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The Greater Caribbean This Week
in “roots tourism”
by Jasmin Garraway
As destinations reach to a more mature stage in the tourism life cycle, more sophisticated niche tourism products are developed by planners aiming to retain market share. Genealogy tourism, also known as “ancestry” and “roots” tourism is one such product, which falls under the umbrella of culture and heritage tourism, and is travel aimed at visiting birthplaces of one’s ancestors and getting acquainted with distant relatives. It is generally considered as a viable option for tourism product diversification.
In some countries, such as in the UK and Europe, genealogy has developed into a major hobby. The great surge in the US started in the 1930s, increased after World War II and intensified significantly after the publication of “Roots” by Alex Haley in 1976
The southern states of the United States continue to attract a significant number of domestic tourists tracing family ties. Many specialty, small businesses and research consultancies have developed as a consequence of the demand for genealogy tourism.
Research in the US has found that genealogy holidays are taken by enthusiasts aged 55-75 and over with comparatively high disposable incomes. This group travels as couples or with friends in small groups of 10 or more and spends an average of 9 days. They are likely to enjoy non-strenuous adventure activities, visiting fairs, festivals, art galleries and cultural events.
African governments seized the opportunity created by the influx of visitors following the airing of the series “Roots” in North America to attract diasporic Africans. The Ministry of Tourism in Ghana, for example, identified African Americans as a primary target market. Though it wasn’t possible to trace their genealogical links to a particular village or nation, many roots tourists did establish such connection through research and phenotypic similarities with the assistance of locals.
Ireland is recognized as one of the world’s best practices in terms of developing genealogy tourism. Irish Genealogy Limited (IGL) is the umbrella body for genealogy in Ireland and collaborates with numerous organizations in the genealogy sector and the Irish Tourism Board to develop the capacity to boost roots tourism in Northern Ireland. This organization manages the Irish genealogical project which, to date, has computerized civil records of births, marriages and deaths which are made available through a network of 34 designated country based genealogy centers. To date 11 million family history records have been computerized.
The genealogy tourism model is a hidden gem yet to be discovered by the vast majority of countries. Too often the response to declining tourism by destinations experiencing tourism stress is to increase efforts and expenditure on marketing. Usually, this is marginally successful. This trend can be reversed over time by embracing the innovation process and developing new tourism products such as genealogy tourism, but innovation can only be effective if the product is carefully researched, planned and designed.
Developing new genealogy/roots tourism products is not without challenges. A number of issues must be addressed before the full potential of roots tourism can be exploited. Both national tourism organizations and the private tourism sector must recognize the potential of the roots tourism market. A suite of micro-products will need to be developed, including a fully computerized genealogical service and a network of supporting institutions to develop and sustain the product.
One ACS member state demonstrates significant potential for developing genealogy tourism. Between 1850 and 1904, Panama experienced three migratory waves from the Caribbean for railway and Canal works. Workers came from Jamaica, Barbados, Martinique, Trinidad and St. Lucia. The Afro-Caribbean community in Panama strives to maintain its Caribbean identity and has a wealth of information and records to support genealogy tourism initiatives.
Ms. Jasmin Garraway is the Sustainable Tourism Director of the Association of Caribbean States. The opinions expressed are not necessarily the official views of the ACS. Comments and reactions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
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