India’s Ayodhya transforms into a beacon of spiritual tourism

The once sleepy town of Ayodhya located in India’s northern state of Ayodhya is now emerging as a major destination for spiritual tourism thanks to the recent grand inauguration of the Ram Temple built at an estimated cost of US$225 million.

The consecration ceremony at the newly-built Ram temple that took place on January 22 was attended by prime minister Narendra Modi and over 7,000 guests. The temple is situated at a site where deity Lord Ram is believed to have been born, thus making it a revered place among billions of Hindus globally.

The grand launch ceremony for Ram Temple was held on January 22

According to Thomas Cook India the inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, along with improved connectivity and infrastructure, has accelerated online searches for the destination by 10 times. Similarly, as per a recent insight on spiritual tourism in India, MakeMyTrip, one of India’s leading OTAs, shared that search for Ayodhya on its platform grew exponentially since the inauguration announcement of the Ram Temple. As per the OTA’s search date between January 1 and 12, internationally maximum search contribution came from the US followed by the Gulf countries, Canada, Nepal and Australia.

“Ayodhya is developing as India’s ‘Vatican City’. Considering the strong infrastructure investment the destination is witnessing, it is on the path of becoming a leading spiritual destination in India for both domestic and international travellers,” said Arun Anand, managing director, Midtown Travels.

As per research by the international brokerage firm Jefferies, a US$10 billion makeover (new airport, revamped railway station, township, improved road connectivity etc) is now set to transform the ancient destination from a sleepy town to a global religious and spiritual tourist hotspot. Tourism is projected to surge and multiple sectors stand to benefit, including hotels, airlines, hospitality, FMCG, travel ancillaries, among others. Jefferies estimates the annual influx of over 50 million tourists in Ayodhya which will surpass other popular spiritual sites like Tirupati Temple in Andhra Pradesh which presently attracts 25 million footfalls annually.

Rajesh Shukla, chief strategist, National Intellectual Advisory (NIA) said: “Post the consecration ceremony of Ram Temple, the number of tourists has gone up to 500,000 per day in Ayodhya. The entire scenario of the tourism industry in Ayodhya has drastically changed. The holy city’s tourism industry will witness rapid growth in the coming years, catering not only to spiritual seekers but also introducing them to Ayodhya’s rich cultural heritage.”

The new Maharishi Valmiki International Airport in Ayodhya opened its phase one built at a cost of US$175 million beginning January 6 this year. Three additional terminals including an international terminal would be operational at the airport from 2025.

Indian carriers are showing keen interest in connecting Ayodhya to the rest of the country. Air India Express has launched operations from Ayodhya to Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata. IndiGo started operations connecting Ayodhya to New Delhi, Ahmedabad and Mumbai. On the other hand, SpiceJet is connecting Ayodhya with eight key cities across the country including Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Patna, and Darbhanga.

The destination has now become a seedbed for hospitality players. According to hotel management consultancy company Hotelivate considering the surge in tourism for Ayodhya, the destination is projected to require 8,500 to 12,500 branded hotel rooms in the medium to long term. Major hospitality brands like Radisson Hotel Group, IHCL, Marriott, Club Mahindra, Wyndham, The Leela Palace, ITC Hotels and Cygnett Hotels & Resorts have shown interest in the market, with some already opening properties in the destination.

Radisson Hotel Group recently announced the signing of a 150-room Radisson Blu Hotel, Ayodhya. Previously, the hospitality group opened Park Inn by Radisson Ayodhya in January 2024.

“Our decision to open another hotel in Ayodhya is greatly influenced by the robust guest demand and positive feedback that underscores the attractiveness of this holy city. Ayodhya stands strong as a promising market for Radisson Hotel Group, occupying a significant position in our expansion plans in 2024 and beyond,” said KB Kachru, chairman emeritus and principal advisor, South Asia, Radisson Hotel Group.

Cygnett Hotels & Resorts last year announced the signing of a 40-rooms property, Cygnett Collection KK Hotel Ayodhya. “With the official inauguration of the Ram Temple, Ayodhya is well positioned to become a spiritual centre, attracting visitors from all corners of the world. Considering the strong demand for the destination, we are planning to introduce our second property in Ayodhya soon,” said Sarbendra Sarkar, founder & managing director of Cygnett Hotels & Resorts.

However, at present there is a dearth of branded hotels available in Ayodhya, which is resulting in a big gap between demand and supply. “Ayodhya as a destination will be able to meet its potential as a spiritual tourism market for the organised tour package segment, once the hotel room supply picks up,” said PP Khanna, president, Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India.

As the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya becomes the focal point of widespread attention, it will be interesting to observe how the India tourism sector seizes this opportunity.

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