few years, the state government had also prepared a short trail by putting together various other sites that have been associated with Ram or any other central figure in the epic Ramayana.

Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was laying the foundation stone of the temple in Ayodhya, a number of states joined the Ram bandwagon and announced their own versions Ramayana Trails, following the footsteps of Rama and the epic of Ramayana which is believed to have played out over a large number of sites in India and even overseas.

Officials of the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Corporation announced that they were developing numerous sites in the state with a direct connection to Ramayana. “We have several holy sites and temples in the state which are linked with Ramayana. We will develop all of them and bring it under our initiative of Ramayana circuit to boost religious tourism in the state,” says state tourism minister Satpal Maharaj who was one of the few invitees present in Ayodhya during the foundation stone-laying ceremony.

“We have Bharat and Shatrughan temple in Rishikesh where it is believed that the two met Lord Ram to urge him to return to Ayodhya from his sojourn in the forest. Apart from this, we also have Raghunath temple in Devprayag which was visited by Lord Ram,” Maharaj adds.

Not just the northern states, but even central Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh figure in Ramayana. It is said that Lord Ram, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman trekked from Chitrakoot in present day Madhya Pradesh to the massive Dandakaranya forest in today’s Chhattisgarh during their 14-year stay in the wilderness. The trio is said to have spent as many as 13 years of their exile in this beautiful yet fear-evoking forest, which was known to be infested by rakshas at that time. Both Chitrakoot and Dandakaranya are fairly popular as religious sites.

Private sector joins bandwagon

Even as other states and sites join the long list on the Ramayana Trail, a few innovative tour operators have packaged new or even repackaged tours to cater to the expected spurt in demand for these sites. One such player is Thomas Cook (India), the country’s largest tour operator. Less than a week after the foundation stone was laid in Ayodhya, the company, along with it’s group company, SOTC Travel, introduced Ramayana Trails to allow the pilgrims to retrace the footsteps of Lord Ram and re-live his life in India. The company says the trail included key temples and memorable places intertwined with the epic journey- Ayodhya, Prayagraj, Chitrakoot, Hampi, Madurai and Rameshwaram. The company says its packages are not limited to any particular age group or section of the society but have something for nearly everyone.

‘‘Our market feedback indicates that the pandemic and lockdowns have made Indians seek spiritual solace and strength even more. The Ramayana Trail packages do not target only Gen S. Given the heightened interest in Lord Ram’s life currently, it is a perfect package for Indian consumers across various segments such as millennials and young couples and their families to combine a well-deserved break and a deeply spiritual experience as they walk in the footsteps of Lord Ram,’’ Rajeev Kale, president & country head – Holidays, MICE and Visa at Thomas Cook tells Media India Group.

Indeed, Thomas Cook says that given the pandemic and its aftermath, its packages could suit a wide audience, across many segments – be it millennials – stressed by over four months of work-from-home and household chores, seniors of Gen S as well as families wanting to express their gratitude to God, among others. ‘‘Traditionally, religious tours in India have been the domain of adults and senior citizens. We are witnessing an unusual interest from our Gen Y/millennial segment– whether accompanying family or as an ad hoc group of young professionals. Our sales teams at Thomas Cook India have discovered interesting triggers that have catalysed this growth,’’ says Kale.

SOTC Travel, associate company of Thomas Cook India, has also been in spiritual and religious tours for a while. The two companies say they have been witnessing an over 25 pc annual growth in sales of their spiritual tourism packages, including Char Dham, Amarnath Yatra,Vaishnodevi, Kailash Mansarovar and Bodhgaya. The Ramayana trail is the latest product in this rich bouquet. ‘‘Ramayana Trails invite travellers to embark on an enriching spiritual sojournselecting from tours based on the epic compiled by Sage Valmiki. The programmes have been designed with great care and incorporate special priority darshans, assistance to perform various Pujas at temples enroute, a guide cum storyteller to explain the nuances and historical-cum-spiritual perspective of the locales, special spiritual diets, prayers and folklores with the locals and home cooked meals on select itineraries,’’ says Daniel Dsouza, president & country head, Leisure, SOTC Travel.

