Drumming up your war tourism

It’s long been on my bucket list to visit the beaches of Normandy and experience just a sliver of what our fathers and grandfathers went through on June 6, 1944. Coupled with some fine cuisine including exquisite wine and delicious camembert cheeses as well as walkabouts through picturesque Northern French towns and other historic sites, this would make for an unforgettable summer vacation.

Talking over this dream in conversation, it became apparent that many of my friends and colleagues have similar ambitions or have already completed such a journey. And I’d imagine that you or your friends are in the same boat. In fact, while touring the D-Day invasion locales may represent the pinnacle of war tourism, it is hardly an anomaly insofar as popular travel motivations.

Just consider how much war history is out there and how much effort has been put into preserving these locations and offering guests a fun yet meaningful trip. There are WWII battle sites scattered all over the globe, as well as museums like the USS Midway in San Diego that I recently visited and the USS Intrepid docked in New York City, or even the far more somber museums in Warsaw and those places dedicated to retelling the Holocaust. Then there are the WWI battle sites in such locations as eastern France or Belgium where, as a patriotic Canadian, one of my previous holidays in this region compelled me to include a daytrip to Vimy Ridge. Plus, Civil War battle sites continue to be prominent attractions for those of us here who prefer to travel domestically.

The D-Day memorial at Omaha Beach, Normandy
The D-Day memorial at Omaha Beach, Normandy

In short, this list is worldwide. Even though in an ideal world there would be no war, the sad fact is that such violent events have taken place and it is important that we continue to visit them so that we can act more sensibly in the future. Hence, as I see it, war tourism is not only a worthy pastime but a vital part of every traveler’s journey of self-discovery.

For you as the avid hotelier, though, such excursions tie perfectly into the concept of local, authentic experiences. If your property is next to or within a reasonable drive to an attraction of this sort, it is definitely worth promoting on your website and other collateral materials or going a step further by arranging for group tours.

While the latter entails partnering with other businesses or negotiating deals with local vendors, the former can be completed properly inside of a week. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be advertising all the possible experiences a guest might have once they’ve checked in at your hotel.

Describing them on your hotel or listing their availability in a brochure can even work nearer to the top of the sales funnel whereby the multitude of regional attractions may convince a customer to choose your property or a competitor down the road. More likely, however, it will come down to how you package these with other activities into preplanned itineraries for travelers who won’t want to do all this legwork.

Let me give you two examples that show how this war tourism packaging might work with differing levels of flexibility. The key message from both is that such attractions are a good way to offer a change of pace from other pursuits.

First and close to home are the many quaint inns in Toronto’s neighboring viticulture zone, Niagara-on-the-Lake. While it’s perfunctory for these hotels to offer wine tours and other gourmand experiences, a few point out that their grounds are within a 10-minute drive of Fort George, a colonial stronghold that can be explored through-and-through inside of two hours. While guided tours are still rare, front desk clerks should be adequately trained to keep this site – as well as all the other non-wine-related activities – in the backs of their minds in case they are asked by meandering guests to offer some variety to their epicurean-centric itineraries.

The second pertains to my month-long sojourn to Japan this fall. As part of a larger tour group, the main stops are Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. But I specifically chose this operator because its schedule included full-day excursions to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If I were to venture out on my own in a country where the language was completely foreign, not only would I mostly likely only travel to one of the two places but I would also not get nearly as much out of it as I would with a guide.

Even though this last comment is less about hotels than specific tour operators, understanding these types of travel motivations will nonetheless help you in crafting experiences that will greatly benefit people staying with you. It’s all about creating lasting memories to propel guest satisfaction further skyward, and if setting up war tourism programs is possible for your location then it’s definitely worth pursuing.