Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Is digitization killing genealogy tourism?

The bonanza in digitized genealogical records online, especially those transcribed and/or indexed and linked to original images, has revolutionized family history. But archives and record offices worry that making these records available online cuts into their revenue and harms the local economy as genealogists no longer visit to find the information they seek.

Others argue that it shifts the focus of tourist visits away from the confines of such offices. Being able to complete the basic research at home means the family historian becomes more, not less motivated to visit, but opts for a richer tourist experience in local museums, walks the roads and byways, visits the homesteads, churches and graveyards of their ancestors.

There has been a discussion on this in the electronic journal First Monday. In volume 12, number 1 (January 2007), Emily Heinlen published "Genealogy and the economic drain on Ireland: Unintended consequences." She points out that while the increase in popularity of digitized genealogical documents has been an economic boost for online companies that specialize in genealogy, it has had the unintended consequence on Ireland of decreasing the incoming revenue of the genealogy tourism industry. The basic data table referred to is reproduced below.

Table 1: Genealogy tourism visitors — 1999-2004.
Source: Bord Fáilte (Irish Tourist Board).
Overseas Visitors (000’s)199920002001200220032004
M Europe221120
North America. USA617449203726
Australia/New Zealand1114184310

In a letter to the editor in the March issue Fiona Fitzsimons and Cathy McCartney of Eneclann, a company linked to Trinity College, Dublin, involved with digitization projects, comment on the article's "limited and selective use of statistics on Irish visitor numbers." They point out that total visitor numbers increased by 1,262,000, or over 18%, from 1999 to 2005. That's despite worldwide tourist reductions that occurred in the aftermath of 9/11 and the SARS outbreak. While comparable figures for 1999 are not available, a very healthy 39% of visitors in 2005 engaged in cultural and historical activities.

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