Sustainable Assessment of Religious Tourism (Case Study: Emamzade Hamze Ali – Chaharmahal and Bakhtiaree Province)

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Assistant Professor of Geography, Yazd University, Yazd, Iran

2 PhD Candidate in Landuse Planning, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran


Religious tourism is one of the significant areas of tourism industry in the world. It has always been a very important field of tourism which has not been affected by climate conditions or bad weather. Religious tourism is as old as the history of religious culture. According to the World Tourism Organization studies, each year, 600 million people travel around the world for religious and spiritual purposes.
Nowadays, more and more countries are seeking to develop religious tourism as a major source of employment and income. Religious tourism is also vital in Iran and it is the reason for many travels. The vast country of Iran, with a great variety of cultures generating various customs throughout the country, has many religious attractions, monuments, shrines and holy sites. This great variety in scenic and historical attractions led to the development of religious tourism. The total number of Imamzadeh sites in Iran is more than 8051 throughout the country. In addition, 33 Prophets are buried in the country, each having a special position for the Shiites. The proportion of Imamzadeh sites in different locations are respectively, 7 percent in rural areas, 23 percent in urban areas, 18 percent in mountainous areas, and the remaining 52 percent in the vicinity of roads and desert areas. Among the provinces of the country, Fars province with 14% and Mazandaran with 12%, are ranked as the first and the second in number of sites, respectively. Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province has also a total of 1% of the shrine sites.
One of the most important centers of religious tourism in this province is Imamzadeh Hamzeh Ali, hosting lots of tourists every year. These visitors have various impacts on the economic, social, environmental and physical aspects in the region. The purpose of this research is to evaluate the sustainability of this center in the life cycle of tourism. 
This study is an applied research with descriptive and analytical methodology. The purpose of the study is to assess the impact of tourism sustainability in Imamzadeh Hamzeh Ali. The study population consists of tourists and pilgrims that visit the holy shrine. The total volume of tourists and pilgrims that visit the shrine annually is about 600,000 people.  The site becomes usually crowded during late spring and summer in the months of June, July, August and September. The average daily page views in the mentioned months are about 4,000 people and in other months the value is about 500 people. The total sample size of visitors is 350 cases, estimated through Cochran formula. The variables of this study were identified by the experience of other similar studies by experts. The total levels of the study are 4 levels (economic, social, environmental and physical) and the total variables are more than 50 cases. 
Results and discussion
Of the total number of respondents, 61 percent were men and 39 percent were women. For the duration of their stay, 73% of these tourists were daily visitors and the rest (27%) were those stayed few days. The tourists are mainly come from Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province (65%), Isfahan province (19%), and Khuzestan province (9%) and  from other provinces (7%). From all the respondents, about 11% were illiterate, 23% elementary, 40% diploma and 26% bachelor and higher. About 20% of the respondents were 18-29 years old, 42% were 30-49 years old, and 38% were more than 50 years old. 
To assess the dimensions of sustainable development, the collected data were initially classified into the model of sustainability assessment process. Up to 63 variables were used to assess sustainability at the destination. Some of these variables are including job creation, purchase of agricultural products by tourists, indigenous employment in the tourism sector, access to credit and banking services, spreading handicrafts, private sector investment, improved facilities and educational services, improvement of cultural facilities and services, promotion of the standards of living conditions of people, addiction, theft, crime, hospitality, attention to the local culture of the people, local community satisfaction from tourism, participation of local residents in planning, interaction between tourists and the host community, rural migration, protecting Imamzadeh’s cultural heritage, quality of access routes, communication development, access to healthy drinking water, access to proper sanitation, suitable mobile coverage, tourists access to therapeutic space, access to commercial spaces, access to parking and etc.
The study of economic variables shows that parameters like seasonality of tourism revenues, increase in costs, and economic inequality are not good and are in an almost unstable situation. In the social dimension, addiction, theft, and delinquency are the worst of all. In the environmental dimension, about 75% of the variables are unstable or nearly unstable, the worst of which is the loss of drinking water and agriculture, pressure on resources, and environmental degradation. In the physical dimension, road accidents, access to sanitation and health care services have the worst condition than other variables.
 Based on the analysis, the highest stability is related to social sustainability (5.13). This level of sustainable development is in medium condition. After that, physical sustainability is in the next rank (4.97). The least sustainability is related to environmental level (3.71 value), followed by economic level (4.34 value). In general, all aspects of sustainable development are evaluated in intermediate level (4.6).  
Based on the results of this survey, and the answers of the respondents, the sustainability of Imamzadeh Hamzeh Ali is in medium level, especially in the case of environmental sustainability. The condition is poor and requires immediate measures and planning to achieve a more suitable condition. Based on Butler tourism life cycle model this center is in the second order, requiring engagement and action. At this stage, there is an increase in the number of short-term tourists. Businesses companies start to build touristic-related services and facilities. Small hotels and restaurants are constructed to provide the visitors with accommodation, food and tour guides. 


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