Demand declines for Gallipoli tours

Our Anzac spirit will never dissipate, but are travellers finding the experience of taking in dawn service at the World War I battleground too gruelling?

It's the time of year when Australians start making plans for Anzac Day travel, but many will be giving the famous dawn service at Gallipoli a miss.

Gallipoli has had its day for Anzac Day travel, a leading tour operator believes. Albatross Tours, which is a long-time operator of Anzac trips, says it has permanently dropped Gallipoli, due to falling demand and uncertainty over plans for the centenary commemorations in 2015.

The managing director of Albatross, Euan Landsborough, says there is a perception that numbers for Gallipoli keep growing but the majority of those who attend the Anzac Day service are backpackers, with "suitcase travellers" steadily declining. Landsborough also believes the 2015 commemorations will be a shemozzle, with details of a ballot system still to be worked out (see panel) and tour operators largely unable to plan trips.

"We saw a horror story coming up," Landsborough says.

Albatross Tours is instead focusing on Western Front tours, which it says have been growing in popularity in recent years.

The managing director of Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours, Mat McLachlan, says he has also seen a decline in demand for Gallipoli, with Western Front tours growing in popularity since Anzac Day dawn services began at Villers-Bretonneux four years ago.

"I think there has been a shift away from Gallipoli," McLachlan says.

McLachlan believes there are many people who have already been to Gallipoli and there are more Australians who have a personal connection to the Western Front than to Gallipoli.

The Western Front also benefits from being much more accessible than Gallipoli, along with France being the world's most popular tourist destination (according to the UN World Tourism Organisation).

McLachlan says very few Australian travellers go solely for the Anzac Day commemorations, with most incorporating the experience into a longer holiday in Europe.

There may also be some people holding off on Gallipoli in the hope of attending for the centenary in 2015, he believes.

Landsborough says Gallipoli has become commercially unviable for his company, partly due to changes in the way the site is managed. One of the key issues is that tour operators can no longer transport their passengers to the Lone Pine site at the top of the hill, leaving them to walk the 3.2 kilometres up the dirt road from the beach. Landsborough says it is almost impossible to get passengers on to the official shuttle service unless they have a serious disability. He quotes the case of an 80-year-old man who applied and was denied a pass.

Landsborough says combined with freezing-cold conditions and a 17-hour day, travellers are finding the experience too hard and are passing that message on to others.

"That word-of-mouth is the reason numbers are dropping, I'm convinced of it," he says. "People don't want to suffer ... Gallipoli, unfortunately, has had its time."

Landsborough says while there has been much fuss about the 2015 commemorations at Gallipoli, the Western Front has several of its own centenary commemorations coming up, which will make it popular for years to come. Many travellers will be heading to the Somme rather than Gallipoli in 2015 and there will be more 100-year commemorations to follow from 2016 to 2018.

For those who still want to experience Anzac Day at Gallipoli, expert operator Boronia Travel warns travellers to do their research and check the details of tours.

"I always ask the question, 'What do you want out of your Gallipoli visit?"' the chief executive of Boronia, John Waller, says.

Waller has for many years been frustrated by operators making what he believes are misleading claims about their tours and the location of the accommodation.

"Most of the accommodation is on the European side of the Dardanelles and can be up to three hours' travel each way," he says.

"This includes waiting for the ferries, as they cannot be booked."

Waller says many of the cheaper trips are designed for people to simply "tick off" the dawn service, spending only about 24 hours at Gallipoli.

They miss out on must-see sights such as the cemeteries, the burial place of John Simpson Kirkpatrick (of the Simpson and his donkey legend), Shrapnel Gully and Ari Burnu, where the dawn service used to be held.

"Many people do not realise how beautiful and rugged the peninsula is," Waller says. "There is so much more to Gallipoli than Anzac Cove and the dawn service."

Ballot proof

Only about 8000 Australians will be able to attend the centenary dawn service at Gallipoli in 2015, the Department of Veterans' Affairs has announced.

A ballot system will be used to allocate places to individual travellers, although details will not be released until next year.

The department warns travellers to be wary of operators selling tours to Gallipoli for 2015, as they cannot ensure places at commemorations.

Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours says it has found a way around the ballot by planning its own dawn service for 2015, at a site not far from the main service.