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Sacred cities see a retail boom as spiritual tourism surge: Report

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The report identifies 14 key cities including Amritsar, Varanasi, Mathura, Ayodhya and Guruvayur, as witnessing the surge

Bengaluru: Spiritual tourism is experiencing a rise, resulting in a retail boom in sacred cities like Amritsar, Varanasi, Mathura, Ayodhya, and Guruvayur, among others, as per a report by real estate consulting firm CBRE.

As more pilgrims and spiritual seekers visit holy cities in India, retail brands across segments, including fashion and apparel, food and beverage, hypermarkets, homeware and department stores, and consumer electronics brands, are expanding by tailoring the offerings to the pilgrim’s needs.

“The rapid expansion of spiritual tourism in India is driving the growth of the country’s faith-based tourism market,” said Anshuman Magazine, chairman of CBRE – India, South-East Asia, Middle East and Africa.

“Government initiatives to promote tourism and improve connectivity between pilgrimage sites are further boosting this growth. The rise of online retail platforms offering easy access to faith-based products and services is also a key factor,” he added.

The report identifies 14 cities including Amritsar, Ajmer, Varanasi, Katra, Somnath, Shirdi, Ayodhya, Puri, Tirupati, Mathura, Dwarka, Bodh Gaya, Guruvayur, and Madurai as witnessing the surge. Retail brands are strategically adapting their offerings in both established mall clusters and high-street locations to cater to the growing tourist population.

The increase in spiritual tourism can be attributed to enhanced infrastructure, including well-connected roads, airports, and public transportation, as well as the development of various accommodation options such as hotels, guesthouses, and wellness centres.

Local governments and businesses are joining forces to create better retail experiences, which include integrating local practices into the design and offerings of shops, restaurants, and hotels.

The report presents a case study on Ayodhya, detailing an Rs 850 billion ($10 billion) investment for a makeover project centred around the newly inaugurated Ram Mandir. The temple was constructed at an estimated cost of Rs 18 billion, spanning nearly 70 acres, with an estimated daily footfall of 100,000-150,000 visitors.

Quick service restaurant (QSR) chains, including Restaurant Brands Asia (RBA), Devyani International, and Jubilant Foods, are in talks to establish outlets in Ayodhya. With a total investment of Rs 4,500 crore, Lulu Group plans to establish shopping malls and hypermarkets in Varanasi, Ayodhya, and several other cities. Meanwhile, Zudio, Westside, Pantaloons, Starbucks, and Domino’s Pizza are set to launch soon in Ayodhya, the report said.

“Driven by the growing popularity of spiritual tourism, investors are flocking to capitalise on the market’s potential. Guided by a commitment to cater to the unique needs of spiritual travellers, these investments aim to deliver high-quality accommodations, bolster infrastructure, safeguard heritage sites, and ultimately drive regional economic growth,” said Ram Chandnani, managing director, advisory and transaction services, CBRE India.

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