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As Spain and other countries open their borders, travel insiders are some of the first to get on planes and trains.
As internal borders in Europe began to reopen last Monday, June 15, travel industry leaders with the right passports—not American, British, or many others yet—have been some of the first to jump on planes and trains.
Some traveled for family reasons, others for business—and if a business trip meant seeing that hazy summer light filter down on the south of France, even better. Here’s what it was like.
Kimberley Cohen, the owner of Maisons Pariente, a collection of three hotels in France, is based in Paris. She flew to St. Tropez to help reopen the Hôtel Lou Pinet and took the train to Avignon to prepare the Hôtel Crillon Le Brave. She says she was a “bit scared” about getting on trains and airplanes, but the promised safety measures were in place and everything looked very clean, which is “rarely the case.” “I felt relieved about traveling again and visiting the south of France,” she says, “and I enjoyed the warm weather and beautiful light.” Kimberley is planning a purely leisure weekend with friends in early July.
For Petra Ellmeier, who is based in Zermatt as the sales and marketing director for the Mont Cervin Palace, it was all about seeing her family in Austria. She waited to travel until after June 15, when Austria’s quarantine was lifted and its mask policy was relaxed.
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On her well-booked Zurich to Vienna flight, she was seated next to another passenger, but it was “completely fine” for her. “You could smell that the plane was definitely disinfected,” she says. “There were no magazines in the seatback pocket, and it was funny how they announced during the security briefing that you were allowed to take your mask off if the oxygen mask comes down.” Swiss Air Lines did serve beverages and the usual chocolate squares during the flight.
Roman Mehrow, founder of the RSelection travel agency, started commuting again last week by plane between Düsseldorf and Zurich, where his company is based. In May, when quarantine lifted in Germany, he traveled to the holiday island of Sylt, and he is also planning on traveling to Greece in July to “not miss out on the Mediterranean this summer.”
One of the biggest shifts is the still eerily quiet airports. “It’s a big change from the usual hustle and bustle,” he says.
He also has to navigate the different rules in the two countries where he spends time. Masks are mandatory on trains, in restaurants and shops, and in hotel public areas in Germany—but not in Switzerland.
René Zimmer, general manager of Finca Cortesin in Spain, traveled to the Gran Hotel Miramar in Málaga. “It was a one-night short break to see how our colleagues are handling hotel operations during these difficult times, taking into consideration that we are still under some major restrictions,” he says.
“I wasn’t worried about a possible coronavirus transmission, but it was a bit of a strange arrival to the hotel with the new measures in place, and some shortage of staff. But the reception clerk was very friendly and helpful,” says Zimmer.
Nathaniel Most is based in Paris as director of sales and marketing at La Réserve Hotels, but the company’s headquarters is in Geneva, and he had to travel for meetings. “The overall experience was great, safe, and reassuring,” he says. When the SNCF (French railway) confirmed his departure, it noted that a face mask was required upon arrival at Gare de Lyon and for the duration of the trip, and left an open seat next to every passenger. “I should have brought coffee because the bar was closed. I used hand sanitizer a few times on the train, which I would have done at my desk, too. I even used the bathroom, washed my hands, and it was fine,” he says. “If it were up to me, I would have worn my mask only at the station and when moving in the train, but not seated alone at my seat.”
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The trip to La Réserve Geneva, a “true, lush retreat” on Lake Geneva, gave him a break from the urban sprawl of Paris, allowed him to explore the new layout of the Lodge (set to open later this summer), and let him meet his colleagues in person. “While Zoom is a great tool, it’s not ideal in our industry. I was having lots of discussions that can’t really take place on Zoom calls,” he says. “I am now getting ready for my first flight in over three months, to Toulon and La Réserve Ramatuelle [in the French Riviera]. I feel like a three-year-old, seeing an airplane for the first time.”
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