Reconnecting with Your Roots with Heritage TourismJune 29, 2020 | By Nafeesah Allen
Cultural heritage tourism uniquely focuses on the history and sites of people in a particular location. Tours focus on authentic representations of experiences and activities to give you a better understanding of a particular culture and your connection to it. Heritage tourism can range from short walking tours like Harlem’s Gospel and Church Tours to a month-long trek to a series of World Heritage sites, like Ethiopia’s seven cultural and religious sites. While it is possible to visit places that have no connection to the traveler, people are finding more heritage tourism options that connect with their own ethnic and national roots- giving rise to what’s called Birthright tourism.
Is Heritage Tourism different from Birthright Tourism?
Birthright tourism is an immersive experience that allows a person to return to the site of their family origins. It’s basically heritage tourism but tailored to your specific culture. Many birthright trips are free to selected travelers. They are tailor-made to leave a lasting, positive impression of the country of origin. Homestays and home-cooked meals are common elements designed to make the experience feel less like a trip to a foreign country and more like a visit to a relative’s house. There are always history lessons embedded with visits to lesser-known sites of cultural importance. Tough conversations about the difficulties of local histories are also part of the experience. Luckily, most tour guides are trained to anticipate these emotional experiences and are well-equipped to help travelers make sense of their new knowledge.
What are my Heritage Tourism Options?
Free Birthright tours: One of the latest programs is Birthright Africa, which gets young people (ages 13-30) of African descent to African countries where they can collaborate with local leaders and entrepreneurs. Cuban Americans (ages 22-35) can try Cuba One’s program, even if they don’t have strong Spanish speaking skills. Airfare from Miami to Havana, lodging, and most meals are completely free. The National Hellenic Society offers internships and two-week excursions for Greek-American college students who want to learn Greek and see archaeological sites. Even Armenia has a similar program for 21-32-year-olds that works on a reimbursement basis for travel expenses. To share costs, the traveler pays for basic expenses ($200-$700) while volunteering and living with a host family.
Volunteer to Volunteer: Even if you’re not eligible or selected to attend the free birthright tours, all of these programs need volunteers and chaperones. Reach out to the program organizers to ask how you can teach a course, chaperone a group, or photograph the visit for marketing purposes. Get creative and offer yourself as valuable administrative support to the group. You might get yourself onboard on deeply discounted terms.
Paid Full Trips: If the program is flush with volunteers, don’t forget that the operators may be amenable to you joining the group if you’re willing to pay your fare. The lucky advantage is that the group costs are significantly less than if you tried to book these personalized experiences on your own. There are also many reputable tour operators out there that are offering ancestry and heritage travel experiences. For example, Jelani Women offers small group tours to countries like Ghana, South Africa, and Egypt for women of African descent, who complete service projects during their luxury vacations.
Day Excursions: Don’t underestimate the value of a half-day tour. The Black Heritage tour of Amsterdam is a great example of an add-on that adds immense value to any vacation. By pointing out the historical importance of landmarks, like the West India House, this tour highlights Black cultural legacies embedded in mainstream Dutch culture. Similarly, Singapore’s 2.5-hour heritage tour from Changi airport is something to write home about. Architecture is used to show the city’s blend of old-world charm and modern style. On TripAdvisor, this tour is rated in the top 50 of over 400 tour options in Singapore city. And, get this, it is absolutely free!
No matter where you were born or where you travel, there are heritage tours uniquely designed to help you rewind the hands of time and reconnect with the not so distant past.