Midweek Interview

Life in the time of COVID-19 with Renaissance Tours’ Evan Petrelis

This week, we caught up with Evan Petrelis, managing director of Renaissance Tours, to find out how he’s been faring amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are you reading?

I recently finished reading Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Living by Anya von Bremzen. It was a charming read – at times hilarious, other times sad. I’ve always been fascinated by the Soviet period, and this book was just another insight into this intriguing time in political and modern history.

What are you watching?

I’ve just watched a six-episode Swedish drama series on Netflix called Young Royals. The plot revolves around the fictional Crown Prince Wilhelm of Sweden, who is sent to the (also fictional) elite boarding school Hillerska, where he confronts his emerging sexual orientation. I thought the acting was excellent.

What are you listening to?

I’m an avid ABC Classic (radio) fan, which I have on in the background whenever I am home – and during lockdown, this has been all day! I particularly enjoyed listening to the broadcasts of the recent Sydney International Piano Competition, which took place recently online. I loved the tension and drama that comes with a music competition!

What are you cooking?

I am not a very spontaneous and creative cook, which is why a few years ago I signed up to the meal kit delivery company Marley Spoon. Early every Saturday morning, I receive a box of pre-portioned ingredients matched with recipes. I cook these over the weekend, so it works a treat for the week ahead when I don’t feel like cooking.

How are you staying fit both physically and mentally?

Keeping physically fit is a real challenge for me because, with the exception of walking, I dislike most physical exercise. But I try … a little.

In terms of mental health, I think I am reasonably robust, but I have learnt how to watch for the signs of stress and depression. I take action quickly when I feel any of these coming on.

What’s something positive you’ve witnessed or experienced since the coronavirus hit?

I’ve come to value some of the ‘gifts’ the global pandemic has given humanity and nature. In some respects, the pandemic has rallied all countries and people around a common cause to combat a common enemy, which I think has been a positive for global solidarity. I also think that the restrictions on global travel, while of course devastating for our industry, has given places that were buckling under the pressures of overtourism before the pandemic a welcome breather and an opportunity to reset.

What have you learned about yourself amid the crisis?

Before I joined the travel sector in 2016, I had a 25-year career in communications consulting, including crisis and issues communications. The knowledge and experience I gained in my time in this profession, I believe, have stood me in very good stead to deal with, and manage the current challenges, which involves a lot of communicating. I think my ability to lead this business through this crisis would have been the poorer without this grounding.

What’s your advice for others in the industry on coping with the crisis?

I have likened navigating the current circumstances to flying an aircraft through a massive front of thick, dark clouds. While flying through these adverse conditions, it’s important to keep the aircraft stable, keep the nose pointing upwards and change course quickly where needed. Yes, the turbulence is unsettling, but it’s important to remember that clear skies lie ahead and that a smoother flight will soon return. Personally, I take comfort in the truism that, with every day that passes, we are one day closer to the end of these turbulent times.

Where is your favourite domestic travel destination?

I have to admit that, like the rest of the country it seems, I do love Byron Bay – it reminds me of my hometown in South Africa, the surfing spot of Jeffreys Bay (JBay). The NSW South Coast comes a close second.

What is the one international travel memory keeping you going through this time?

I can’t wait to return to Greece! While I am biased, as I am half-Greek and have family there, something changes in me whenever I arrive in Greece, particularly in the summer. There is a carefreeness that I feel whenever I arrive on one of the islands. This feeling is quite intoxicating and, dare I say, somewhat addictive.

Where do you want to travel to once international travel restrictions ease up?

I absolutely must return first to my home country, South Africa, where all my family live. It’s been two years since I have seen them, and I miss them terribly.


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