In August, Kylie Jenner did something pretty typical: She shared photos from her travels with her nearly 200 million Instagram followers. The backdrop was the bell tower of the American Cathedral in the eighth arrondissement of Paris. In another, she posed in front of a Louis Vuitton storefront. A maskless American in off-limits Paris.
Like most of Europe, France has been closed to U.S. travelers since March, but Jenner’s posts highlight a separate set of rules enjoyed by influential travelers. And other high-profile jet-setters are making use of them.
Brad Pitt arrived in August in the south of France, where his estate, Château Miraval, makes a popular rosè wine. In June, models Bella Hadid and Hailey Bieber were photographed on a private yacht off the coast of Sardinia. Later, it was revealed they were shooting a Verasce ad campaign. Jenner did not respond to a request for comment on why she was in Paris.
The European Union remains closed to U.S. travelers without an opening date in sight. But there are exemptions to this restriction for “highly qualified third-country workers if their employment is necessary from an economic perspective and the work cannot be postponed or performed abroad.” The business loophole appears to be how celebrities and other wealthy travelers are able to enter countries where everyday Americans aren’t allowed.
A different set of standards for the rich is nothing new, of course. Nor are the services to acquire these exemptions.
“There are destination management companies who are able to assist with acquiring essential worker documentation for entrance to those countries whose borders are currently closed to U.S. citizens traveling as tourists,” explains Anita Frankel, a luxury leisure specialist for the Tzell Travel Group.
This sort of paperwork comes easier to those who are willing to spend tens of thousands to get it. While Frankel is professionally obligated to advise her clients of all coronavirus-related travel restrictions, there is scant protocol to keep them in check once they land, such as quarantine or testing protocols. Especially if they’re traveling private.
Unsurprisingly, 2020 has seen a surge in exclusive ways to travel for those who can afford it. Arton Capital, a firm that specializes in helping U.S. citizens obtain passports to other countries through investments, said it has seen a 30 to 40 percent increase in demand this year.
While commercial air travel is down, private jet services have reported increases in business — at a premium.
“Air charters, villas, hotel buyouts, yachts — anything that can be privatized is doing quite well,” said Misty Belles, a spokesperson for Virtuoso, a high-end network of 1,100 travel agencies around the world.. “Following any crisis, the luxury segment usually leads the way back. It’s the same model we saw after 9/11 and the [Great] Recession. Luxury travelers are more intrepid and tend to be a little bit less fearful.”
In July, rapper Drake landed in Barbados on a custom jet. Model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen and singer John Legend sailed around Mexico on a private yacht this summer with their family. They included destinations were to places U.S. citizens were allowed.
The trips played out across the usual social media platforms and tabloids, all while health experts advised Americans to avoid traveling unless necessary.
Kim Kardashian received criticism after posting a series of tweets from her 40th birthday celebration on a “private” island. “After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time,” she said. Her photos featured maskless family and friends. In the background, a masked waiter can be seen.
“I don’t think any of us truly appreciated what a simple luxury it was to be able to travel and be together with family and friends in a safe environment,” she said.
Universally beloved actor Tom Hanks faced blowback after returning to Queensland in Australia to finish work on an upcoming Elvis Presley biopic while thousands of Australians remain stranded overseas. Filming was suspended back in March when the actor became one of the most prominent personalities to contract the virus.
Australia has limited the number of citizens who can return home from abroad, and its borders remain closed to almost all foreigners. The only people who can enter the country are residents, citizens and some other exemptions.
“It’s extremely strict, and highly unlikely that somebody would be able to prove that they must be here,” says David Melkonian, who runs a luxury concierge service for visitors to Australia and New Zealand. “The only people I know of getting around this are if they have an employment contract with a local company. I personally haven’t heard of anyone who has found an out-of-the-box loophole just yet.”
The special treatment of Hanks didn’t go unnoticed by certain members of the Australian Parliament. “The double standards are shocking – it shouldn’t be one rule for VIPs and celebrities and another rule for everyone else,” opposition leader and Queensland assembly member Deb Frecklington told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Everyday Australians don’t get to pick and choose where they quarantine and neither should celebrities.”