This week’s broadcast of Eye on Travel comes from Reykjavik. A celebration of a first: the brand new Endeavor, Crystal Cruises’ cutting edge expedition ship, which is now home ported there. And an acknowledgment of a somber anniversary — TWA Flight 800 and ValuJet Flight 592, and what happened back in 1996. What lessons were learned, and most importantly applied. On that note, Peter talks with Greg Feith, former Senior Air Safety Investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, about two of the most intense accident investigations in the history of aviation. And Peter will have his global travel update. Then, he’ll sit down with the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, to discuss Iceland’s COVID-19 situation and the decision to reopen to travelers around the world — and the economic and social impacts. Eliza Reid then talks about her role as First Lady and…”not as the President’s handbag”… and her upcoming book about gender equality. There’s all this and more on this week’s Eye on Travel broadcast from Iceland.
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Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, President of Iceland, discusses how common sense, trust in science, geographic luck, and the way Icelanders stick together on big issues are pivotal to the country being one of the first to reopen to travelers. He acknowledges that the country is not out of the woods entirely but he remains hopeful that Iceland will be able to keep letting people in as long as they continue to respect science and monitor the pandemic. President Jóhannesson sees tourism as a blessing for Iceland and hopes that people may start by visiting Reykjavik but come back many times to explore other parts of the country and discover what else the country has to offer. He wants to continue to foster responsible, sustainable tourism. He reflects back on some of the luck that Iceland has had when it comes to tourism, especially the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökul, which rather than deter people from coming to Iceland, created excitement about Iceland. Luckily, the eruptions occurred in such a way that it was safe for viewing without worrying about potential harm. Iceland was also a pioneer regarding the four-day work week and is something that the President still deems a work in progress. Some of the President’s biggest lessons from the pandemic include learning that good work can get done even if people are not together, and it has also taught him what is truly important — focusing on getting people healthy and well.
Eliza Reid, First Lady of Iceland, speaks about her experience not only as First Lady but also as an immigrant and expat from Canada. She speaks to the openness of Iceland’s people towards her, and she believes that mentality of kindness and helpfulness has allowed the country to prosper during the pandemic and reopen quickly after. When the pandemic kept international tourists out, Icelanders would stay at local hotels to help keep them open. Reid also talks about the reaction to her 2019 New York Times article in which she discussed the challenges of being First Lady. She also speaks about her book Secrets Of The Sprakkar: How The Incredible Icelandic Women Bring Us Closer to Gender Equality that is coming out in February 2022, which explores gender equality in Iceland, what it means to live in the “best country for women,” and how it can be achieved elsewhere in the world. She also talks about Iceland’s clean air and open space with cliffs and volcanoes that gives the country an otherworldly quality and tends to surprise people when they visit.
Jack Anderson, Interim President and CEO at Crystal Cruises, speaks about some of the groundbreaking features of the ship including its ability to move at full speed without vibration and its unique design that enables the ship to reach places larger ships cannot. When talking about the decision to position the ship in Iceland, Anderson says that timing and the unspoiled beauty and diversity of the country made it the ideal maiden voyage. He also previewed some of the Endeavor’s upcoming voyages which include Norway, London, and Lisbon and will feature less traveled ports and activities led by expert guides. Crystal plans to showcase the ship in New York and Miami before moving it south for the winter and has also announced that the Symphony and Serenity will be sailing again soon. Anderson says the biggest lesson he has learned from the pandemic is the importance of treating your crew with respect as that respect will then transfer to the guest experience.
Greg Feith, American former Senior Air Safety Investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, discusses the 25th anniversaries of the ValuJet Flight 592 and TWA Flight 800 crashes and their impact on airline safety. Feith served as the lead investigator of ValuJet Flight 592, which crashed into the Everglades following a fire in the cargo hold caused by improperly stored oxygen canisters and left no survivors. He speaks about some of the challenges his team faced including the lack of physical evidence found in the deep swamps of the Everglades and dealing with site safety due to hot temperatures and staying away from alligators and other animals. As a result of the crash, the NTSB recommended smoke detectors on flights. Though, many did not adapt this until years later. He also speaks about TWA Flight 800 which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean less than two months after the ValuJet disaster on July 17th, 1996 and was caused by a fuel tank explosion. This crash set new regulations for maintaining fuel tanks on older planes.
KT Browne, American Expat & Founder of Iceview Magazine, began her fascination with the notion of Iceland when she saw the word Reykjavik on a map and wondered to herself how could anyone live in a place with a name they can’t pronounce or that is so far north? Years later, Browne came to Iceland on a three-month long writing grant where she fell in love with the real country’s remoteness and peacefulness. Following the end of the grant, she went back to the U.S. but returned to Iceland as soon as she could and got married to the man who had been her upstairs neighbor during her program. She also speaks about the country’s struggle to maintain its remoteness and tranquility while balancing the rapid growth of tourism, which is vital to the country’s economy. She then discusses some of her favorite hidden gems of the country once you leave Reykjavik. And she shares more about the country’s culture and food. She loves fermented shark, which she says tastes like tuna and lemon.
Jewells Chambers, American Expat & Host of the “All Things Iceland” Podcast, has lived in Iceland for six years and speaks about her experience falling in love not only with her Icelandic husband but also the country as a whole. Chambers loves Iceland’s natural beauty and lifestyle. She also speaks to how accepted she feels as a woman of color in Iceland, something that pleasantly surprised her family. She then gave some of her must-see spots for people coming to Iceland including bypassing the Ring Road in favor of exploring the rest of Reykjanes Peninsula beyond the Blue Lagoon. She recommends snorkeling in one of the hot springs which is cooled just enough to allow people to comfortably enjoy — in appropriate attire of course — or going on a glacier hike on the South Coast. Chambers’ favorite hidden gem is a hidden waterfall in a canyon on the South Coast that you can reach without crossing any rivers, but you may need some boots.
Birna Ósk Einarsdóttir, Chief Commercial Officer of IcelandAir, speaks about the increased demand to travel to the country over the past decade as an entry point to Europe and how IcelandAir is managing and responding to that growth. According to Einarsdóttir, it has used the pandemic to rebuild in order to welcome more people to the country and to better promote less visited areas. It has recently standardized its fleet to now include 757s, 767s, and MAX airplanes and also merged its domestic and international operations so that travelers can now purchase their connections with one ticket from their departure points. Einarsdóttir also talks about the importance of learning from past mistakes. One example of this is when IcelandAir opened six new gateways in a week, and it quickly became unsustainable. When it comes to adding locations, she remains focused on how best to utilize the fleet and meet supply and demand.
By Amanda Morris for PeterGreenberg.com