Touring the Battlefields of Northwest EuropeIt would be easy for you to view this article as an advertisement for what I do, it is not meant to be. It is meant to be an informative article about a little known service available to anyone who wishes to follow in the footsteps of an ancestor, relative or even a particular military unit rather than go on a set battlefield tour. In other words do what they want to do rather than what the set tour package tells them they can.
Like the majority of my competitors, I offer standard battlefield tour packages that show people the sites of D-Day, Ypres, The Somme, Waterloo, Arnhem, Vimy Ridge, etc. I offer six set date tours each year aimed at taking people to the battlefield sites on or close to the anniversary date of the battle. My Battlefield Tours 4u website also offers a range of set itinerary tours that have flexible dates and hotel grades.
What relatively few battlefield tour operators do however is a ďtruly bespoke tour serviceĒ whereby they put together a tour with their customer to ensure that the customer gets to see what they want rather than just what the tour operator wants to show them. Such a service is a partnership between the customer and tour operator/guide determining what can be seen in the time set aside to allow the customer to achieve their aim. I have been fortunate enough to take customers to visit the battlefields where their father or grandfather fought. I have taken others to the grave of an ancestor and shown them the place where their ancestor fought and died. Others have wanted to see the places where their own regiments fought and so on. I have even taken veterans back to the places where they fought and lost friends.
The key to a truly bespoke battlefield service is defining what you the customer would like to do or what you want to achieve. This is unique and individual to each customer, but in general the following gives a good basis from which to work.
What is the purpose of the tour?
What is it you the customer would like to do or achieve? For example do you want to: -
1. Visit the grave of an ancestor, relative or particular person?
2. See the place where that person fought and was perhaps wounded or died (if this can indeed be established)?
3. Understand the battle in which they fought?
4. Get a better understanding of the war in which they fought?
5. Want to see the place in which a particular unit fought?
6. Follow the progress of a particular unit during a campaign?
The list is almost endless, but in short it is what you the customer wants to do that matters.
Where do you want to go?
This sounds easy, but this may not necessarily be the case. It is linked closely with the purpose of the tour, but can include places to enhance understanding that do not directly relate to an ancestorís, relativeís or particular unitís war.
How long do you want to go for?
You are in charge and can determine the length of your tour, but beware a word of caution here. Make sure that the time is sufficient to achieve your aim and get around the tour locations, but not too long so that you get ďtoured outĒ. By this I mean the days start to merge into one and the places you are visiting no longer have a meaning. The great thing about a truly bespoke tour is it remains flexible and if this happens you can take a break, reorganise the schedule or whatever else you and the tour guide jointly decide.
Where do you want to be picked-up and dropped-off?
This needs to be agreed before going on the tour as it has a bearing on the tour cost. I have picked people up from their homes, met them at the UK Ferry Port, at the hotel, an airport and more. I have agreed different pick-up and drop-off locations where asked. If the pick-up and drop-off points are on my route (or close by) I do not normally charge for this, but if additional mileage is involved or the location involves an overnight stay then a charge is made. Each tour operator is different so make sure you check this out.
What standard of accommodation do you want?
You can set the standard; I can normally arrange anything from self-catering to a five Star Chateau Hotel. You can of course specify that the tour guide stays with you, but donít expect them to cook if its self-catering (I am not a good cook and do not want to poison my guests). Often the tour guide will stay in the same place if it is within their budget. I normally stay in the same hotel so that I am available for my guests should they want to see me or nearby if the cost is greater than my budget allows. I have stayed in more expensive hotels when my guests have decided that this is what they want provided they pick-up the additional cost.
What meals do you want to include in the price?
A good tour operator should be able to arrange a tour that includes no meals, breakfast only, half board, full board or all-inclusive. Make sure you agree with the tour operator before going on the tour just what is included. Is it just meals, or is wine provided with dinner, or no drinks, or include all drinks, etc. If meals are inclusive decide whether or not you wish the tour guide to dine with you (providing they are staying in the same hotel). I normally give my customers the choice, but even where it has been agreed that we dine apart within a day or so this seems to change as we continue to discuss things once back at the hotel and then over dinner. Please donít forget that the tour guide will need some admin time to prepare for the following day, top up on supplies, etc.
Do you want museum fees included?
You can have museum entrance fees included in the price of your tour or you can pay on the door as you go in. Make sure you agree this with the tour operator before you go. I normally include these within the price as standard, but others may not.
What about refreshments whilst travelling around the battlefield?
This can include light refreshments and snacks carried in the vehicle or regular stops to allow you to purchase your own. The choice again is very much the customerís. I normally carry a cooler-box with drinks as a minimum, but this will vary from one tour operator to another.
The list can go on, but I think you will have got the gist of what I am trying to say.
My best advice is if you want to do something different from a standard tour talk to a professional. They will tell you whether or not they can do it, if they can great, if they canít you can decide to go elsewhere or even follow an alternative if it is offered. You can of course talk to a number of tour operators about your proposed tour, but please do not string them along, as organising a bespoke tour can be very time consuming. They may also turn down another tour based upon your enquiry and if you decide not to use them they will have missed out on another opportunity. This is after all their livelihood and they need to make a living so please be fair.
My final point is that a truly bespoke service puts you in charge and we the tour operators should be facilitators to enable you to do it. I believe that I like the other truly bespoke tour operators do.
Ian R Gumm