Understanding Ancestral Tourism

Project: Research

Project Details


The overall purpose of this research project is to attain a better understanding of ancestral tourism. The key research objectives related to this study are:

• To identify the specific needs and interests of ancestral tourists
• To explore the relationship between ancestral tourism and wider tourism activity
• To explore how tourism destinations and resources support the needs of ancestral tourists and the challenges therein.

This study will look to collect data in a variety of different ways to address the research objectives, and will be used to triangulate the results. As such, the following methods will be used: i) interviews with stakeholders in the tourism and heritage sectors who are involved with ancestral tourists; ii) interviews with ancestral tourists; iii) observation of ancestral tourists; and iv) questionnaires considering the tourist perspective.

Layman's description

For descendants of emigrants from the highlands and islands to Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand, the idea of Scotland often evokes heightened feelings of nostalgia for an imagined, ancestral home. Visit Scotland reports 59% of visitors to the highland region in 2011 had a connection to the region and, of those, 15% claim ancestral links.

This socio-demographic could be loosely termed as ‘ancestral tourists’. This connection with a particular country and region implies an expectation of greater depth, personal relevance and an on-going relationship amongst visitors, museums and cultural heritage sites embodying a ‘sense of place’ and emotional attachment. Confirmation, or dis-confirmation, of these expectations influences the overall visitor satisfaction.

Recently here has been a huge increase in interest relative to the researching of family history (Yakel, 2004). This is reflected in one of the fastest growing segments of the heritage tourism market which will be referred to as ancestral tourism (Basu, 2004; Santos & Yan, 2010). It seems that “along with Australia, Canada and the USA, contemporary British society is immersed in a seemingly unprecedented boom in the family heritage industry” (Kramer, 2011, p. 428), given the rise in television programmes such as ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, which follows celebrities on often emotional journeys into their past.

The success of this form of tourist activity may relate principally to its role in self-making, self-exploration and self-understanding (Basu, 2005). Hirsch (2008) notes how, individuals often appear ‘haunted’ by a past that they did not experience, but one which has been given to them by other family members. The act of personalizing history makes it more meaningful, a desire to know where your ancestors lived what they did turns the tourist act into one of self-discovery where individuals seek to ‘affirm, negotiate, and maintain their identities’ (Santos & Yan, 2010, p. 57). It has been suggested that ancestral tourists differ from a variety of other tourists in regard to travel motivation. However, many heritage sites do not take this into account, and can miss out on a significant segment of the market by failing to specifically address these motivations. If heritage sites can provide personal meaning to this segment of tourists, relative to their site, this can have implications for the overall marketing and success of the destination.

Furthermore, there is a lack of literature considering the added value that ancestral tourism can provide to a destination. Timothy (1997) suggested that local tourism businesses and entire communities could benefit from further research into personal heritage, and ancestral tourism. Especially where destinations had a focus on key attractions relative to the context; such as cemeteries, centres focused on genealogy and historic churches, buildings and memorials. The use of these attractions would not only be beneficial when encouraging ancestral tourists and contribute to the local heritage experience, but would assist in providing an important experience for residents. More specifically, ancestral tourism has been proposed to offer many benefits for Scotland and is a key strategic focus for the Scottish Tourism Industry. Research has shown that there are at least 50 million people worldwide who can lay claim to Scottish ancestry, with potential for a market of 800,000 visitors to grow to 4.3 million over the next 5 years (with a potential worth of £2.4 billion to the Scottish Economy) .
Effective start/end date16/01/14 → …

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities


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