The malls are only the beginning, the first sign that the world is opening up. There’s no denying it. If almost two years ago, the shutting down of the world because of the pandemic was a choice we didn’t make, the same holds true today. We need to go out into the world and get a life with society again. It’s a no-brainer choice.
People are starting to travel again—to get a breath of fresh air, quite literally. The eyes need to see the world again, and the feet to tread the ground outside one’s home.
Among the interesting posts in social media was the travelogue of SM Supermalls president Steven Tan.
Last month, Tan toured Paris and Barcelona—and overcame New Normal anxiety.
“Honestly we were a bit nervous at first, we did not know what to expect, but as soon as we got to Paris, everything became enjoyable,” he told TheDiarist.ph. “Aside from the vaccination checks in the airport, and whenever we would go inside a restaurant, everything felt like pre-pandemic normal.”
He found the travel protocols manageable.
“Aside from the mandatory PCR testing, we had to register to get our one health pass QR code, and we had to fill out a couple of forms before checking in. Upon landing in France, well they just ask for your vaccination card right before the immigration desk, and that’s it!”
‘No vaccine checks on the trains or in the stations’
Crossing European borders sounds easy.
“We landed in Paris, took the train to Lyon, stayed over for a few days and took a train again to Barcelona. No vaccine checks on the trains or in the stations.”
Tan also discovered the upside of traveling this early in the new normal.
“There were hardly any foreign tourists or tour groups when we went, so we did appreciate the sights a lot more.“
A hidden gem in Paris is the Galeries Lafayette rooftop terrace. They renovated the rooftop over the year and installed glass partitions on the ledge so you get an unobstructed view of the city, including the Eiffel Tower of course. We also enjoyed our time winding through the medieval area in Lyon, and Lyon being the gastronomical capital of France or the world, we were eating until we dropped. From the Marche de Paul Bocuse to the Michelin-star restaurant of Christian Tetedoie.
“Barcelona was the most vibrant of the three cities, due probably to the fact that they had zero COVID cases in the two weeks before our arrival. The city was bustling and the restaurants and markets were all lively, like how it was before.”
The most memorable destination for Tan was the Abbey of Montserrat in Barcelona. “The visit to the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Montserrat tops the list. I can’t explain the calmness and assurance it gave me. The magnificent view from the mountain top of Montserrat was a bonus.”
The Black Madonna is enshrined in the Basilica of this Benedictine Abbey. Apart from the Virgin, the mountain top retreat northwest of Barcelona (accessible by land transportation) is noted for its architecture (Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance), its library, and even its café.
Tan’s trip was also gustatory: “The best moment was the experiential dinner at ABAC. We’ve never had a more interesting dinner than this one and the highlight was the surprise balloon that came with the dessert at the end.”
Tan derived business takeaway from the trip. “There were also a lot of insights on how the retail business has evolved, particularly the newly renovated Samaritaine,” he said. “The importance placed on service and experience was apparent, and I think in the post-pandemic world, this will be the direction that retail will take . Yes, it’s been said over and over, but it’s different when you actually experience and witness it firsthand.”
Tan caught a glimpse of a post-pandemic world and felt a surge of hope.
“Our trip has made me more optimistic and hopeful that things will normalize for us too here in the Philippines,” he said. “It might come a bit later, but everything will be alright. The human spirit will always prevail.”
Everything will be alright—we haven’t heard that assurance in a long time.