The travel companies as well as tourism board and officials believe that spiritual tourism is one of the strongest pillars of tourism in India as it is both weather-proof as well as independent of the prevailing economic situation. They emphasise the need to develop it further to cushion the tourism industry from shocks. ‘‘Religious or spiritual tourism has proven to be resilient to the pressure of the global recession because it is not seen as a luxury but rather travel with a purpose and because of its nature the pilgrimage travel is elastic and strong in any economic scenario. Therefore, ministry of tourism sees hope in helping millions of followers of all great religions that are deeply rooted in India,’’ Prahlad Singh Patel, union minister of tourism, said soon afterwards.

Travel companies and other tourism industry players like hotels and airlines are hoping that Lord Ram and the Ramayana Trail come to their aid and resuscitate Indian tourism industry which has been in a coma ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit India.

‘‘Leisure combined with spiritual journeys is witnessing an interesting trend. Spiritual tourism is becoming a major growth area of the Indian travel market with more Indians opting to go on a spiritual journey to popular religious cities. We have seen renewed interest with new-age travellers seeking experiences in travel that are novel and unique while being wellness and spiritually driven and also allow the travellers to experience the beauty of the quaint and tranquil destinations,’’ Dsouza of SOTC Travel tells Media India Group.

Given the interest in Ram Mandir and the current environment of despair and fear in the Indian society, Ramayana Trail could be the Rambaan that the industry so badly needs.

‘Ramayana Trails for those seeking spiritual solace during coronavirus pandemic’

Interview: Rajeev Kale, president & country head, Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India)

Thomas Cook India, country’s largest tour operator, launches affordable and flexible packages promoting Ramayana Trail to domestic tourists.

Rajeev Kale, president & country head, Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India)

Who is your target customer?

With the current downtime creating opportunity for reflection and introspection, Indians are now seeking a deeper meaning to life. In an endeavour to support new age Indian travellers on their journey of spirituality and self-discovery, we have introduced Ramayana Trails – walking in the footsteps of Lord Ram and re-living his life within India. The holidays cater to a wide audience, across segments - be it millennials - stressed with work-from-home and household chores, seniors of Gen S, families wanting to express their gratitude, among others.

Our market feedback indicates that the pandemic and lockdowns have made Indians seek spiritual solace and strength even more. These packages do not target only Gen S, but given the heightened interest in Lord Ram’s life currently, the Ramayana Trails is a perfect package for Indian consumers across various segments such as millennials or families to combine a well-deserved break and a deeply spiritual experience as they walk in the footsteps of Lord Ram.

Traditionally, religious tours in India have been the domain of adults and senior citizens. We are witnessing an unusual interest from our Gen Y/millennial segment– whether accompanying family or as an ad hoc group of young professionals.

Our sales teams at Thomas Cook India have discovered interesting triggers that have catalysed this growth:

  • With increasing stress levels of daily life, millennials and young professionals have been turning to religious tours as an ideal stress buster and a rejuvenation therapy.
  • The current pandemic has resulted in added worries and religious tours are seen as a welcome break from potential depression and an opportunity to reconnect with God.
  • Today’s youth exhibit an innate penchant for self-discovery journeys, so spiritual tours offer an opportunity to embark on a voyage of introspection and spiritual growth whilst exploring a new destination.

Are these only for domestic tourists or also from abroad?

Currently at Thomas Cook India, we have launched this for the domestic market in India, and once borders re-open and basis demand are open to consider scaling this to opportune segments like NRIs.

What does the package cover?

Along with providing an enriching spiritual experience with visits to key temples, the package will also cover memorable places intertwined with the epic journey: Ayodhya, Prayagraj, Chitrakoot, Hampi, Madurai and Rameshwaram. We have thoughtfully included key elements basis our customer feedback: special priority darshans, assistance to perform various prayers at temples en-route, a guide cum storyteller to explain the nuances and historical-cum-spiritual perspective of the locales, customised meals to suit dietary needs of people, prayer sessions or bhajan kirtan and folklores with the locals and home cooked meals on select itineraries.

Are these basic packages or also luxurious?

These holidays are designed at an affordable starting price of INR 19,999 for standard tours. We have also built in flexibility to allow our customers to further personalise - with the guidance/advice from of our travel experts.

How will you market it?

We are making optimal use of the digital mediums to promote our Ramayana Trails – and have commenced engagement through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. Hyper-local communication via WhatsApp is being leveraged by us to maximum advantage.

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