Remembrance tourism in Normandy

Soldats américains approchant de la plage d'Omaha Beach, 6 juin 1944. © Archives de la Manche/conseil dép. (13Num-74)
US soldiers approaching Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944. © Archives de la Manche/Conseil Départemental (13Num-74) - ©



    DATE: 19 août 1942

    PLACE: France

    OUTCOME: The Anglo-Canadian raid on Dieppe (Operation Jubilee)

    Every year, remembrance tourism attracts millions of visitors to Normandy to walk in the footsteps of the liberators of 1944, bringing with it economic, cultural and civic benefits. The Normandy Region is a leading actor of the tourism sector, and works to create synergies around shared projects and goals.

    Since 1942, with the Dieppe Raid of 19 August, the history of Normandy as a whole has been closely tied to that of Liberation. But it is without doubt the Allied landings of 6 June 1944, a decisive episode in the Second World War, that have made Normandy famous the world over.

    On D-Day and the days that followed, thousands of young men from 15 different nations, including the 177 Frenchmen of Kieffer Commando, landed on the Normandy beaches. By midnight that day, over 150 000 Allied soldiers had already landed. Twelve thousand of them were killed, wounded or taken prisoner in the initial hours of the landings. There followed months of fighting to liberate the region, then Paris, then finally to reach Germany.

    Normandy bears the scars of that fighting. Nearly 21 000 civilians lost their lives and the vast majority of villages were badly damaged, with some more than 90% destroyed. Today, those scars are still visible and the memory remains alive, through the ruins, cemeteries, visitor sites and iconic reconstruction heritage of the region. The D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy are etched in the spirit of every citizen of Normandy and form part of a shared heritage.

    Normandy is a land of history and remembrance, to which visitors of every generation flock from around the world to discover and share the memory of those who fought for freedom. With the permanent goal of passing on that memory, it seeks to promote the development of a responsible remembrance tourism.

    The foundations of remembrance tourism in Normandy

    Remembrance in Normandy began in 1945, with the establishment of the 6 June commemorations, which, over the years, have taken on international importance.

    On 22 May 1945, Raymond Triboulet, appointed deputy prefect of Bayeux at Liberation, decided to set up a “Landings Committee”. On 6 June 1945, less than a month after the end of the war in Europe, the committee marked the first anniversary of D-Day, and the commemorative ceremonies soon grew to national proportions. Every year since then, it has been the committee’s job to organise the D-Day landings commemorations.

    Its actions are reinforced by a national law of 21 May 1945 “on preserving the memory of the Allied landings in Normandy”, whereby the French State entrusted it with the task of organising the coastal zone for the purposes of developing “remembrance tourism”. It is the first known use of the term. That law was fundamental in establishing 6 June as an annual, national anniversary and instituting the construction of monuments, permanent museums and commemorative events. The Landings Committee established the first Landings Museum in Arromanches-les-Bains in 1954, and remembrance tourism began to develop.

    A turning-point in the 6 June commemorations came in 1984, when they became internationalised and the Allied powers were invited to Normandy.

    From that year on, and in particular since the 60th anniversary, the French State, local and regional authorities, voluntary organisations, businesses and many others have played a crucial part in organising the D-Day celebrations. They have now developed beyond simple remembrance into more of a festive commemorative event, bringing significant economic benefits to the region.

    In 20 years, the number of visitors associated with remembrance tourism has doubled, from three to nearly six million (5 926 409 visitors in 2014). Significant spikes in visitor numbers are seen at the ten-year anniversaries, and the commemorations themselves seem to attract more and more people.

    The memory of the Second World War and the D-Day landings thus forms the cornerstone of the development of remembrance tourism in Normandy. Many regional initiatives have been taken by local authorities, museums and the educational community to aid young people in their understanding of the conflict and this chapter of Normandy’s history, and in gaining a better grasp of the contemporary world.



    Les Braves (The Brave), by sculptor Anilore Banon, Omaha Beach. © Marie-Anaïs Thierry/CRT Normandie


    An overarching strategy

    On the eve of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, in 2014, the Normandy Region reaffirmed its desire to carry on with the considerable work accomplished since 1945, by properly structuring remembrance tourism in Normandy.

    Its ambition was to make Normandy the ultimate international Second World War destination, embodying the values of peace, freedom and reconciliation.

    To that end, in 2013 Normandy piloted a destination management plan entitled “Remembrance tourism in Normandy”, a truly collaborative tool for structuring and promoting tourism destinations with strong international visibility. The plan, involving 22 public and private partners (the French State, local and regional authorities, museums, transport operators, etc.), sought to build regional momentum for the development of local remembrance tourism.

    The initiative was based on two principles:

    • A shift from remembrance tourism to historical tourism, with events and message anchored in a contemporary vision of history;
    • The excellence of the destination, with the goal of structuring, qualifying and developing the entire chain of services, always with a focus on visitor satisfaction.

