Last updated: 05:30 PM ET, Thu June 23 2016

McLachlan Battlefield Tours Launches US Invasion

Tour Operator | David Cogswell | June 23, 2016

McLachlan Battlefield Tours Launches US Invasion

Vietnam (Photo by David Cogswell)

If Mat McLachlan were launching his own D-Day Invasion of the U.S., he could hardly have planned it better than he has with his new line of battlefield tours. Australia-based McLachlan will launch his battlefield tours in August in Las Vegas in connection with Virtuoso Travel Week and has opened a U.S. office.

Even as he makes his initial appearance in the U.S. market, he has already formed a powerful alliance with Virtuoso, the high-end retail travel consortium, which will zoom his product line right into the view of many of the top luxury travel retailers in the country.

With a powerful ally such as Virtuoso, McLachlan’s success seems almost assured. He may have learned some things about strategy from his study of battlefield maneuvers.

“We’re very proud of our partnership with Virtuoso,” said McLachlan. “We’re the only battlefield operator in their network.”

READ MORE: Virtuoso Celebrating 30 Years With Massive Growth 

From Writer to Tour Operator

McLachlan is an Australian writer who found himself getting increasingly and irresistibly immersed in the study of historic battlefields. It led him from writing about travel for the Australian travel media to writing books on the subject.

“I’m a journalist by training,” said McLachlan. “I was writing for travel magazines and it was leading me to some of these battlefields. It was always something I’ve been very passionate about because my grandfather fought in the Second World War and his brother was killed. So I grew up in a family where we always appreciated and respected service and sacrifice.”

As his travel journalism led him to the exploration of major historical battlefields, he said, “My passion grew to craving obsession. I was fortunate to write book about the Australian battlefields and how you can visit them, and from there I decided that some people might be interested in coming with me.”

He wrote “Walking with the ANZACS: A Guide to Australian Battlefields on the Western Front” and “Gallipoli: The Battlefield Guide.” He has written two more books that are set to be published this year.

Establishing a Beachhead

Now after nearly nine years successfully offering battlefield tours in Australia, McLachlan is ready to launch his line of tours in the American market. He has opened a sales office in Los Angeles and is preparing for the August launch in Las Vegas.

Many of the battlefields of Australian war veterans are the same as those of Americans, so tours that have been operated, tried and tested for nine years can be offered to the American market with only a slight modification of the itineraries and change of emphasis

The company offers regularly scheduled group tours, often scheduled to coincide with anniversaries such as D-Day, and customized tours designed expressly for clients.

“In nine years we’ve developed a good network in Europe, Asia and the Pacific in the places we’re going to where Americans and Australians served,” said McLachlan.

The battlefield tours for the American market primarily focus on battlefields where Americans fought overseas. But the company has also introduced some battlefield tours in the U.S., including battlefields of the American Civil War and Custer’s Last Stand.

Most of the programs are designed for those already traveling overseas to attach to their existing itinerary.

“We don’t see them as the prime motivator for a trip to Europe,” said McLachlan. “Most people will attach them to an existing itinerary in France, England, Germany or Italy, where many Americans travel anyway.”  

Setting Targets

Many of the company’s target market will be people with family members who served in previous wars, as is McLachlan himself. The baby boom generation, still the dominant spenders in the travel industry are by definition the generation that was spawned when the soldiers returned home after World War II. They are obviously prime for the product. As the World War II generation fades from the scene, many of those in the generation it spawned are looking for connections to their parents and grandparents.

“Next year is the 75th anniversary of some of these battles and that’s really the last time that veterans will be visiting these battlefields,” said McLachlan. “After that they’ll be gone. So these final years are our last chance to serve this generation before they’re all gone.”

For many who either served themselves or whose parents served, visiting the battlefields can be a deeply moving, emotional experience.

“For many people it’s a pilgrimage,” said McLachlan. “I don’t say that too much because I don’t want to give people the impression you have to be obsessed to get anything out of it. But at the same time, if you are someone who is passionate about this or if you have a family member who served, it can be a real pilgrimage. Every trip we do see people who are emotionally affected by it. It’s important we recognize that we actually bring history alive for people. It’s an important thing that we’re doing for people.”

The Mission

McLachlan also offers tours of Vietnam, which was the war that many of the baby boom generation participated in.  

“Vietnam is the only tour we do that involves veterans in large numbers,” said McLachlan. “That’s going to be a difficult journey for many people. We treat it separately as a destination compared to so many other places we travel to, and we have a really good team to support veterans on that journey, because that’s what they need.

“We’re very cautious about what we offer the Vietnam vets and we’re very careful to make sure it is done in an appropriate way and they have the support they need, because it may be a difficult journey for many of them.”

After years of offering Vietnam battlefield tours to Australian veterans McLachlan said the company has refined them to a high level.

READ MORE: Five Lesser-Known National Monuments Worth the Trip

“We’ve got a good track record there with Australian Vietnam veterans, in knowing what we need to provide for them and what experiences work and don’t work,” he said. “So now we’re in a good position to roll that out to U.S. veterans as well.”

Through operating the tours and seeing the profound effects they have on people, McLachlan is increasingly inspired by the service he is providing.

“The more you delve into it, there are so many layers of it,” he said. “It’s such a great product. It’s so (much) more than selling a vacation. It’s something really important that we’re doing. I’m really passionate about it and it’s really gratifying to be involved in a product this fantastic.”

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