The third installment of our 2019 Tourism Trends series brings us to DNA tourism. If you’re interested in reading the other posts in this series, you’ll find them here: responsible tourism, wellness tourism, indigenous tourism.

Travel with a new meaning: tracing the tracks of your ancestors

So far in the 21st century, we’ve been blown away by the strides that have been made in scientific advancement. We’ve witnessed the detection of gravitational waves, evidence of water on Mars, robotic body parts, and so much more. In the past couple of years, the lines between science and travel have begun to blur with the rise of a new phenomenon: DNA tourism.

Thanks to incredible progress in molecular biology and the work of the Human Genome Project, scientists now have a workable map of the human DNA sequence. Since subsets of this sequence can be associated with specific traits, we now have the capacity to make inferences into a particular individual’s life history. Now, in plain English, this means that short, seemingly nonsensical codes that come from your body’s cells can tell you more about where you came from.

Wow. That’s groundbreaking. There has to be an opportunity somewhere in there, right? In fact, there is! Biotechnology companies that conduct DNA testing and analysis on anyone willing to spit into a tube, like 23andMe, have been cropping up all over and gaining in popularity. The results of these analyses can help you determine what “your DNA says about you.” More specifically, the report indicates where your ancestors were likely from; this is the information that most participants are truly interested in. If you’d like to read a bit more about the DNA ancestry tests, check out Brookeside Medical Practice’s article on the subject.

While this might sound like we’ve skipped a couple of centuries and time traveled forwards to an age of unrestricted data, there is still room for error (as with any scientific discovery). At best, these reports are educated guesses since we don’t have a DNA library of every human ever (among other reasons). 100% accurate or not, the trend is on the rise. More and more curious travelers are eager to uncover information of previous generations, and let’s face it, we are too. Enter: DNA tourism.

The motive behind DNA tourism is to visit the places where your ancestors once lived and to become more familiar with your heritage. This is particularly popular among Americans and Canadians since their populations are quite the melting pot. Adding a new sense of purpose and self-discovery to travel, answers to questions such as “where did my ancestors live,” “how did they spend their time,” and “what sort of things did they see on a daily basis” could finally have answers. As Dana McMahan writes in her article “Why DNA tourism may be the big travel trend of 2019” for NBC News, “It’s just so important for people to fill in in actual living color where they’re from and how their ancestors lived. It makes people feel more complete.”

Is there such a thing as a DNA tour?

I asked myself this very question as I prepared to write about this topic. Lo and behold, there is such a thing. Go Ahead Tours, a tourism sector of the educational company EF Education First, offers a set of ancestry tours that travel to destinations common in North American lineage, like Ireland, Germany, Scotland, and Italy. Having partnered with Ancestry, another biotechnology company in the DNA analysis business, your tour includes 3 main components (besides the tour itself): an AncestryDNA kit, a pre-trip family history review, and an ancestry genealogist. That means, in one convenient package, you can get your DNA tested and analyzed, have a meeting where you set your goals for your ancestry trip, and be accompanied by an ancestry genealogist on your tour with you to “paint a picture of what life was like for your ancestors, plus answer questions about your heritage.” Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a free lunch! At over $3000 USD per person (before flights!), this is not the most accessible type of tourism for everyone. It’s also quite the tall order for a tour operator — these tours are highly specialized and require a lot of research and consulting from experts. Still, these services are popping up left and right to respond to the demand, according to Passport Health USA. So what’s the answer? How can you strike a balance between hopping on this bandwagon and offering reasonably priced tours?

This probably is going to require some creativity on your part. Whether or not this type of tourism is even applicable to your depends on several variables: where you’re located, who your target audience is, what kind of tours you normally offer, and more. That being said, the Polish Tourism Organisation has found a happy medium:

Here, they have consolidated a number of genealogy- and genetics-related resources that can help heritage-focused visitors find what they are looking for. This is likely to spark a number of new inquiries based on curiosity alone.

While this may not be the easiest market to sell to (since it’s a personal history-driven market and not everyone may be interested in delving into the past), it’s most likely worthwhile to take advantage of this trend and do some research (read: effective Googling) to facilitate culture-based trips to your destination. Adding a page on your website like the Polish Tourism Organisation has done or adding a post about ancestral tours in your specific location to your blog could go a long way to not only boost your reach to another market but also provide a point of deeper connection with your guests. More than taking beautiful photos and sampling delicious foreign cuisine (although those are perks), DNA tourism is about finding answers and making connections between the past and the present.

Though this alternative may not be as personalized as the Go Ahead Tours I mentioned and other services like it, it is more accessible and applicable to a wider audience, therefore increasing the likelihood of bookings. And, as the Polish Tourism Organisation mentions, “many first-time heritage focused visitors are found to be returning to Poland for sentimental reasons or further research.” If getting return customers isn’t a great incentive, I don’t know what is.


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