This week’s broadcast of Eye on Travel comes from the legendary Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens, Greece. Peter updates the world in travel — and there’s a lot to report. Joining Peter this week is Simon Calder, Senior Travel Editor of The Independent, who talks about the latest confusion and mess in the United Kingdom — and when it might actually open to vaccinated Americans. And then, a mess of a different kind — the huge backlog of 1.6 million U.S. passports waiting to be issued or renewed and how that impacts your ability to travel. Peter speaks with passport and visa expert David Alwadish, President & CEO of ItsEasy.com, on how it’s NOT easy to get a passport these days and what the delays really mean. And, as airlines report second quarter earnings, The Economist’s Simon Wright on the recovery and resilience of the airline industry and which airlines will come out of the pandemic stronger than before — some surprises. Then, Devon Thorsby, U.S. News Real Estate Editor, discusses its 2021 Best Places to Live report, and the winner may not surprise you. There’s all this and more on this week’s Eye on Travel, broadcasting from the Grand Bretagne in Athens.
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Simon Calder, Senior Travel Editor of The Independent, joins Peter to talk about the United Kingdom’s safety regulations regarding incoming American travelers and vice versa. One being that even if you have received the COVID-19 vaccination, you are still required to self-isolate in a hotel for 10 days upon arrival. As of this week, however, American travelers can now spend those 10 days in the Republic of Ireland rather than a hotel. Still, rules are still constantly changing. Lockdowns and mandates are being updated. But the industry, especially the aviation sector, is anxiously awaiting the return of American travelers. Additionally, the pair converse about attempts by governments in places like Venice and Maui, who actually want to lower traffic by foreigners to alleviate overtourism.
David Alwadish, President & CEO of ItsEasy.com, speaks about the increase in problems people are facing regarding getting and renewing passports amid the pandemic. A person can no longer walk right in and wait in line to get a passport and instead must make an appointment. Appointments are usually released two weeks in advance and according to Alwadish, they are filling up in minutes. Some people are even flying across the country in the hopes of getting an appointment only to be turned away. Even an expedited passport can take between six to eight weeks, and the time frame is preventing people from traveling. Alwadish believes this may have to do with the fact that the employees may be getting backlogged with mail which is preventing them from being able to take appointments. In his over 40 years as a passport expeditor, he says he has never seen issues like this and encourages people to remain vigilant and book appointments in advance.
Richard Brekelmans, Area Vice President, Southern Europe for Marriott International, joins the program to discuss the successful reopening of Southern Europe to large numbers of Americans as well as some of the changes that are here to stay and the lessons Marriott has learned over the course of the pandemic. All of Marriott International’s hotels are open in Southern Europe and according to Brekelmans, the hotels are providing the same level of service as before the pandemic and are committed to remaining the preferred choice of customers at a decent rate. Brekelmans also talks about some changes that will be sticking around including further integrating technology into the guest experience and allowing a guest to enter their room using their mobile phone. He admits that staff is less than normal, but he is confident that it is temporary and the issue will regularize over the next month or so as life goes back to normal.
Simon Wright, Industry Editor at The Economist, talks about the recovery and resilience of the airline industry and which airlines will come out of the pandemic stronger than before. Wright notes that there are many moving parts that come with travel recovery including vaccination rates, leisure travel, and domestic travel that can all create disparity in the recovery process. Given the law of supply and demand, he believes prices will continue to rise across all areas of travel. He also discusses the emergence of low-cost airlines in the U.S. that continue to pick up steam as people are ready to travel again as well as an influx of leisure travel as airlines flood the zone with new routes.
Jack Ezon, Founder and Managing Partner at Embark, speaks about the transformation he has seen on Mykonos island from 10% to 100% occupancy in just two weeks as travel resumes. The number of people traveling is exceeding 2019 levels as people look towards traveling. However, he also notes that Europe is still less compressed than America and is also not experiencing the same staffing shortages that the U.S. is due to stronger safety nets that make people excited to get back to work. Ezon is encouraging Americans to take advantage of what Europe has to offer. He notes that international business class ticket prices may currently be even less than the prices of domestic tickets.
Devon Thorsby, U.S. News Real Estate Editor, discusses the U.S. News’s 2021 Best Places to Live report. The annual report ranks the best places to live of America’s 150 most populous cities based on a variety of factors including cost of living, crime rate, net migration, the job market, and more. Boulder, Colorado came in first for the second year in a row. Some cities were not so lucky and dropped many spots like San Diego which dropped over 50 spots in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Las Vegas and Honolulu also experienced large drops. Thorsby hopes that these metropolitan areas can make a comeback as the country continues to recover. The Midwest is proving to be the most affordable region and several of those cities have risen in the ranks while some usual favorites like Austin and Denver have seen slight drops due to a rise in cost of living. Thorsby further speaks about the desire that over one third of Americans have to move and the over 10% of those people that have or will.
Apostolos Doxiadis, Great-Grandson of the Hotel Grande Bretagne’s Founder, Efstathios Lampsas, discusses the extensive history and storied past of the iconic hotel and its journey before becoming a hotel. It underwent quite a renovation. Doxiadis speaks to modern hotel expectations, elite clients, the connection to World War II and more. But what exactly makes a “grand hotel?” Doxiadis walks us through why the distinction goes far beyond a well-rounded business. He says it’s the service, the mentality, the hospitality and truly undefinable. Then, he addresses how the Grande Bretagne weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and expands on why it’s only one of many crises the hotel has faced alongside the world.
Violetta Gkelestathi, Founder of My Blue Greece, converses about specializing in finely-tuned itineraries that aren’t necessarily going to the more well-known sites and locations of Greece and serving the needs of travelers that really know what they’re seeking. She focuses on lesser-known destinations and dives into some of the places she favors the most and why. Gkelestathi speaks about off-season travel in the country, hidden gem mountain villages, the cultural aspect of travel and much more.
By Amanda Morris and Alessandra Bea