People often say they are traveling to “find themselves.” With the increasing popularity of at-home DNA kits, people are starting to take this literally. Luxury Travel predicted that ancestry-based travel, or heritage travel, would be “one of 2020’s fastest growing sectors.” Travelers are choosing to visit the places their ancestors lived in order to learn more about their history.
The rise of home DNA tests
One of the biggest trends of the 2010s was home DNA tests. As of 2020, Ancestry DNA has 16 million users and 23andMe is not far behind with 10 million users. People all over the world are learning they have ancestors in places they never imagined. Databases like Ancestry DNA can provide users with in-depth information about where their ancestors lived and worked, and what their lives were like.
What does this mean for the tourism industry?
DNA-mapped adventures are becoming increasingly popular as individuals learn more about their family history and want to connect to their roots. A study done by Airbnb found that 50% of Americans have traveled to at least one country of their ancestry. Ancestry DNA even has a specific service called Heritage Travel to plan ancestral home visits where travelers can find the exact plot of land where their family once lived. Users can also book guided tours with professional genealogists to places like Ireland, Scotland, Italy and Germany, or take genealogy cruises to learn more about where they came from through workshops and discussions.
In 2019, Airbnb partnered with 23andMe to give heritage travel recommendations to its customers. When 23andMe users get their DNA results, they also receive suggestions from Airbnb for rentals and experiences in their ancestral locations. Airbnb also has pages on its website dedicated to heritage travel. A 2018 study showed the number of travelers using Airbnb for tracing their roots had increased by 500% since 2014. They then took it one step further to see what people would be willing to give up for a chance to explore their roots. 57% of Americans reported they would be willing to give up alcohol for a year for a free heritage trip.
Countries that are known for their history of immigration are the most popular places for heritage travelers to originate. The United States is the most popular, followed by Canada and Australia. Airbnb has found that travelers ages 60 to 90 are the most likely to take ancestry trips, but these kinds of vacations could trend younger in the future.
Embracing heritage travel
Many companies have begun to capitalize on this trend. The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin has a dedicated genealogy butler to help guests trying to track down their Irish ancestors. Tour company Classic Journeys matches travelers with specific trips after reviewing their Ancestry DNA or 23andMe results. For those willing to spend some money, luxury travel company The Conte Club designs custom ancestry travel experiences that can last several weeks and cost up to $132,000.
Historical events can lead to a rise in heritage travel as well. 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, when many Polish citizens fled Eastern Europe. Many people of Polish ancestry will use this as an opportunity to visit the country their ancestors once called home. Poland has built over a dozen brand new hotels to prepare for the rise in heritage travelers looking to explore their roots.
A new era of travel
Tourists today are looking to get more out of their trips than ever before. They want to discover something new about themselves and piece together some of their story. Destinations would be wise to embrace heritage travel when creating their next travel and tourism marketing plan. Travelers are eager to find experiences that will fundamentally change them. This is not a trend that will be going away anytime soon!