We will remember them: Anzac Day tourism

Momentous: 2015 will be the 100th anniversary of the Anzac
landing at Gallipolli. Photo: Reuters
Anzac Day tours remain strong, but many people are saving for Gallipoli’s 100th anniversary, writes Belinda Jackson.

Commemorating Australia’s war dead at Gallipoli’s Dawn Service on Anzac Day is now an established travel experience, and tour operators say the numbers are growing each year.

However, specialist battlefield tour operators say bookings for 2013 and 2014 are weaker as travellers save their money for 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli.

In anticipation of the high demand expected in 2015, the Australian and New Zealand governments have capped the number of attendees permitted at the dawn service at Gallipoli. There will be only 8000 tickets available to Australians, to be chosen by ballot drawn early next year, the Department of Veterans Affairs says.

In comparison, it’s expected about 6000 Australians will attend Dawn Service in Gallipoli next week.

Veterans’ Affairs minister Warren Snowdon is warning tour operators not to promise seats at the 2015 commemorative services. While the details are yet to be announced, tour operators will not be able to apply for a ticket on a traveller’s behalf.

John Waller of Boronia Battlefield Tours (boroniabattlefieldtours.com.au), which runs tours for the Australian War Memorial, says interest in 2015 is still very high, despite the uncertainty. “Some people are booking their seats already on the hope they’re successful in the ballot, but many are holding off,” he says.

Both specialist and mainstream tour operators agree the popularity of Anzac Day tours continues to rise, but while Gallipoli is still the star destination, it’s not all quiet on the Western Front. British-based Back Roads Touring, which caters for the over-50 market, says the European battlefields are popular with older travellers wanting to trace the whereabouts of family members who fell on the battlefields of the Somme, and London-based Aussies. The main site, the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, is 140km north of Paris.

“It’s an easy trip on the Eurostar out of London when compared with the longer haul to Turkey,” agrees Ben Ittensohn of Top Deck bus tours, which cater for 18 to 39 year olds. Top Deck added a Western Front tour two years ago as it was “struggling to cope with the sheer volume” on its Gallipoli tours, while Trafalgar this year launched a new 12-day tour through the battlefields of the UK, France and Netherlands (trafalgar.com).

“Attendees are hovering around 4,000 at Villers-Bretonneaux,” says Peter Norton of Western Front Tours (westernfronttours.com.au), figures that are expected to rise as the Somme commemorates its own centenary in 2016.

Battlefield historian Mat McLachlan of Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours (battlefields.com.au) agrees. He says those wanting to avoid the crowds head to the Menin Gate in Ieper (Ypres), Belgium, where there is a smaller Anzac Day service. Villers-Bretonneux town and the nearby village of Bullecourt will also conduct ceremonies later in the day.

“There are also services in other places where Australians have served, including Vietnam, Korea and El Alamein in Egypt,” adds Mat.

The Australian government also conducts a ceremony at Hellfire Pass, Thailand, commemorating the prisoners of war who worked on the Thailand-Burma Railway in the Second World War. Services have been held in the past at Sandakan, Malaysia, although political unrest in the region means there will be no government service in 2013.

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