The First International Congress on Tourism and Pilgrimages takes place in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on 17-20 September 2014.

It aims to highlight the positive contributions of pilgrimages and spiritual routes to sustainable and responsible tourism, as well as the contribution of tourism to cultural understanding and the preservation of natural and cultural heritage related to ancient trails and sacred places.

”With their unique historical, cultural and natural features, pilgrimages represent vital opportunities to further strengthen tourism’s ability to foster intercultural dialogue and contribute to the protection of religious and spiritual sites,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

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The Secretary of State for Tourism of Spain, Isabel Borrego, recalled that “the city of Santiago de Compostela is a reference for religious tourism in Spain. To visit its historic centre, a UNESCO Heritage Site, and walk the Santiago path are unique experiences. Spain has much to offer in terms of religious tourism”: Santiago, intense pilgrimages and religious celebrations, important monasteries and cathedrals and many religious festivities of great interest.”

According to UNWTO estimates, 300 to 330 million tourists visit the world´s key religious sites every year, making spiritual tourism a significant part of both domestic and international tourism.

Bringing together experts from a diverse range of countries including Argentina, Australia, India, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Paraguay, The Republic of Korea, Spain and Thailand, among others, the Congress addresses issues such as the role of pilgrimages as drivers of local development, identify the motivational factors behind the demand for spiritual tourism, and analyze strategies in developing and marketing sustainable pilgrimage tourism products.