Attractions have the ability to draw tens of millions of people annually through their gates and completely change the economies of cities and states. In effect, our industry is the study and harnessing of, massive tourism flows.
This is no surprise. But, what may be surprising is that even the largest themed attractions pale in comparison to the religious travel “market”, if we can call it that.
Visitation driven by faith; pilgrimages, or visits to temples, churches, and mosques, experience volumes that would be enviable to any attraction operator, with volumes into the 10-30 million range.
Religious visitation has cascading economic impacts because of nights booked in nearby accommodations, sales of food and beverage as well as souvenirs, and other ancillary spending.
This is a concept that Walt Disney understood well when he developed Disney World in Orlando, which famously sought to extend the length of stay on Disney properties from 7 hours, in the case of Disneyland Anaheim – to 7 days.
Religious tourism and pilgrimages experience the same dynamic. One of the most prominent examples is visitation to Vatican City, where the Vatican’s budget shortfalls are made up by tourism and souvenir/stamp sales, which in total account for more than $100 million in revenues, and approximately $60 million in profits.
But by far the biggest, most mind-blowing religious pilgrimage impact in the world are Hajj and Umrah* in Saudi Arabia. Accounting for over $20-30 billion in revenues worldwide (much of it accruing to Saudi Arabia), the pilgrimage to Makkah, which is required during the lifetime of devout Muslims, has no peer in the travel and tourism industry.
You might note that $20 billion is more than the GDP of many countries!
*While both Hajj and Umrah refer to the pilgrimage to Makkah, in Saudi Arabia, by Muslims. However, Umrah can take place anytime during the year, while Hajj takes place only during specific days during the last month of the Islamic calendar.
Saudi Arabia is quite a germane topic these days in the tourism and travel industry.
Among other developments, the ride park operator Six Flags has announced a first ride park in Riyadh, which has set off a flurry of interest in other parts of the country, such as on the Gulf Coast and King Abdullah Economic City. Add to this the recently announced Vision 2030 plan, which has, among other announcements, hinted at the relaxing of visa regulations, and resort development along the Red Sea coast, and Saudi Arabia has been a market to watch.
But – leisure developments notwithstanding, Hajj and Umrah still dominate the Saudi tourism landscape. Foreign pilgrims account for more than 8 million visits annually, and religious pilgrimage occupies a central tenet of the Vision 2030 program, which seeks to increase these numbers to 30 million by – you guessed it, the year 2030.
Our Analytics team recently had the chance to work with the Saudi developer Manara for an opportunity relevant to this whole discussion.
The core question we were tasked with was: if there was a potential Islam-themed private tourism destination developed in Saudi Arabia, what would be the scope and nature of the economic opportunity? What would such an attraction look like?
While we can’t share all the details, here are general observations that we hope you’ll find useful.
For more information about the Manara project, and any questions at all, please contact our Analytics Team.
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