Daniel Zopoula on Traveling for a Greater Cause
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Photo Credit: Daniel Zopoula
The global tourism industry employs 260 million people and is the largest service industry on the planet, accounting for 9 percent of the world’s GDP and boasts more than one billion travelers a year. In the last three decades, there has been a growing number of niche travel industries. From volunteer tourism, which lets vacationers volunteer for a good cause while traveling, to ecotourism, which allows a visitor the opportunity to take part in an environmentally friendly project, there is no shortage of unique vacation opportunities. However, one of the oldest and one of the fastest growing tourism sectors is spiritual or religious tourism.
Spiritual tourism dates back to before modern travel. However, as soon as cars, trains, busses and planes made national and international travel possible, even more people began traveling to holy, spiritual and meaningful destinations and landmarks in order to gain a sense of unity, camaraderie and peace. In 2007, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) announced that spiritual tourism was the fastest growing sector in the travel and tourism industry.
“Believers taking part in religious pilgrimages such as Muslims doing the Hajj or Buddhists visiting the four sacred sites in India and Nepal are plainly recognized as "spiritual tourists" as are the 500,000 people belonging to various faiths (or none) who annually walk the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James),” wrote Ben Bowler in a 2013 blog post for The Huffington Post. Bowler goes on to point out the masses that visit the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and the Taj Mahal as spiritual tourists who are more akin to spiritual sightseers, but who still help bolster the multimillion-dollar industry.
In 2013, the first international conference on spiritual tourism was held by the UNWTO in Vietnam. At the three-day conference that explored trends, destinations and the future travel, industry observer and journalist Imtiaz Muqbil addressed attendees with an industry overview.
He acknowledged that the tourism industry is undergoing widespread change and is shifting from what he called the three S’s of old tourism. That is, the tourism industry is shifting away from Sun, Sand and Sex to what he sees as the emerging three S’s in the new tourism, namely, Serenity, Sustainability and Spirituality.
Some believe the growth of the spiritual travel industry coincides with humanity's desire to know the meaning and purpose of life. “The interesting thing about travel is, it gets you out of your routine so you can consider these questions. It gives you a different perspective on life,” explained Daniel Olsen, a professor of geography at Brigham Young University.
Daniel Zopoula, an Alberta-based Pastor and head of the Travel with Daniel organization, led a spiritual trip to Israel last year, something that was a life-changing experience for participants.
“Traveling with Daniel Zopoula is definitely an adventure you'll never forget. He will guide you through many thought provoking discussions in the evenings and crazy wild excursions during the day!” said Tina Mehler.
In addition to the Travel with Daniel trips, Zopoula leads various humanitarian trips through his charitable organization, Bridges of Hope. The volunteer travelers that embark on a Bridges of Hope humanitarian trip have traveled extensively in Africa to help provide healthcare and other essential services. Daniel Zopoula’s spiritual trips are meant to be partly a humanitarian experience, as well as a personal journey of spirituality and growth. “Having time to explore the roots of your spirituality is the real benefit of these international trips,” explains Daniel Zopoula. “It’s also a chance to connect with people in other countries who share your spirituality and faith.”
India recently released details of a plan to boost tourism to their country by 2020. The plan focuses heavily on marketing India as a prime destination for spiritual vacations. It appears the days of hours spent basking in the sun have been replaced by days spent visiting spiritual landmarks for some quiet inner reflection.