Regardless of your religious affiliation or beliefs towards the Catholic religion, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on February 28 and the imminent start of the next conclave could potentially represent a tsunami in the world of Canadian tourism. How are the election of the next Pope and the Canadian travel industry related? Well, what if the next pope was Canadian, for example?
RELIGIOUS TOURISM, A FAITHFUL NICHE
Indeed, it seems that the former Archbishop of Quebec Marc Ouellet is among the papabilis, those cardinals identified as serious contenders to succeed Joseph Ratzinger, alias Benedict XVI. Moreover, over fifty international media rushed in Abitibi over past few days to the small village of La Motte, where Marc Ouellet was born on June 8th, 1944: BBC, CNN, Korean radio, South American TV channels, etc.. According to Influence Communication, the name of Marc Ouellet was among the three most frequently mentioned names in the world shortly after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation.
So what if Marc Ouellet becomes pope, right? For one thing, did you know that between 100,000 and 200,000 pilgrims visit the birthplaces of popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI every year? Getting people to and from the remote village of La Motte, which is more than 600 km from Montreal, would obviously represent a huge undertaking, providing both a challenge and a great opportunity to expand access to the Abitibi region. The village barely has 300 people, no hotel, bed & breakfast or restaurant to respond to such demand, and the childhood home, school and rectory of Marc Ouellet are no longer in existence thus requiring some thinking in terms of construction or reconstitution. But anyway you look at it, one thing would be for sure: nothing would be as before in this village if Marc Ouellet becomes pope!
Some statistics regarding religious tourism:
According to WTO, there are between 300 and 330 million religious tourists worldwide, generating over 18 billion U.S. dollars in tourism revenue
In 2005, there were more than 633.000 Americans traveling for religious tourism (U.S. Office of Travel and Tourist Information)
In the United States alone, there are over 50,000 churches offering travel packages to community members
According to the Religious Conference Management Association (RCMA), more than 14.7 million RCMA members attended a religious conference in 2006
TOURISM PROMOTION IS KEY
Beyond the village of La Motte and the Abitibi region, it's actually Canada as a travel destination that would benefit from this potential situation since international pilgrims would most likely want to discover more than the eventual pope's home town. The province of Quebec would certainly be the first beneficiary, but one can certainly imagine various travel packages featuring shrines and religious icons across the country. Just in the province of Quebec, there are already known shrines such as:
St. Joseph's Oratory, in Montreal
Shrine of Our Lady of the Cape (Notre-Dame du Cap)
These three shrines are located along the Montreal-Quebec axis, which offers accommodation and modes of transportation able to withstand a possible increase in demand. Nevertheless, there are several other places of worship in the region, including the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Benoit-du-Lac, in the Eastern Townships, the abbey Val-Notre-Dame in Lanaudière or the Hermitage Saint-Antoine in the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region. Could the advent of a Quebec-born pope Quebec propel a new bundled offer, such as a canadian-style Camino de Santiago, incorporating already established places of worship?
This type of circuit already exists since 1998 under the name of Sanctuary Way, a road of 375 km taken by many pilgrims every year, linking the St. Joseph's Oratory with Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica. Pilgrims may know about this, but there is very little promotion undertaken at this moment, save for a web site highlighting Quebec's National Shrines, and a mobile application set to launch in 2013. You would also be hard-pressed to find any reference to religious tourism in either Tourism Quebec or the Canadian Tourism Commission's ongoing marketing programs. This will obviously change should the next pope be Canadian.
SOME PACKAGES WOULD BE NICE, TOO!
There are presently various tour operators offering travel packages to Canada for religious tourism, but it's an understatement to say that a Canadian pope would represent a boon for tour operators and travel agents alike. If you search for "religious travel Canada" in Google, there are already many options available, including this list of tour operators.
Herein lies the true challenge: if Marc Ouellet became Pope, the tourism industry in Quebec and Canada would have to react as it would to hosting upcoming Summer Olympics, a different kind of Calgary Stampede or holding a Formula 1 race. The difference here is that religious tourism is rooted in faith and in time, so investments in this niche would carry for many years to come, and not only for a short period of time. This would mean substantial changes in the travel destination marketing strategy and potential budget reallocations, with everything this entails. A tsunami, I told you!
Frederic Gonzalo is a marketing & communications expert and speaker with 18 years expertise in the travel and hospitality industry. Consulting since early 2012, he provides strategic planning, social media & mobile development counseling to destinations, small and medium businesses alike. Visit his blog at www.fredericgonzalo.com, reach him at [email protected] or say hello next time you are in Quebec City, Canada, where he lives!
Source: Frederic Gonzalo