How Park West’s International Auctioneers Are Getting Home Safe and Sound During Quarantine
While people around the globe are struggling with being quarantined at home during the current coronavirus crisis, many of Park West’s international art team members have been dealing with an even more complex situation—they have to get home from their cruise ships first.
It used to be simple. They could just leave their ships, hop on a plane, and get back to wherever they live in just a few hours or a day at the most. However, thanks to the pandemic, everything got complicated. Now, these eager art experts have to deal with strict ship debarkation rules, limited travel options, reduced flight schedules, and, in several cases, the complete closure of their home countries’ borders.
Fortunately, Park West has a team working night and day to help its art teams cope with quarantine and travel restrictions. “We’re a family company and we consider our onboard Art Teams to be part of that family,” says John Karay, Park West’s Senior Vice President of Operations. “We’re not going to rest until we can make sure that every one of our teams arrives home safely.”
But traveling during quarantine is not an easy thing to pull off. In late March, stories circulated in the media about 100 South African seasonal workers, many of them cruise ship employees, being stranded at London airports after South Africa closed its borders due to COVID-19.
There were five Park West team members in that group—Christopher Vounnou, Jared Hamer, Irene van Huyssteen, Carlanette Van Der Merwe, and Anrich Garbers—a group that has taken to calling themselves “The London 5.”
While all five are back in South Africa now, when they first arrived in London, they had no idea that it would take a little perseverance and a lot of logistics support from Park West to get them home.
The first red flag, all five admit, was when the airlines didn’t issue any of the South Africans boarding passes for their connecting flights from London to Cape Town.
The Park West shoreside support team had been assured by three different international agencies that, yes, the South African would be allowed to continue their trips home. Yet, when the travelers arrived in London, everything had changed.
“It was spooky,” admits auctioneer Jared Hamer. “We were stranded, no seats, no space, all of the 100 South Africans were jammed into terminal 3 sitting on the floor. I had a sanitizer spray, and all I can say is, wherever we went, it was cleaner after we left.”
The Park West team quickly jumped into action. Calls were placed to embassies, lawyers, and government officials. In less than an hour, they were on the phone with Nomatemba Tambo, the South African High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and members of the South African Parliament.
“We got answers fast,” says Jared. While many of the other 100 South Africans were being told that they would have to sleep at the airport or possibly be shuttled to a crowded nearby YMCA, Park West’s London 5 were rapidly granted a temporary visa, allowing them to leave the airport to find lodging.
“The moment my flight got canceled, I knew Chad Parsons and Kier Pfuehler from our shoreside team were going to have a plan to make sure I wasn’t going to be stuck at the airport,” Anrich Garbers remembers. “And I was right.”
Impossibly, the London 5 were able to find an Uber in the locked-down London and were on their way to a local hotel that the Park West support team had found for them. There was just one problem—when they arrived, even after multiple reservation confirmations, they were told the hotel was closed due to quarantine.
“Our Uber driver was immediately ready to help us to find another place to stay,” says Irene van Huyssteen. “We tried multiple hotels in the area, and they were all closed or all booked up. Then our driver created a wifi hotspot, so we could contact the shoreside team, and they found us a hotel in minutes!”
But the ordeal wasn’t over yet. After only a one-night stay, the London 5 were told that their hotel would be closing due to the lockdown. They made another call to Chad and Kier and, later that day, the group arrived at a comfortable rental house just outside of London that Park West had secured for them.
“I have the best memories from our London house,” Irene recalls. “It was so different from the usual busy lifestyle on our ships. It felt like such a relaxed schedule.”
Carlanette Van Der Merwe has similar recollections of her time at their London home. “We were all very positive. We enjoyed each other’s company. In the mornings, everyone would do their own thing and, in the afternoons, everyone would get together to talk and share and hang out for hours and hours. I’m so grateful for staying with such a phenomenal group of colleagues.”
The London 5 all had a range of experience with Park West—some were top performers who had been with Park West for years, others were emerging talents who were relatively new to the company—but they swiftly formed into a family unit that looked out for each other throughout the quarantine.
They soon found themselves falling into a routine. Christopher Vounnou got the nickname “Mr. Breakfast”—he admits, “I loved making the group bacon and eggs almost every morning”—and Jared Hamer became known as “Captain Dinner.”
“We kept ourselves busy by cooking, baking, and cleaning,” says Hamer. “No one knew how much they would appreciate mopping the floor or washing dishes. We even baked a traditional South African cake called a Melktert.”
After a few days of cookouts and Netflix, the London 5 heard the news they had been waiting for—Park West had secured their passage home to South Africa.
“I cannot thank the Park West shoreside team enough,” says Vounnou. “They really had our back every step of the way.”
Van Huyssteen agrees. “It’s times like these that you realize just how fortunate you are to be part of such an amazing team of people. There was not one second that I felt alone or left behind by Park West. They made sure we were comfortable and safe, checking in with us every day, and got us on the first flight home!”