Student - September 21, 2006

New Age tourists take spiritual trips

A growing number of tourists are searching for spiritual enlightenment. For his PhD research at Wageningen University, the New Zealander Tomas Pernecky is conducting phenomenological research into this so-called New Age tourism. In an article in the scientific magazine Tourism, he describes the New Age tourist as a self-assured person, who is nevertheless not always daring enough to share his or her experiences. Most people still find it a bit strange to hug megaliths.

Why take an interest in New Age tourism?
‘I have always been interested in spirituality and the New Age phenomenon. My research also fits in the current trend in tourism research of conducting more interpretive research intended to broaden our understanding of how something works. But New Age tourism is also a growing segment in the tourist industry. In the West, New Age is the most important minority spiritual movement and a growing number of people are searching for locations that have a spiritual meaning. People visit these places for various reasons, to feel energy, for channelling, dowsing or to gain unique experiences.’

What are typical New Age destinations?
‘Holy sites and ceremonial activities are among the oldest travel destinations. Stonehenge is a famous example. But there is a huge diversity of holy sites such as churches, temples, burial mounds, shrines, sites where apparitions or other wonders have taken place, holy mountains and rivers, and places associated with the prophets.’

You describe in your article a woman who hugs a megalith to receive energy from a whale. How do others around her react to this?
‘Most people would think it’s strange for a person to hug or talk to a stone. Some New Agers are proud of what they do, and don’t really care what others think about it. But there are also those who do not want to be judged and labelled and therefore do not share their experiences with others. One of the participants in my research said that she would never talk about her experiences with co-workers because they would just laugh. Another respondent finds it difficult to talk to her husband about it, because he would be too judgemental.’

Do New Age tourists specifically seek out New Age destinations?
‘That depends on how you define New Agers. Some researchers simply count the number of people who visit a New Age site. In my PhD research I studied the New Age paradigm and how this determines how New Agers feel. I distinguished between various levels of New Agers based on their skills, knowledge and how New Age beliefs fit in with their lifestyles. The more specialised a New Ager is, the more he or she will specifically seek out New Age sites to visit.’

Is a New Age trip comparable to a pilgrimage?
‘New Age is often studied as a religious movement. Debate continues on what the actual parameters are. I think that in the current globalised and post-modern world such delineations are impractical and unworkable. The overlap between pilgrimages, religious tourism and other types of tourism is greater than ever. It is also a form of cultural tourism. Pilgrims who visit Fatima in Portugal, for example, where three village children had visions of Mary in 1917, also visit the Atlantic Coast and other cities and sites of cultural interest in the area.’

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