“Religious tourism as such was not permitted during the decades of communist rule. Although the sector started to expand after transition to democracy two decades ago, pilgrimages make up just 5-6 percent of organised domestic trips,” Gyula Madari, head of a specialised travel agency, told the paper.
He added that only four or five of Hungary’s nearly one thousand travel agencies organise such programmes.
Some recent projects, however, seem to be changing the picture. For instance, Faith and Health, a 3.5-billion-forint (EUR 12m) project part-financed from EU funds, involved the reconstruction of the famous Greek Catholic pilgrimage site of Mariapocs, and the Reformed and Minorite churches of nearby Nyirbator in northeast Hungary. To combine religious tourism with health and wellness, a spa and wellness centre was also built in the latter town.
In another development, the Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma (NW Hungary), a World Heritage site, won 1.56 billion forints (EUR 5.4m) in EU support a few years ago and used it to build a visitors’ centre and a restaurant. The abbey hopes to increase the number of visitors from nearly 120,000 a year by 50 percent.