Heritage Tourism and Why You Should Trace Your Roots

by Sojourner

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Have you heard about heritage tourism? No? C’mon, let’s talk about it.

Let’s Unpack That is a travel education series where we process and unpack our baggage of social identities, hot topics, and travel privileges to understand how they impact our travel experiences. We will cover everything from solo female travel to culture shock. Each post, we focus on a topic or social issue to dig deeper and reflect on our travel experiences. Whether in our own countries or abroad, understanding our impact can help us be more responsible and conscientious travelers.

Heritage tourism is when a traveler visits a destination to explore the people’s stories, history, and ancestry, both past, and present. In many cases, heritage tourism links travelers tracing their genetics and ancestry. Therefore, heritage tourism lumps with genealogy tourism and ancestry tourism, and diaspora tourism—various tourism types with the same goal: to reconnect with our roots.

Yeah, it’s time to unpack that.

Types of heritage tourism

There are many types of heritage tourism. Categories such as dark tourism, legacy tourism, literary tourism, etc., are also subsets of heritage tourism. However, in particular, these three types of heritage tourism are similar and relate to travelers tracing their histories. 

Photo: Goree Island in Senegal (cred: Canva Pro)

Genealogy tourism and ancestry tourism

Genealogy tourism is for tourists who have an ancestral connection to their destination. For Black Americans, Goree Island in Senegal and Cape Coast in Ghana are examples of heritage tourism and genealogy tourism. Both countries are travel hotspots. However, the African Americans who frequent these destinations have roots in these destinations too. Thus, genealogy tourism can also be known as roots tourism and ancestry tourism.

Diaspora tourism

Diaspora tourism is when people of a diaspora community travel to their ancestral homelands, searching for their roots or feeling connected to their unique heritage. This relationship is often deeper than the average tourist-destination relationship. Diaspora tourists feel an aching connection to a country due to their ancestral history, roots, culture, traditions, etc. These travelers have a sense of belonging and connection to a destination before they even arrive. Diaspora tourism can be connected to both ancestry tourism and genealogy tourism. 

Heritage tourism examples for travelers

In addition to the types of heritage tourism explained above, there are also categories for the attractions. Natural, cultural, and built are ways for destinations to distinguish tourist attractions.  These categories overlap with examples of heritage tourism travelers can experience on their journeys.

Photo: Victoria Falls in Zambia (cred: Canva Pro)


Natural tourism attractions refer to land, nature, and rural landscapes and scenery. Examples of natural attractions include Machu Picchu in Peru, Victoria Falls in Zambia, and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. National parks are among the more popular types of natural attractions because they preserve land and the creatures who inhabit it. Yet, language is important when describing natural attractions as many are on Indigenous land and do not have their original names.


Cultural heritage tourism attractions refer to traditional practices, festivals, and arts and crafts. Art museums are probably the most popular example of cultural heritage tourism. Examples can include Senegal’s Museum of Black Civilizations, the Prado in Madrid, and the Louvre in Paris. Festivals are also a key part of heritage tourism, including Juneteenth in Milwaukee, WI, Holi in India, and The Year of Return in Ghana. The Year of Return is a notable example of heritage tourism as it is for Black Americans to reconnect with our African roots and ancestry in the motherland. 

Photo:Machu Picchu in Peru (cred: Canva Pro)


Built attractions refer to homes, monuments, and buildings with historical and cultural significance. Examples of heritage tourism attractions built include the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s monument and the National Museum for African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. Other built, cultural heritage tourism examples include UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Taj Mahal in India and the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Government buildings are also considered part of this category, and churches such as the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

However, some attractions in this category are controversial. For example, prisons and asylums can be considered heritage tourism, and both carry negative connotations. Additionally, concentration camps in Germany, plantations in the United States, and slave castles in West Africa have conflicting views. Though these perceptions depend on the person, they are things to think about when visiting built attractions.

Significance of heritage tourism

Photo: Acropolis in Athens, Greece (cred: Canva Pro)

It explores the identity of a destination

Identity can be shaped in many ways. From languages to food to built attractions, a destination’s identity varies depending on the people and a destination. Acknowledging and honoring the ancestry and heritage of a country adds to this identity.  Travelers that visit a country to understand their origin are a part of that country’s external awareness and identity. This awareness adds another layer of integrity, honor, and appreciation for the country.

