Genetics-based travel has risen out of the growing popularity of genetic-testing kits that purport to reveal all the places customers’ ancestors lived.
“This form of tourism is growing rapidly and is increasingly popular as western societies age,” Dallen Timothy, editor of the Journal of Heritage Tourism, told Gizmodo last year for an article on genetic travel. “People want to get back to their roots, the simpler ways of life they tend to associate with their ancestors. It’s a way of stepping back in time.”
In 2017, AncestryDNA seized on the trend by partnering with Go Ahead Tours to provide genealogy-themed guided tours. It has since expanded its program, offering genealogy cruises. “People want to walk on the same path ancestors walked, to see a plot of land that they owned, and even to meet relatives,” Jon Lambert, client relations director behind the division that runs the tours, told Gizmodo last year.
Now, 23andMe and Airbnb are getting in on the action.
When 23andMe customers undergo a DNA test, the company sends them an “ancestry composition” report that is supposed to show them where their ancestors came from. Now, when people receive this report, they can click through to find Airbnb offerings of activities and places to stay.
Airbnb recently conducted what seems like a very strange survey and found that 57 percent of U.S. residents respondents would give up drinking alcohol for a year in order to get a free heritage trip. (I’m not sure what to make of that finding, other than it shows Airbnb’s desire to gauge public interest in genetic tourism.)
Airbnb currently suggests trips to 23andMe users to such regions as Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and Mexico, South America, East, and South Asia, the Caribbean and Europe—but the ancestry composition reports don’t offer much precision beyond countries where your ancestors may have lived.
In a statement, 23andMe CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki said the company is giving customers the opportunity “to connect with their heritage through deeply personal cultural and travel experiences.”
And people should think about what they’re doing before they take a DNA test in the first place. As more information comes out about the ways that some DNA testing companies share data with law enforcement agencies, a genetic company joining forces with another startup raises concerns about how third-parties could use that genetic data.
A 23andMe spokesperson told Gizmodo, “As part of this collaboration, 23andMe will not be providing any customer information, personal or genetic, to Airbnb, and Airbnb will not be providing any personal information about its users to 23andMe.”
But as the program is set up, it seems Airbnb is able to see where customers likely believe their ancestors used to live once they’ve clicked through to the suggested destinations.
Maybe you should first try to look up your heritage the old-fashioned way.