Boosting faith tourism challenging, says Welsh economy minister
Boosting faith tourism in Wales will be a challenge, the Welsh government has admitted.
Economy and Transport Minister Edwina Hart said attracting more visitors to places of worship and other sacred sites would give tourism a competitive edge.
But she said increasing the £12m UK tourists already spend visiting faith venues would be difficult.
It comes as the government launched its Faith Tourism Action Plan.
Mrs Hart said the plan sets out a "challenging vision for exploiting the full potential of Wales places of worship".
It said places of worship are already amongst the most visited attractions in Wales.
Visit Wales figures showed tourists from across the UK spent £12m while visiting such venues in Wales in 2012.
But the Welsh government said improving that figure would be hard because many places of worship are closed or appear closed to visitors; there is no coherence between faith tourism projects and no organisation adequately funded to promote it.
The faith action plan, which was launched at St Asaph Cathedral in Denbighshire, is part of the government's wider tourism strategy.
"This is the first action plan of its kind in the UK with a specific focus on faith tourism," Mrs Hart said.
"Some of Wales' places of worship are truly iconic and attract huge numbers of visitors every year. This action plan will not only focus on the iconic sites.
"Churches and chapels have a presence in every community and the activities within Wales' places of worship have helped shape its language, culture and way of life. Temples of all religions, holy sites and pilgrim trails also have their place."
Rich Christian heritage
One element of the action plan is to develop a pilgrims' walking trail across south Wales to the cathedral.
St Asaph Cathedral was chosen as the site for the launch of the action plan, which was welcomed by the Bishop of St Asaph, the Right Reverend Gregory Cameron.
"Across this diocese we have holy sites and ancient places of worship which have been visited by pilgrims for generations and this initiative is a new opportunity to share our rich Christian heritage with locals and tourists alike," he said.
A working group has been set up in order to achieve the objectives of the plan and their work will focus on promoting faith tourism, help tourism businesses to make the most of faith tourism.