The general objective of this paper is to present and discuss the factors that need to be taken into account to ensure that the development and management of religious tourism at rural sites was sustainable from an economic, environmental and socio-cultural point of view. Among other issues, sustainable religious tourism means accessibility to the sanctuaries, protection of cultural and heritage values of the local community, benefits for the local residents and meaningful experience for visitors. Authors were especially interested in the less popular, more remotely located holy sites in Mazovia Region (Poland) and two concerns: readiness to respond the needs of persons with different disabilities and local community opinion on tourists. As was documented by our research outcomes despite the recent numerous improvements, the most popular rural sanctuaries in Mazovia Region, remain only partially accessible for persons with disabilities. As masses of pilgrims have a significant effect on wellbeing and everyday life quality of residents (contributing both to positive and to negative effects), those who accept that tourists are important for economic development, benefit from it, creating ‘smart host area’. These rural communities which are not knowledgeable about positive impacts – see only negative consequences.
Contemporary rural museums perform not only the traditional tasks but are also the places where both the visitors and the local community members have chances for entertainment and attractive leisure time. Consequently one can find in museums numerous catering offers such as cafes, bistros, snack bars, restaurants, pubs and wine bars. The material presented is the result of theoretical and field studies carried out in the selected open air museums in Poland and focused on newly introduced commercial activities (as catering). Our research results show that the development of sustainable cultural tourism as a generator of income in the open air rural museums is important in the challenging economic time. Museums having catering services of different character could easier overcome financial struggle. Moreover there is no doubt that the introduction of an interesting and ambitious cuisine in the restaurants located in the rural open air museum is of great importance also in other terms: popularization of the food culture, rural tradition of region, healthy diet and lifestyle, chance to increase the museum attractiveness, important economic support to the museum and the local community and the improvement of living quality.