Pilgrimage is a travel practice present throughout history in different cultures across the world and still plays an important role in our contemporary tourism industry. In Japan, this context has led to the increasing participation of religious stakeholders, such as Buddhist monks and yamabushi ascetics, in tourism development. In part, their presence has been valuable for religious institutions seeking to find their place in contemporary society, obtain additional sources of income and further collaborate with the economic revitalization of the rural periphery, where religion-related tourism sites are often located. On the other hand, different challenges are present, including the lack of know-how and expertise on tourism management, unequal adoption of technology, absence of service quality schemes and conflicting viewpoints with non-religious stakeholders. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have further intensified these trends.This short communication aims to discuss these points through two case studies, based on the author's recent research activities.