Connecting with the past: meeting the needs of ancestral tourists in Scotland

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An ancestral legacy is often viewed as the epitome of heritage tourism (McCain, 2003) and can generate the feelings of personal attachment craved by many tourists (Timothy and Boyd, 2006). Ancestral tourism supports individuals who, despite an existing identity in one country, feel a connection to another ‘homeland’ (Palmer, 1999). McCain and Ray (2003) suggest that tourism associated with personal legacy offers an experience with functional, social, emotional and epistemic value dimensions (Williams & Soutar, 2009). However, there is scant research which considers the added value that ancestral tourism can provide to a destination despite the range of benefits that may be accrued by communities which meet the needs of ancestral tourists (Timothy, 1997).
Scotland, a nation which maintains and projects powerful brand signifiers of its cultural heritage (McCrone, Morris and Kiely, 1995) is also a country which witnessed considerable emigration between the 18th and 20th century. Although much emigration was voluntary and motivated by a search for economic opportunity, it is the enforced clearing of Scots as part of an economic restructuring that generates particularly evocative images. By 1914 more than 2 million Scots had emigrated, mainly to the British Dominions of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  An estimated 800,000 visitors a year are estimated to come to Scotland with ancestral motivations but a global Scottish diaspora (which could number between 40 and 80 million) is estimated to be worth several billion pounds to the Scottish economy over the next decade. We sought to explore how the needs of ancestral tourists are met through a qualitative study involving 28 in-depth interviews with curators and tourism professionals and non-participant observation at a range of heritage and genealogical attractions across the whole of Scotland.   Our research reveals a spectrum of ancestral tourists from roots tourists who appear to be satisfied with putting their ‘feet on the ground’ where their ancestors lived; to genealogy tourists who often visit with an obsession for ‘generation bagging’ and gaining detailed documentary insight into their ancestral past.  We contribute to heritage tourism studies by revealing how extensive and well preserved archives, local knowledge and a passion for family history can serve to generate unique and deeply emotional tourism experiences for ancestral tourists. Despite the often ‘cottage industry’ nature of many ancestral attractions (often reliant on volunteers and local ‘good will) the outcome of the visit can often be greater satisfaction and a strong repeat visitation pattern.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2014
EventHeritage Tourism and Hospitality International Conference - HTHIC2014 - Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Nov 20149 Nov 2014


ConferenceHeritage Tourism and Hospitality International Conference - HTHIC2014
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
OtherPreservation, Promotion and Profit. Research Agendas, Best Practices and Partnerships in Tourism. This conference deals with the leading question of “how can tourism destination stakeholders succeed in creating, and presenting attractions that draw tourists, while simultaneously engaging stakeholders to contribute to the conservation of the tangible and intangible heritage assets as a mechanism of local planning and an integral component of the governance of sustainable host community development?”
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  • ancestral tourism
  • history
  • ancestral tourists
  • scotland
  • heritage tourism
  • ancestral legacy
  • cultural heritage
  • emigration
  • global scottish diaspora
  • scottish economy
  • genealogy tourists
  • generation bagging
  • local knowledge
  • family history
  • archives
  • cottage industry
  • volunteer workers


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