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Airbnb and 23andMe want to use your DNA for holiday recommendations

By Camay Abraham

Jun 4, 2019

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Can’t decide where to go for your next summer vacay? Why not let your DNA dictate your next destination. From learning which strain of weed to smoke to what music you should listen to, Airbnb and 23andMe are the latest in strange collabs with DNA analysis. On May 21, the global hospitality and homestay service and the world’s first at-home DNA testing kit announced they are making a foray into the ever-rising demand for heritage travel. They’re now offering users the chance to go from a curious trip down ancestry lane online to a literal trip down ancestry lane.

Heritage travel has been hotter than ever due to the ease of technological access to our past and the opening of the genetic market. More enriching than your regular escape to Ibiza, heritage holidays provide an emotional experience to explore your ancestral roots as well as take a week’s worth of Instagram-worthy photos. Before, these excursions were meant for religious purposes such as pilgrimages to Mecca for Muslim travellers or a Jewish birthright trip to Israel, but according to Airbnb’s consumer trends spokesperson Ali Killam, heritage travel has been a top travel trend since 2014.

After filling your genealogy reports on 23andMe and sending it in, you will be able to click through Airbnb homes and experiences that reside in your ancestral homelands. According to 23andMe, users have at least five (out of eight) different origins within their report, which leads to ample options for your travel itinerary. Compared to sifting through dusty records and studying family trees, it’s a unique and easy way to learn about your heritage. Not to mention an offbeat approach to your vacation plans inspired by your genetic code.

According to press releases on Airbnb and 23andMe, their aim is to provide “an exciting opportunity for customers to connect with their heritage through deeply personal cultural and travel experiences.” Although some see it as a unique escapade, others find this partnership uneasy. Using DNA to capitalise on emotional experiences may feel demeaning and diminish the significance heritage trips could actually be. Not to mention the level of legitimacy of your genetic reports and the authenticity of these travel options.

As we become increasingly wary of how our data is used the thought of our genetic data used for ulterior motives comes to mind. This slightly whispers back to U.S. President Roosevelt’s 1942 order for Japanese Americans to register their identity and begs the question: Could this be a new form of racial registration but with a different face? The ethical implications of having your cultural and racial identity monetised should also be questioned. If it is used as a cultural or racial registry, this not only affects the people who have done the test but also their relatives—which was proven through the capturing of the golden state killer, where police found him through the genetic code of a relative who used 23andMe. Although both parties have stated they won’t be sharing personal information with the other, being sceptical seems like a safe option.

Or maybe we should just take this collaboration at face value. As one Reddit user asks in the 23andMe thread discussing this topic, “Why are you complaining?”. There also are some positive implications that could come from this new way of travelling. People who are adopted or people from disconnected communities from their ancestral home, such as the African American community, could learn more about their geographic history. For those who have no idea where they came from this may be a stepping stone to their personal journey, but then again, how personal can you get with a pre-packaged holiday?

If both companies communicate this collaboration as a way to explore your roots from a physical standpoint then it may not seem so contrived. Instead, it seems that Airbnb and 23andMe are trying too hard to pull at your heartstrings and not telling it like it is: a fun new way to pick your next travel destination.

Your approach to this new way of travelling now depends on how you perceive society. Some may think, as we have already given up so much of ourselves to digital data, what’s one more thing? Others may see it as another way for companies to use and sell our data. So where exactly is the limit? Just like many other questions, there’s no right answer just yet. We’ll find out in the future. In the meantime, hopefully give your long lost cousin a good Airbnb review cause you know, ‘family’.