Virtual Destinations: The Power of Travel

By J.P. Anderson | May 29, 2020 | Features Travel

From American resort towns to far-flung international destinations, the travel and tourism industry steps up with critical assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic—and reminds us all to keep dreaming about future adventures.

As global travel has all but come to a standstill due to the current pandemic, tourism and travel have been hit particularly hard. The industries’ response in the face of crisis, however, has been nothing short of inspiring. With boundless compassion and generosity, companies across the nation and around the world are helping the cause, protecting their own employees and—so very important—reminding us that we’ll be back to globe-trotting again someday soon. Here are some highlights of the efforts in the U.S. and around the world.

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Visit Telluride highlights Colorado companies’ charity efforts, such as Telluride Distilling Company’s production of free hand sanitizer and the Telluride Foundation’s Ouray County Response Fund.

LOOKING TO THE SKIES

With thousands of planes grounded, airlines like Delta (delta.com) have acted in myriad ways: operating 16 charters to Italy, Central and South America, and Asia to repatriate nearly 4,000 displaced Americans and citizens of other countries; offering free flights for medical volunteers flying to hot spots such as Georgia, Louisiana and Michigan; and pivoting to manufacture personal protective equipment to assist healthcare workers. On a similar front, United Airlines (united.com) has repurposed its planes to transport medical supplies to regions most in need and has pledged to not conduct involuntary furloughs or pay cuts in the U.S. before Sept. 30—much-needed relief for its workforce.

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The lobby at Hotel Julian in Chicago, part of Oxford Hotels & Resorts’ portfolio

OPENING DOORS

In hard-hit cities like New York and Chicago, luxury hotels welcome everyone from first responders and medical professionals working on the front lines to asymptomatic guests who need to self-isolate. Four Seasons Hotel New York (fourseasons.com/newyork) owner Ty Warner was the first NYC hotelier to respond to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for the private and public sectors to come together in alleviating the supply constraint the state faced by providing housing for critical care medical personnel. “Our healthcare workers are working tirelessly during this crisis,” says Warner. “Many of those working in New York City have to travel long distances to and from their homes after putting in 18-hour days. They need a place close to work where they can rest and regenerate. I heard Gov. Cuomo’s call to action during one of his press conferences, and there was no other option for us but to do whatever we could to help.”

In Chicago, Oxford Hotels & Resorts (ohrllc.com) has partnered with the city to generously supply some 1,100 rooms and provide three meals a day for first responders and asymptomatic guests at five of its local properties—part of a citywide plan. “As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout our community, we wanted to do our part to provide a sanctuary for those who need it during this difficult time,” says John W. Rutledge, founder, president and CEO of Oxford Capital Group and Oxford Hotels & Resorts. “We’re proud to help the city combat this crisis and allow our brave medical professionals to focus on their most critical patients in their hospitals.”

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The penthouse at Four Season Hotel New York

It’s an idea that more and more cities across the nation are adapting: The American Hotel & Lodging Association (ahla.com) has announced that more than 15,000 hotels across 26 states and counting have signed on for its Hospitality for Hope initiative to provide temporary housing for emergency and healthcare workers (and to serve as alternative care sites if necessary) during the pandemic. “It has been so impressive to see hotel after hotel join this important initiative,” says Chip Rogers, AHLA president and CEO. “Hotels have always been an active member of our local communities and this time is no different. We are proud to work to facilitate partnerships with federal, state and local governments to support the health community during this critical time.”

In addition to providing much-needed support to those on the front lines of the crisis, hotel groups and other hospitality organizations are taking steps to lend a hand to their employees and the community at large. Wynn Resorts (wynnresorts.com) has paid all 15,000 of its salaried, hourly and part-time employees through May 15; and in Colorado, Visit Telluride (visittelluride.‌com) is trumpeting local efforts in the community like Telluride Distilling Company’s free hand sanitizer initiative and the Telluride Foundation’s Ouray County Response Fund, all while keeping future visitors engaged with a message of “Summer Dreaming” and #telluridecalm on its social media.

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The entrance to Las Ventanas al Paraíso, A Rosewood Resort in San José del Cabo, Mexico

TRAVEL GOES VIRTUAL

As communities around the world hunker down, some of the most important work being done by the travel and tourism industries has been in inspiring wanderlust and dreams of future voyages—distracting our minds with some much-needed beauty. Housebound former globe-trotters can take virtual cooking classes with executive chef Diego Stefan of Los Cabos resort Las Ventanas al Paraíso (rosewoodhotels.‌com); the Bermuda Tourism Authority (gotobermuda.‌com) keeps travelers engaged with online classes and workshops while also shining a light on local companies making hand sanitizer and offering free transport for healthcare workers; luxury destination group Belmond (belmond.com) has launched Belmond Invitations, a series of virtual programs from Jazz Age-themed live performances to travel-inspired poetry and music, as well as digital care packages of meditation sessions, recipes and playlists; and in hard-hit Italy, destination winery Monterosola (monterosola.com) provides a Taste of Tuscany, virtual wine tasting sessions, online tutorials and video guides, with live online tastings to come (now that’s a Zoom we want to be part of). Las Ventanas al Paraíso Managing Director Frederic Vidal perhaps sums up the virtual travel movement best: “We’re committed to ensuring our guests, friends and family feel united and inspired during these unprecedented times. My hope is that through the virtual experiences we’ve launched, our guests and followers will be able to daydream about brighter days ahead, no matter where they may be in the world.”



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