    Actions under the plan contributed to:

    • Introducing an overall management of the destination, to reinforce the structuring of the offering at regional level;
    • Improving the quality of the welcome offered to remembrance tourism customers, within a “chain of services” vision (11 Normandie Qualité Tourisme-labelled operators and 15 Normandie Qualité Tourisme Lieux de Mémoire-labelled remembrance sites);
    • Moving from a strategy of “grabbing” tourists to one of “conquering” them, geared to young people: the new D-Day Normandie – Terre de Liberté (D-Day Normandy – Land of Freedom) brand is today one of the brands being pushed by the French tourism development agency, Atout France, in France and overseas, thereby contributing to raising the region’s profile and increasing its attractiveness;
    • Significant growth in the destination’s tourism appeal around this theme, increasing the associated economic benefits;
    • Positioning Normandy as a destination that embodies the values of peace, freedom and reconciliation: the actions under the destination management plan contributed to the implementation of the regional strategy “Normandie pour la Paix” (Normandy for Peace) and were consistently geared to the proposed nomination of the landing beaches for inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage List;
    • Citizenship education, through an improved understanding of the historical events presented.

    In addition, the plan was devised to look not just at the D-Day landings, but at the Battle of Normandy as a whole, in order to see these events in the wider context of the liberation of Paris and Europe.

    Many years of experience in remembrance tourism have earned the region international recognition. That is one of the reasons why Normandy is a founding member of the Liberation Route Europe (LRE) network. The aim of the network is to raise awareness among remembrance tourism operators of the issues involved in a shared vision of history, so that they can develop their offering and attract new customers. It also offers opportunities for discussions and initiatives at European level and for the sharing of experiences among the different European countries.


    5. Musee_du_Debarquement_de_Utah_Beach

    Utah Beach Landing Museum. © Coraline et Léo/CRT Normandie


    A substantial offering, continually being updated

    The 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy, in 2019, was another major anniversary that demonstrated the growth of this destination. The health crisis that followed, however, put a stop to that growth and had a strong impact on the region’s remembrance sites.

    New issues emerged and the Normandy Region was keen to maintain its relationship with tourism operators to support the development of their offering.

    This meant, first and foremost, catering for the growth in demand for more responsible tourism development, as customers increasingly sought to combine leisure, sightseeing and social and environmental preservation. The health crisis saw a marked increase in such expectations.

    The second goal was to attract new customers, by adapting the destination to cater for the uninitiated (young people or those with no direct connection with the historical events) or those at a remove from the cultural references (e.g. Asian visitors), while also retaining local customers rediscovered during the crisis. Developing the offering in order to move from remembrance tourism to historical tourism remained crucial.

    Lastly, it was necessary to adapt to new customer expectations by presenting visitor experiences that were respectful of the sites and their history, while also offering a fresh perspective on them.

    To maintain the momentum of the plan, which proved a unanimous success among all operators, a new five-year action plan was drawn up, which looks towards 2024 and the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy.

    This new road map aims to carry on with the actions already in place. For instance, a large-scale survey of tourism practices and consumption for the destination is due to get underway in 2022. New, up-to-date data on the behaviour and expectations of visitors will be gathered, so that appropriate actions can be taken to develop the offerings.

    And, importantly, this entire action plan is in keeping with the development of a more responsible destination, driven by the Region in partnership with local authorities and tourism operators.

    Today, there are 94 visitor sites in Normandy connected to the Second World War. It is the number-one reason tourists come to Normandy. But with nearly 45% foreign visitors, the recent crisis has required a rethink of how the destination should be developed. In addition, remembrance tourism is a sensitive subject requiring the presentation of offerings geared to young people that are based on precise, in-depth knowledge and reflect the values embodied by the destination, while continually striving for excellence.

    Towards 2024

    This year, with the anniversary of Operation Biting and the Dieppe Raid, the Normandy Region is following the remembrance cycle devoted to the 80th anniversary of the Second World War, with its sights set on the anniversary of the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy in two years’ time. An 80th anniversary logo will enable tourism operators in Normandy to start promoting the occasion as of now and spotlight their many commemorative events and celebrations.

    The 80th anniversary will furthermore almost certainly be the last one to be attended by veterans and eyewitnesses of the conflict. The imminent loss of our direct link with these events makes it all the more important to pass them on to the younger generation, and makes the shift from remembrance to history, and the need to prepare for it, clearer than ever.


    The British Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer



    © Refuse to hibernate/CRT Normandie


    Overlooking Gold Beach, the British Normandy Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer (Calvados) consists of thin pillars of white stone engraved with the names of the 22 442 soldiers who, under British command, lost their lives in Normandy between the landings on 6 June and 31 August 1944.

    Officially unveiled in 2021 by Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May, the site also contains a monument in memory of the civilians who died during the fighting in the region.


    The Bruneval Memorial



    © Elisa Dolleans


    Set high on the chalk cliffs of the Côte d’Albâtre, in Saint-Jouin-Bruneval (Seine-Maritime), the Bruneval Memorial remembers one of the most daring Allied operations of the Second World War: the British raid on the German radar station in the village, on the night of 27 to 28 February 1942.

    An initial monument was unveiled by Charles de Gaulle in 1947. The present-day memorial was opened in 2012 by Kenneth Holden, one of the last surviving veterans of the raid.


    The Montormel Memorial



    © Coraline et Léo/CRT Normandie


    It is August 1944 and the Battle of Normandy is coming to an end. In the Falaise-Chambois pocket, in Orne, the Allies finally prevail over the Germans. Located at the very scene of the fighting, between Argentan and Vimoutiers, the memorial provides an exceptional viewpoint over the Dives valley.

    Both a testament to the efforts of the Allied nations to defeat a common enemy and a place of immersion in the fighting, this remembrance site pays tribute to the great strategists and protagonists of a battle which Montgomery described as the “beginning of the end of the war”.


    Hervé Morin - Chief executive of the Normandy Region

    Related articles