These tours are not so different in some respects from tours of some of the locations of alleged religious significance in the Middle East, where there are multiple claimed locations of the tomb of Jesus, the Garden of Gethsemane, and Noah's Ark. The difference is that the sites being visited are sites of real significance regarding real historical people who have nothing at all to do with the Book of Mormon.
Fortunately, these tour operators are treated with dismissal even by the Mormon church, as the Republic article points out with a quote from John Clark of the church's New World Archaeological Foundation at Brigham Young University: "I just see the tours as entertaining, and I try not to get upset that people are wasting their money doing foolish things."
If he cares about the truth, why wouldn't he get upset? Perhaps because encouraging his fellow Mormons to care about accuracy would be sure to lead to trouble if they ever carefully examined the historical foundations of their own religion, at least for any who were curious enough to look. But most aren't, as the article's quotation from one tour participant shows:
But whether the archaeological evidence backs up the Book of Mormon is irrelevant, said tour participant Dawn Frenetti, 28, of Milpitas, Calif. Just seeing such sites is inspiring, she said.If there were a religion based on the works of Mark Twain, a visit to Disneyland's Tom Sawyer island would no doubt be considered a pilgrimage to a holy site.
"It definitely helps me stay interested in learning more about the Book of Mormon," she said. "But, as far as confirming my faith, my faith has always been there."
UPDATE (June 21, 2007): This Mormon response to plagiarism in the Book of Mormon is quite amusing, in that it completely fails to address the specific evidence of copying from the sources in question. It is no response at all to a plagiarism accusation to point out that there are also differences between the works! A more fair-minded LDS response also argues that the Book of Mormon is not entirely or mostly based on Ethan Smith's book, but states that "My analysis of Persuitte's parallels reveals that, with one exception, no single book in the Book of Mormon received more than 8.09% influence from View of the Hebrews (see chart 1)." But that is sufficient to refute Joseph Smith's claim of translating golden plates that predated Ethan Smith's book!