THE market for “ancestral tourism” could be worth £2.4 billion to the Scottish economy over five years, experts have said.
Consultants TNS have outlined the potential of the industry, with a market of up to 50 million people who have Scottish ancestry and may want to trace their roots.
But it warned services will have to be improved if Scotland is to cash in, including promoting existing research facilities, special tour operators and budget “genealogy packages”.
Tourism quango VisitScotland asked TNS to assess the market and plan for the expected influx in 2014, Scotland’s “Year of Homecoming” where the country will also host the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup.
Malcolm Roughhead,VisitScotland’s chief executive, said: “We need to do all we can to make sure every visitor will have the experience of a lifetime.
“In our advertising campaigns we will be inviting people from all over the globe to come home and walk in the footsteps of their ancestors.”
The study found ancestral tourism is currently worth more than £400 million a year but the market still had untapped potential.
The £2.4billion figure is based on VisitScotland converting 20% of the 50 million people around the world with Scots blood into potential visitors.
Of these, 4.3 million are thought to be interested in planning a holiday in the next two years.
The Scottish Government estimates 9.4 million are American, 4.7 million are Canadian and 1.5 million Australian.
Bev Clarke, a librarian from Tasmania, started tracing the roots of her great-grandfather Alexander Coutts, a Scots émigré to Australia, in 1989.
After 20 years she discovered she was related to Alexander Ross, a poet from Lochee, Angus credited with influencing Robert Burns.
Making her first trip to Scotland last year, she visited the ScotlandsPeople centre in Edinburgh, and Aberdeen’s City Library.
She returned this year for more research. She said: “I was determined not to duplicate last year’ visits, but to visit places associated with my fairy-tale pedigree and take time to carry out more research both in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.”
A spokesman for the National Trust for Scotland, which has reaped the benefits of ancestral tourism, said: “Day in day out we welcome people to our properties from near and far who want to make a personal connection with their Scottish heritage.
“There are obvious examples, such as the grand, aristocratic family seats at Castle Fraser and Haddo house that we care for on behalf of tens of thousands of visitors.
“But there are also the more sombre experiences of Glencoe and Culloden where the course of many clan and family histories, along with the nation’s destiny, were changed forever.”
Dr Bruce Durie, chairman of the Ancestral Tourism Steering Group for Scotland, said: “Scotland is absolutely the best place to research family history – we have so many records, and so much online, that it’s a genealogist’s dream compared with other places.
“However, while a lot of information is centrally-held, mainly in Edinburgh, there’s a great deal locally as well.
“The challenge is for all the components of ancestral tourism to get together and make a decent joined-up destination package for ancestral visitors.”