This week, PAX is on location in Italy’s Basilicata Region in the southernmost part of the country, attending a two-day ROOTS in-Roots Tourism International Exchange (Nov. 20 and 21).
This international trade event devoted to ancestry tourism returns for its second edition after a successful debut last year, which, according to ENIT – The Italian National Tourist Board, reflects the growing global interest in roots tourism for Italy.
Matera, the UNESCO World Heritage site known for its Sassi (rock) districts, is the backdrop for the event, which is in collaboration with ENIT and the Basilicata Territorial Promotion Agency.
The event, which precedes 2024’s Year of Genealogy Tourism features 140 Italian suppliers coming together with 80 international buyers from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, the U.K., and the U.S. to meet face-to-face.
The two-day program includes discussions, training sessions, exchange opportunities, and networking for industry professionals.
Among the Canadian suppliers participating this year are CIT Tours, Ellison Travel and Tours, Fireside Adventures & Silverfox Adventures, Gateways International Tailor-Made Tours, Kensington Tours, Vacances Preferences, and Vacanza Destinations.
Strengthening cultural connections
ENIT officials shared that 2024 has been declared the Year of Italian Roots by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This, the tourist board said, provides an opportunity to engage the estimated 70 million Italians and their descendants living abroad to return and explore the places where their ancestors lived.
This market presents “significant” growth potential for lesser-known cities and regions unaffected by mass tourism, official said.
ENIT's strategy for 2024 will target Canadians of Italian heritage and provide them with an opportunity to revisit the departure locations of their ancestors and explore lesser-known areas of Italy beyond the popular cities and regions.
In an interview with PAX, Antonio Nicoletti, the director-general of the regional tourism board, APT Basilicata, discussed the growth potential in depopulated areas, suggesting that emigrants returning could bring new opportunities, along with discovering themselves and their roots.
As a "win-win" exchange where people give back to revitalize places, Nicoletti emphasized the emotional and reciprocal benefits of this exchange that extend beyond commercial interests:
“We shared our emigrants with the world, and in return, these people may bring back opportunities for us. This creates a win-win situation. People come here, there is an exchange that is not commercial. This is what we want," he said.
Canada maintains a special tie with Italy thanks to a large, proud, and engaged community of second and third-generation Italians, says the tourism board.
According to Canada's 2021 Census, 4.3 percent of the population, or approximately 1.5 million Canadians, reported having Italian ancestry, with the majority residing in Ontario and Quebec.
Ivana Jelinic, president and CEO of ENIT, said memories and family histories worldwide hold the potential to be rediscovered, becoming a significant asset for the growth of the Italian tourism sector.
According to Jelinic, Italians living abroad serve as contributors to inbound tourism, forming connections with places and localities.
These travellers, with an average trip duration of seven days, not only impact the tourism industry but also contribute significantly to the broader economy, generating over 4.2 billion euros in 2021, shared Jelinic.
Roots tourism, representing 30 per cent of this contribution and approximately 3 million travellers, spans various age groups, including a younger demographic aged 25 to 34 (26 per cent) and an older demographic aged 55 to 64 (24 percent).
“ENIT, in collaboration with regional partners and the broader Italian system, is carefully crafting an integrated and cohesive tourism offering tailored to this specific segment, underpinned by a forward-looking perspective”, Jelinic said.
Salvatore Basile, ENIT's Country Manager for Canada, also spoke of the importance of the Roots in Tourism initiative in encouraging Canadians to explore lesser-known areas in Italy.
"2024, the Year of Italian Roots, is the perfect opportunity to work on this market, encouraging our tourism suppliers to evolve in new directions,” Basile said.
Canadian delegates talk ancestry tourism
Canadian tour operators are also on the scene in Italy.
In discussions with PAX, some of the participating companies shared they are already providing customized journeys for clients wanting to explore their familial origins and are here to further develop business opportunities with local suppliers.
Others are leveraging the conference to learn more about roots tourism and explore the offerings in the Basilicata region.
Jason Susinski, director of product at Kensington Tours, highlighted the challenges of capturing the diverse interests of travellers, ranging from a general desire to connect with ancestral roots to specific requests to visit specific towns or villages.
Kensington, in partnership with Ancestry.com since 2020, has been catering to the increasing interest in roots tourism, offering services that involve on-site genealogists and customized itineraries.
As the company caters to luxury-minded clients, "We're really looking to uncover the logistics of being able to take people to these smaller towns and still provide a high level of service," Susinski added.
Talia May, director of marketing and operations at Gateways International Tailor-made Tours, explained that the journey of reconnecting with ancestral roots involves a collaborative effort between travellers, their family members, and their trusted travel agents.
“What makes these journeys truly special are the spontaneous discoveries that unfold along the way! Travellers often stumble upon long-lost family-owned properties, participating in age-old traditions and events tied to their heritage, adding an extra layer of authenticity to their experience,” May said.
May shared that all of Gateway’s tours are fully customized to the passenger’s preferences and needs.
“If the client requires the services of research professionals and personalized guides, we are very happy to include them in our packages,” added May.
Adriano Augellone of Vacanza Destinations shared his take on the evolving landscape of ancestry tourism in Italy.
"There's still a demand, particularly among grandparents who bring their grandchildren along. Some of them make pit stops in their ancestral towns during their overall trip, reconnecting with their past and introducing their family to their roots."
Augellone says the company, which is a family-run boutique tour company with 45 years of experience in tailor-made itineraries is committed to customization.
"We can arrange guided visits (with a driver or privately) to their ancestral towns," he said. "My office has organized tours for clients visiting southern Italy, primarily focusing on assembling spin-off tours. Alternatively, we encourage day trips to tour the area."
"The town's festive celebrations draw visitors to return and potentially reunite with others, including families."
Diane Ascenzi, vice president at CIT, observes a trend of large families travelling together, especially post-pandemic, and with travel taking off again.
“They would do the typical Rome-Florence-Venice tour. As the grandparents wanted to show their children and grandchildren where they came from, their last stop would be somewhere where the grandparents had grown up. They want to share their culture, their story with their grandchildren and their children, to preserve some sort of legacy for the family, and to share their experiences while they grew up in Italy.”
When assisting clients in discovering their roots, “We try to do our best with as much information as the clients can provide us," Ascenzi said.
Karen Leslie, Group Planner at Ellison Travel & Tours, mentioned the accessibility of online resources for tracing roots and the increased interest during the pandemic when people had more time to explore hobbies, which could explain the growth in interest.
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Stay tuned for more of PAX's on-location coverage from Italy!