Tourism stakeholders take Mazu pilgrimage to the skies
Taipei, March 11 (CNA) A Taiwanese airline and travel agency are teaming up to offer tours that will allow an airborne version of the annual Mazu pilgrimage, as part of efforts to revive the domestic travel market amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 9, five flights will each take six Mazu statues and 180 pilgrims over Taiwan to pray for the country's fortunes, said Chung Hsing Travel Service Chairman Ringo Lee (李奇嶽).
The fights, offered by Tigerair Taiwan, will depart from Taoyuan International Airport and turn eastward then southward, before flying over the three outlying counties of Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu in the Taiwan Strait and returning to Taoyuan, Lee said.
During the 3.5-hour airborne pilgrimage, passengers will be able to pay tribute to the sea goddess Mazu, one of the most popular deities in Taiwan, he said.
"There will be a ceremony onboard to pray for good luck for Taiwan, particularly amid the challenges of COVID-19 and the country's water shortages," said Lee, who initiated the campaign.
He said the idea came to him quite easily, as he grew up in Penghu, worshipping Mazu.
The annual Mazu pilgrimage -- the largest religious procession in Taiwan -- usually takes the form of a parade on the main island of Taiwan and a sea cruise in Penghu, but there is no reason why a new format cannot be introduced, in an attempt to boost the travel market, Lee said.
"The time is just about right, and I don't think it will happen again, because people will not find that much joy in taking a fight to nowhere once Taiwan opens its borders," he said.
Tourism stakeholders and airports in Taiwan have been trying to find ways to satisfy people's wanderlust amid strict border regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a "flight to nowhere" campaign last summer, seats were snapped up within minutes, although the trips were typically from Taoyuan airport, over Taiwan or close to neighboring countries, and back to the same airport.
The Mazu pilgrimage flights on May 9, which cost NT$5,988 (US$212) per person, are likely to be an unprecedented success, according to Lee.
Meanwhile, Tigerair Taiwan Chief Commercial Officer Bernard Hsu (許致遠) said it will be a privilege for the airline to carry Mazu statues and pilgrims on the flights, particularly in these challenging times for airlines.
To date, about 12 renowned temples in Taiwan, including Jenn Lann Temple in Taichung, Hsin Kang Feng Tian Temple in Chiayi and Chi Tien Temple in Taipei, have signed up for the Mazu pilgrimage in the skies, according to Lee.
Due to strict aviation laws, however, most of the religious rituals will be held in the airport lounge before departure, he said.
During the flights, the pilgrims will be invited to give testimonies about their personal relationship with Mazu and to write their prayers on special cards, Lee said.
"It is usually seen as great blessing to crawl under the Mazu palanquin during the normal pilgrimage," he said. "Think about how much more of a blessing it would be to literally share the carrier with Mazu."
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