May 22, 2019

Big data’s role in the rise of DNA travel

4 minute read

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 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 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

Posted by Sarah Cumber


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Big data’s role in the rise of DNA travel