Any report on travel and tourism, including battlefield tours, has been rather gloomy lately.
Headlines keep throwing out big numbers in jobs and revenue lost. The impact of coronavirus on the tourism industry is extreme, even in places that have so far gotten away relatively unscathed.
Not that an inveterate traveller like me needs an avalanche of statistical evidence… Sitting at home at the height of the tour season is like having arrived in a parallel universe: it is entirely alien!
Resetting the balance
The contrast with the pre-pandemic debate on “over-tourism”, where the most beautiful places on earth are invaded by vast crowds who barely seem to look up from their phone screens before getting back on the bus, train or boat to the next whistle stop couldn’t be starker.
For months, town centres, piazza’s and museums have been devoid of the usual crowds.
Financial implications aside, there are some benefits to losing the crowds. I was fortunate enough to find myself in Florence in the days before Italy went for complete shutdown. My initial plan was to venture further north to go scout out a few other sites for an upcoming tour. The boundaries of the quarantined “red zone” scuppered those plans.
Those of you who have seen me feed off group dynamics for energy during tours may be surprised that – when not leading a tour – I am rather solitary.
Therefore, having Michelangelo’s David entirely to myself and strolling through a near-empty Uffizi gallery was an unexpected treat.
For a few hours, I got to experience what it must be like for royalty… a private viewing of the world’s most famous art works!
Meanwhile, lockdown has started easing across most of Europe. Most venues have found ways to bring back visitors in a measured way. Perhaps the extreme disruption of the global shut-down is the perfect opportunity to reset the balance between mass tourism and appreciation for local life. Or, if you will, make mainstream travel a bit more like battlefields touring…
Battlefield tours – the original slow travel movement?
Battlefield tours have always been slightly different, better fitting with the slow travel concept. After all, advancing armies didn’t necessarily follow the beaten path to popular destinations! The place names featured on most of my itineraries invariably attract quizzical looks from hotel and transport suppliers… You want to go where? But why?
Battlefield tours are usually quite personal – people often are tracing family history – and tend to happen in smaller groups to allow for more flexibility to cater to the personal stories.
There are certainly exceptions to this. Big commemorative events for significant anniversaries will draw much bigger tour groups, but they only take place every few years.
People are understandably weary of large crowds at the moment. The combination of small family groups looking for a personal experience to add to their heritage and visiting out-of-the-way places makes battlefield tours one of the first candidates to pick up traction again after the travel recess.
Battlefield tourism – a two-way street
The small towns away from the main tourist tracks may not seem directly affected by the pandemic disruption of travel. However, when national economies depend largely on incoming tourism, they too will feel the pinch. They also have a much closer bond with the groups that do visit them. This is due to the shared history between the two parties. Invariably, those small communities go out of their way to welcome descendants of those they consider their liberators.
Invariably, these towns go out of their way to make their guests feel welcome and get them fed and watered, without ever expecting anything in return. This has worked so far, but may become more difficult with each new generation.
With the slow travel concept taking a wider hold, now may be a good time to start looking at ways for visitors to give something back to those small communities.
I abhor the typical tourist trap bus tour stops at large commercial centres. Luckily, they are nowhere to be seen in those areas. But surely, we can find ways to bring benefits to both visitors and hosts.
We have already started this conversation during previous visits and are planning on actively pursuing this going forward. It can only benefit both sides…
To find out more about tours to areas where the 100th/442nd were active in France and Italy, visit www.nisei-legacy-tours.com.
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