Featured image showing Markus’ and Randy’s 2018 Small-Group Tour of the Meuse-Argonne and St. Mihiel Salients. Some of the participants photographed by Georg Snatzke are repeat customers.
While planning for 2022 I came across this inspiring quote from Walt Disney: “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.” Markus and I have been fortunate to have repeat clients, who have returned multiple times. These include: Valerie Young, Colin McAllister, John Snow, Bruce Blanchart, Heiner Saur, Andrew Pouncey and others. But, for those of you who do not know us, but who are considering using our tour services, this blog series is meant to highlight things that we do well. In part two let’s discuss our philosophy of guiding small group tours to ensure greater interaction with the guides.
Question: For almost thirty years you’ve been leading groups and individuals on the battlefields of the First and Second World Wars. Do you still enjoy it? How have your experiences been?
Markus: Thirty years is a long time. Over this period, I have probably introduced several hundred groups to the battlefields and history of the world wars in Belgium and France. Each group is always a bit different and therefore fresh, and I enjoy meeting new enthusiasts the same as seeing old friends again.
Randy’s Addition: I have not led as many tours as Markus has, at least not until 2017-18, but Markus is right that each tour is a bit different and a learning experience for the guide. It forces one to do new research, allowing one to see the battle or battlefield perhaps a bit differently.
Question: Your several hundred tours have varied from individuals to groups of 50 or more, with very different experiences depending on size. Which size tour do you ultimately prefer?
Markus: Small group tours are inherently more individualized and more intensive than a large bus tour. It means a lot to me to be able to have active discussions with the participants. I especially enjoy good discussions around the dinner table after a day in the field, and that is more intimate in a small group. For example, our 2021 Ardennes Tour had five participants—three Germans and two Americans—and we had wonderful dinner discussions. I also feel that I can meet each participant’s needs much easier in a small group or individual tour than I can in a large tour.
Randy’s Addition: I definitely second Markus’ comments. When I lead a large group tour, such as the WFA USA Branch Tour in 2007, I try to spread myself around evenly; but there are always people I should have spent more time with.
There are also logistical reasons why I prefer the small-group tour over the large bus tour. Needing fifteen minutes to load and unload a large bus at each stop eats into touring time. Also, there are country roads and lanes that large busses simply cannot take because of size and weight limitations. This makes it more difficult to get knee deep into history.
Question: Markus, you retired from military service in 2018. Now you can devote yourself more fully to your tour business. But doesn’t offering several tours a year increase the risk of things becoming more routine?
Markus: I always try to avoid tours becoming routine. Therefore, whether alone or with partners such as Randy, I only offer a limited number of tours a year and I vary the battlefields over the year. That helps immensely. It also gives me time to deepen my knowledge base of the various fronts and battles that I present.
The majority of Randy’s and my research over the last three decades has focused on the battles of the First World War. Since retirement, I now have more time to focus on the Second World War battles such as the Ardennes and Normandy. This shift also keeps things new and exciting. In addition, it takes time to study these battles and to become familiar with the battlefields. For that reason, I don’t see this business becoming boring and routine.
Randy’s Addition: Agreed. In addition to my book and online research, I look forward to spending more time in places like Normandy and the Ardennes over the next few years. That is when one truly finds the hidden gems. My knowledge of the Meuse-Argonne and St. Mihiel Sectors grew so much as a result of living in and exploring the area for eight months in 2017-18.
Question: Is there any other closing remark you would like to make?
Markus: Just to be clear, either one or both of us can lead a tour ranging from small to large. If you have a group and a tour in mind, please talk to us and we can plan a tour that meets your needs. But we believe the bulk of our business will remain small group and individual tours for the advantages that we outlined in this article.
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