Preserves the history and cultural significance of a country

Heritage tourism provides the ultimate experiential learning opportunity for travelers. By preserving historical and cultural attractions, the world is a traveler’s classroom. This type of tourism provides a unique branch of education for travelers to engage with a destination on a deeper level. The natural, cultural, and built attractions can show the connection between the past, present, and future of a country. Additionally, with its focus on diaspora tourism, maintaining the history and culture can encourage travelers of those diasporas to reconnect.

Cultural heritage tourism promotes sustainability

In a time with new buildings constructed every day, heritage tourism has an asset-based approach. By preserving the history and honoring the tourist attractions a destination already possesses, it can prevent building unnecessary attractions. While advancement in technology and construction is great, the constant need to reinvent new attractions often causes older ones to be targeted and discarded. 

Tips on traveling to heritage tourism destinations

Photo: Cape Coast in Ghana (cred: Canva Pro)

Do ancestry research before you go

Though it is not required, many travelers have used Ancestry DNA, or 23 and Me tests to begin their ancestry tourism adventures. If DNA tests are not your thing, there are other ways to research your history. Talk to more senior family members to put some of the puzzle pieces together. Those stories and memories can lead you to museums and libraries to find more information. From there you can plan your trip.

Make a list of the destinations and sites you hope to visit

Researching and planning a trip around your ancestry or genealogy can be overwhelming, depending on the wealth and depth of information you find. When you collect enough information, think about the key destinations and sites you want to visit. Make a list of these places in order of importance to you. For diaspora tourism in particular, that history spanned continents and countries. While it is admirable to go to every location, in the beginning, it may not be feasible in the end. Be strategic and pick the first two locations you feel most called to visit. 

Seek locally-led and owned organizations

Traveling to support local communities is always a must. And it is even more important with heritage tourism. No one knows their history better than locals; it is their homeland, after all. Try to connect and support  locally-led and owned organizations in the heritage tourism industry.  Include them as part of your research and planning process. They likely have key insights into the history and knowledge you seek or can guide you in the right direction.

Account for the emotional overwhelm you may feel

Recounting your history can be exciting, emotional, and nerve-wracking all at once. You do not know how you may react to learning about your ancestors. One minute you can be happy to know more, and the next, you can be sad not knowing what to do next. For travelers reconnecting through diaspora tourism, it may be painful to know about what your ancestors endured. Account for your emotions while planning. Spread out the type of attractions you visit. For example, do not plan to visit two emotionally heavy locations such as concentration camps, war museums, former slave houses, etc., on the same day. Balance out your days just in case your emotions hit you harder than you think.

Embrace that it may not be as impactful as you thought

On the other hand, you may find that you do not have much emotion or reaction. Sometimes we hype ourselves so much that the final experience cannot live up to it. Or it does not hit us as profoundly as we imagined. Managing expectations is a fickle process when you want to be emotionally invested in a situation and feel connected to a destination. However, that is ok. At the moment, you may be too shocked to process the history and heritage you are learning about thoroughly. Just remember the significance can impact you later when you least expect it.


This is like homework, but better!

You don’t know what you don’t know. But now that you know, learn more! Check out the following resources to learn more about heritage tourism examples and heritage tourism destinations for Black Americans. 

Photo: Goree Island in Senegal (cred: Canva Pro)

– Buoyant Travel: If you are a Black American looking to go abroad and reconnect with your roots, consider going to Ghana with Buoyant Travel. Founded by Briona Lamback, Buoyant is for Black American travelers who want to learn more about the African diaspora. She coordinates a trip to Ghana for travelers to do just that. Get connected with Buoyant on their website to learn more and sign up for their next trip.

– NBC News: Related to the trips that Buoyant Travel plans, this article speaks to why Black Americans want to go to Ghana in the first place. It highlights how heritage tourism can turn into becoming a permanent expat to reconnect with history. If you are looking for more context of this type of heritage tourism for Black Americans, read the article to dig deeper.

Interested in learning about more types of tourism? Check out this post on voluntourism.

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Kay March 17, 2021 - 5:39 pm

Nah cuz see with my goofy family, they would start lying to me and have me flying all over the globe and then laugh when I come back hahahaha. I LITERALLY just learned two years ago my grandma’s family was from Chicago and not Georgia 😭😭 and before that I have no clue. It does sound fun and enriching tho!!

Sojourner March 18, 2021 - 10:21 am

LMAO oh no!! But I feel you. I just learned my grandma in St. Louis migrated from Mississippi. I have sooo many questions now hahaha


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