DNA tourism is the next big travel trend
Rondel Holder, who lives in New York and works as a content creator, was curious about his ethnic background, so he took a home DNA test that he bought from Ancestry. “I always thought of myself as being from Brooklyn, with Grenadian and Jamaican roots,” he said.
But the test results told another story, revealing that much of his ethnicity could be traced to two African countries, Togo and Benin. Holder said he went online within days of getting the news and booked a trip to Africa for about $3,500.
Holder is among the growing number of travelers who take a heritage trip, as they are called, or at least consider one, based on results from athome DNA tests. They are available through companies and typically entail a saliva sample or cheek swab; the results arrive via email or mail within three to six weeks.
Booking.com, one of the largest accommodations booking sites, surveyed 21,500 travelers this summer about their dream trips, and 40% reported that they wanted to take or had actually taken a trip based on the results of home DNA tests.
Allegra Lynch, a member of the Travel Leaders Network, said she sold $1.5 million worth of such trips in 2018, primarily to Europe, compared with $800,000 in 2017. “The rise is 100% because of people wanting to go on trips after taking athome DNA tests,” she said.
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An online video created for AeroMexico by the Ogilvy advertising agency last year played on the trend, offering discounts to Americans to fly to Mexico based on the portion of their heritage that a DNA test determined was from Mexico. Amid the debate around border security, the ad has recently gone viral.
Although some genetic experts question the accuracy of such tests to pinpoint geographical ancestry, the molecular genealogist Diahan Southard said the results are usually on the mark, save for some exceptions. “The ethnicity breakdown you receive from a testing company relies heavily on the people the company is comparing you against,” she said. “If you are from France, but your company hasn’t tested very many French people, they aren’t going to do a very good job with your breakdown.”
Still, accessibility and affordability are helping DNAbased travel take off, according to Sarah Enelow-Snyder, an assistant editor at a travel research company Skift. “You can buy one for less than $100, and it’s a price that has helped propel the popularity of these trips,” she said.
Although DNA-based travel can be poignant for anyone, it may even be more impactful for African-Americans, according to Gina Paige, the cofounder of AfricanAncestry-.com , which specializes in genetic ancestry tracing for people of African descent. “Black people were taken from West and Central Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean, and as a result, our identity got lost,” she said. “So trips to Africa to learn more about our roots are often revealing and profound.”