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Long After Lockdown, Rome Hostel Owners Take A Big Hit From Pandemic


Last week, the European Union began to loosen the travel restrictions on non-EU citizens that were imposed there at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. That means travelers from 14 countries, including Canada, can visit the EU for the first time since March, but not Americans - not yet - because the EU still considers them too risky due to the surge in COVID-19 cases here.

We wanted to hear how this ban is affecting a small European business that would normally cater to U.S. travelers in the summer, so we called Linda Martinez and Steve Brenner, owners of The Beehive Hostel in Rome. They've been living in Italy for more than 20 years, and they told us even though the full-blown lockdown is over in Rome, it's still a challenging time for their hostel.

LINDA MARTINEZ: We were closed for two months, two and a half months or so. We've officially reopened on the third of June. But normally, a time of year when we have 50-plus people a day every day, we have had no business, really. I mean, just...


MARTINEZ: ...One person here for a couple of days, one person there for a few days. But essentially, if anybody stays with us right now, they have the entire place to themselves because there's no guests right now.

PFEIFFER: That's obviously a really grim business situation to be in. What did you think when you heard this week that American travelers still can't visit?

MARTINEZ: Well, there weren't any surprises just because of the situation in the United States, which I have to say people in Europe are looking at in horror (laughter), you know, after what we've been through already. And so when that declaration was made that the United States was not part of the list, it wasn't a surprise. It was disappointing.

PFEIFFER: The shock and disbelief is watching the outbreak in the United States.

STEVE BRENNER: Well, let me say at this point, it would take a lot to shock us at this point (laughter). At this point, I think we're pretty numb to the idea of being shocked about any world events and how they might affect us.

We're pretty proud of the way this country reacted to this. And, you know, not to say that it was perfect or anything, but, you know, they made a lot of really hard decisions. And it took a lot of collective sacrifice. And it was pretty amazing to be part of that and to see that everybody's concern, everybody unified in this concern for other people's health, you know? And I don't want to see that we did that for nothing.

So it's really hard for me to imagine Americans coming who, you know, are coming from this totally different place and mindset and no discipline whatsoever about how to deal with this, and to have them come and be in our place and be exposed to our staff and our guests and everybody else, and - I mean, that's really frightening for me. So I think I would have been more shocked if they were allowed because then I would have thought, how are we supposed to handle this?

PFEIFFER: I really hate to ask this, but are you worried about the survival of your business?

BRENNER: Oh, yeah. Yeah. We oscillate between denial and panic.


MARTINEZ: And hope - there's always that.

BRENNER: We're, like, in a trance. We sound calm, and, you know, I can laugh - I mean, you have to laugh about it. But it's interesting for us as Americans to be living in a country like Italy and to see the way Italy reacts to crisis versus the way America reacts to crisis because, you know, the American in me, you know, is freaking out. And the (laughter) - the Italian in me is just kind of like, you know, what's for dinner? I'm, like, can we open up the bottle of wine? So having both of those in me at the same time is also very strange.

MARTINEZ: And having lived here for 21 years, we are very much both now. It's a battle between the two.

PFEIFFER: Linda Martinez and Steve Brenner run the Beehive hostel in Rome.

Thanks so much for talking with us, and we are rooting for you.

MARTINEZ: Thank you so much, Sacha.

BRENNER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICOLA CONTE'S "BOSSA PER DUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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