One of the mysteries of the British Tourism Industry has been the fascination by the British public for the battlefields and cemeteries of the Western Front.
In the decades immediately following the 1918 Armistice, British tourism to Northern France and Belgium was minimal as the WWI veterans got on with their lives during the Great Depression, WWII and its aftermath.
In the late 60's and 70's British mass tourism took off with the introduction of the package holiday offering sun and sand. However, what did not fit the mold was the dramatic surge in tourists flocking to the British WWI military cemeteries and battlefields of Northern France and Belgium.
The industry agreed that this trend was just a blip reflecting the recently retired WWI veterans returning to honour the promise, 'We shall remember them', perceptively captured in Laurence Binyon's 1914 poem, 'For the Fallen'. Once these veterans passed on, the industry reckoned, this fad will pass.
However, year on year, numbers of tourists to the Somme and Ypres battlefields and the Menim Gate have increased. In the 90's the industry reckoned that once the children of the veterans have passed on, the fad will surely pass.
Today, the British WWI sites are visited each year by hundreds of thousands of tourists. This large market supports at least 10 British travel companies. As anyone who has actually visited the sites can attest, apart from the cemeteries, there is not much to actually see as a tourist. However, the British fascination with the Western Front has shown no signs of weakening. The Tourist Industry has finally given up trying to figure out why and has focused on how to meet the growing demand.
'Nous voilà, Lafayette'
Colonel C.E. Stanton, aide to A.E.F. commander John 'Black Jack' Pershing, upon the landing of the first US troops in France 1917