Via Francigena

“Examining Loyalty Formation in Pilgrimage Routes Experiences: a Variation in Motivations” – an MA thesis by Sara Stefanelli

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Redazione AEVF

Sara Stefanelli is 24 years old, she lives in Milan, and she works as a consultant for the public administration managing European funds for regional development. She did her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Economics and Management for Art, Culture and Communication. For the latter she wrote a thesis entitled “Examining Loyalty Formation in Pilgrimage Routes Experiences: a Variation in Motivations“. Below is her story.

“I like to define myself as a “nomad and cosmopolitan“, partly because of my personal history – my parents are from Salento, I was born in Rome, and I lived in Florence before moving to Milan – and partly because of my life experiences and studies abroad, which led me to live in four different countries. I have always been passionate about art and culture in a broader sense, and the way they help to improve their surrounding territory, and in the future I would like to work as a consultant in the cultural sector.

For several years now I have also been a pilgrim, in fact I have traveled several stretches of the Via Francigena in Italy, the Camino de Santiago and the Via Amerina in Umbria. About a year ago I graduated in “Economics and Management for Art, Culture, Media and Entertainment” from the Luigi Bocconi University in Milan, with a thesis entitled “Examining Loyalty Formation in Pilgrimage Routes Experiences: a Variation in Motivations“.


The idea for my research comes from my pilgrimage experience on the Camino de Santiago. In observing the territories I passed through, I realised the impact that the presence of the path has on them. Towns that would otherwise be subject to depopulation and subsequent disappearance survive thanks to the presence of the path itself, which brings thousands of visitors to the area each year. I therefore reasoned about the potential impact that the Via Francigena could have on our territory – strongly subject to a great phenomenon of urbanization, depopulation, and abandonment of small towns – and the subsequent need to improve the various Italian routes.

I also noticed that many people who surrounded me during the journey, developed a strong tendency to repeat their pilgrimage experience once they finished it for the first time. This phenomenon of “necessity of the journey” (loyalty) that is nourished during the first experience is a fundamental element for the potential impact that the improvement of the routes could have on our territory. Especially considering that for many people who walk the Italian routes it rarely is a first time, but rather a repetition of a previous pilgrimage experience.

To better outline the improvements that can be applied to the territory according to the motivations that lead to walking, in my work I tried to explain the concept of loyalty in the sector of pilgrimage routes by studying its correlation with other variables, specifically the satisfaction generated by a first pilgrimage experience and the motivations that push us to walk, through direct data collection. In particular, I studied the presence of a variation between the reasons that lead people to travel along a pilgrimage route for the first time (Camino de Santiago) compared to those that choose to repeat their experience (usually more related to nature, the outdoor experience and the atmosphere of the walk). Once these aspects are outlined, it is in fact easier to identify which aspects of territorial management and communication will need to be worked on in order to enhance both major as well as minor Italian pilgrimage routes.”

The thesis abstract starts as follows:

“Crossing the village of Gonzar, less than 100 km from Santiago de Compostela, with a tired body and a mind full of emotions, it is impossible not to be amazed by the effect the Camino has on the surrounding territories. Towns that would otherwise cease to exist, instead survive thanks to the presence of the Camino. The situation is very similar in our own country, Italy, which is characterized by a dense network of small villages, the little gems of our territory. Today unfortunately many of these towns are subject to strong depopulation, aging of the population and abandonment, with consequent disappearance over time.
This observation shows how important it is to improve our territory through the management and development of the paths that cross it, starting with the Via Francigena.

Another element that can be observed along the Camino de Santiago, in particular through the people who travel it, is a certain tendency to repeat the pilgrimage experience after finishing it the first time. Most of the pilgrims are in fact accustomed to this type of experience, having repeated it over and over again, in different locations and with different variations. It can therefore be said that these subjects have developed what in technical terms is defined, loyalty. Loyalty to the experiences of pilgrimage routes. An even more particular observation is that the tendency to repeat these experiences is often driven by different reasons than those of the first time, as if they were therefore subject to a variation, a consequence of the awareness of the experience.

It is from these two fundamental points that the research starts, subject of the master’s thesis in Economics and Management in Arts, Culture, Media and Entertainment, entitled: “Examining Loyalty Formation in Pilgrimage Routes Experiences: a Variation in Motivations“.

In fact, since the Via Francigena represents a repetition of the pilgrimage experience – this is due to a wider popularity and a greater international development of the Camino de Santiago – for its correct management, it is essential to understand what leads people to repeat this type of experience and in particular, what are the driving reasons for this choice. In fact, it is extremely important to try to analyse these aspects to better understand how to manage and improve the pilgrimage routes in general, in particular in this case the Via Francigena, outlining more efficient and effective management and communication aspects to satisfy and attract pilgrims. Furthermore, the improvement of the Via brings with it a whole series of positive consequences for the surrounding territories, both at a social, economic and cultural level, making the need to know the aspects outlined here even more evident.

The goal of this research is to try to understand the stages of the process leading to loyalty for this type of experience and what the elements are that drive individuals to repeat them.

After a review of previous literature on the study of loyalty, the research consists of three phases, namely:


  • an initial definition of a model explaining the formation of loyalty in the reference sector based on the review of previous literature;
  • an exploratory analysis of the phenomenon to understand the consistency of the previously defined model with respect to the sector and to revise it accordingly – the tools for data collection and verification of this model are also defined at this stage;
  • a statistical analysis to verify the significance of the hypothesized model and therefore its validity and its consequences in terms of improvement and management of the territory.


We cannot but thank Sara Stefanelli for the passion and commitment that she has put into this research work, which aims at what we, as the European Association of the Vie Francigene, hold dearest: the promotion and sustainable development of territories that our Via crosses. Buon cammino!

The abstract of the thesis in its entirety can be consulted by clicking here.
For more information you can contact Sara Stefanelli at

Photo credits: Sara Stefanelli