Using data collected from 538 Iranian tourists undertaking the religious pilgrimage of Umrah (i.e. voluntary travel to the holy city of Mecca at any time throughout the year), this study investigates the concept of play and its relationship with self-expression and hedonism in an Islamic tourism context. By testing a theoretically derived structural model, the findings suggest that self-expression strongly influences tourists’ sense of play. Here, play is realised when tourists feel that they can express themselves freely and augment their self-image while travelling, irrespective of the religious context. Nonetheless, the pilgrimage environment is characterised by the religious congregation–with tourists engaging in communal experiences that reflect themselves and their faith. Therefore, the ideal experience, where tourists feel a sense of escapism from the pressures of everyday life, is a product of their ability to project, develop, and ratify their self-concept. Finally, the study suggests that pilgrimage managers and marketers should focus on the importance of play, enabling their destinations to heighten the intensity of the ‘enjoyable’ elements of religious travel (e.g. group camaraderie, escapism and positive emotional reactions) alongside their inherent religious benefits.
- religious tourism