Big data’s role in the rise of DNA travel


Posted By Pinar Dost ⋅ May 22, 2019

When New York native, Rondel Holder, discovered that much of his ethnic background could be traced back to Togo and Benin, his next move was to book a trip to Africa to see the countries for himself. He’s one of a rapidly-growing group of travellers taking ‘heritage’ or ‘DNA travel’ holidays, a new type of travel experience based on visiting areas of the world as identified by the results of an ancestry DNA test.  

DNA travel is an offshoot of the flourishing home genealogy industry, which itself has been fuelled by popular shows like Who Do You Think You Are? and Long Lost Family. The world’s consumer genetic testing market was worth $70m (£53m) in 2015 and is expected to rise to $340m (£261m) by 2022.

It’s a trend the travel industry has been quick to jump on, creating tailored DNA travel packages and group excursions where, previously, travellers would have had to organise trips themselves. A 2018 survey by Booking.com found that, of the 21,500 travellers asked, 40 per cent said they wanted to take or had taken a heritage-style trip after doing a home DNA test.

So how has big data made DNA travel possible? Here’s how data analysis has enabled the genealogy and travel industries to collaborate and capture a new area of their shared market.  

A hyper-personalised travel experience

Since DNA travel is based on a completely unique genetic profile, there are few industries that can create a more bespoke data-informed service offering. Some travel companies are partnering with specialist genealogy experts to craft completely unique, privately-guided holidays to DNA travel locations, but this level of hyper-personalised trip doesn’t come cheap. As we’ve highlighted, there’s a large market for DNA travel, and the industry has rightly identified that a custom holiday with a professional genealogist in tow is out of reach for most consumers.

Enter the DNA travel group tour. Travel operators are joining forces with genealogy companies like Ancestry.com to offer group heritage-themed tours, to destinations most commonly-identified in DNA test results, including Italy, Ireland and Germany. Using collective DNA data to reveal the areas most consumers have a genealogical link to, travel companies can adjust the extent of product personalisation they provide; still offering a tailored experience, but one that’s more affordable and widely commercially viable.

An emerging data profile that offers more over time

DNA testing works by comparing a sample from an individual with a vast dataset of existing DNA records and using machine learning algorithms to flag those with the highest number of matching markers. So, the more people submit their DNA for testing, the larger and more diverse a DNA dataset becomes. Genealogy companies and travel providers are using this continual database expansion to develop their customers’ DNA profiles further over time, sending them more detailed genetic information as new data matches and evermore sophisticated machine learning fills in the gaps.

Having taken a DNA test through 23andme, one of our own Quant team members receives a more comprehensive DNA profile once a quarter, as well as a list of new DNA matches every month, from close family to distant relatives. Where both parties consent, she can even connect and chat with newly discovered relatives through the 23andme website, which has enabled her to meet up with one of them during a trip to Paris. In this way, attracting more customers and their data keeps refining the product offering, allowing genealogy and travel companies to keep customers engaged with the service over time and extending customer lifetime value.

Data as a cross-sector commodity

Of course, as their DNA databases grow, so too does the value of the biological information genealogy and DNA travel providers hold. Transparency is key here, and DNA-led companies must be clear with consumers about the fact that their data may be used in other ways and crucially, provide the option to opt out of this.

Voluntarily-provided DNA data has vast potential in terms of medical research; 23andme have partnered with GlaxoSmithKline to develop new medicines based on the wealth of its genetic data – more than five million people strong. Our own 23andme participant has the chance to take part in surveys and cognitive games through the site that feed into genetic research; so far, the company has made more than 1,500 genetic discoveries.

Build your own business identity with big data 

There’s much that businesses of all types can take from the way that big data facilitates DNA travel for consumers. As we’ve explored here, data-led personalisation should be used in market context, data can continue to hone a product or service over time, and business intelligence can be greatly enriched by data from a range of sources.

It can be difficult to know how to develop the ways in which your business incorporates big data into its strategy, but there’s no need to tackle this single-handedly. We enable our clients to approach data analysis in whatever way best inform their commercial objectives, so if you could do with support making big data work for you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.   

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Categories: Seize the Data


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