After a successful launch in New York, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts unveiled its new global campaign in Dubai on Wednesday.
An art installation at Gate Village in Dubai International Financial Centre, on display until Friday, is the latest addition to Fairmont’s Experience The Grandest of Feelings campaign, which celebrates the natural origins and landscapes where the brand's hotels are in. Academy Award-winning actor and Unicef Goodwill ambassador Susan Sarandon, 75, who is helping to launch it, is Fairmont's new global ambassador.
'Travel really opens your mind'
Having shot to fame in Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise, a groundbreaking film about two female friends finding freedom road-tripping across America while on the run from law enforcement, Sarandon knows well the benefits that come from travel.
“I believe that travel really opens your mind," she tells The National. "If you’re curious, you are exposed to all kinds of cultures, and the beauty of nature. I think it is very lucky if you can travel, and very important to try to make that happen."
As one of the most honoured actors of her generation, Sarandon has been fortunate enough to have the means to make that happen. And it's something she’s tried to share with her three now-grown children; The Witches of Eastwick star is mum to daughter Eva Amurri, 36, and sons Jack Robbins, 32, and Miles Robbins, 29.
“I've always been curious and I've always wanted to go to places I knew nothing about, and in raising my children, I made that a priority. I’ve dragged my kids all over the world, and I'm so glad I did that now that things have become more difficult,” she says, referring to Covid-19 restrictions.
But a year of lockdown in her New York City home hasn’t been enough to quash her wanderlust. “If anything, there’s more of a sense of it, it’s been increasing, since I've been told I can't travel.”
A firm believer that you’re never too old to travel, the Dead Man Walking actor is still trip-planning, albeit with a caution she didn’t previously have.
“Covid has really put a dampener on my courage to just wander around the way I would have, but I'm still aching to travel. I don’t know that I would ever take off completely on my own at this point in my life, but would like to have a friend with me.”
'Morocco is quite amazing'
Pre-pandemic, one of the actor’s favourite places to go was Morocco, a destination she has visited several times.
“Morocco is quite amazing, it’s a very different culture and it’s a really easy trip from New York. I mean, it is the same as going to California. I've been to Marrakech, of course, because there's a festival that I did,” she says of the Marrakech International Film Festival.
“I liked Fez even more. It's a little bit more user-friendly, it's smaller but it has the same kind of interesting personality and is just not quite as huge and busy and touristy. And Essaouira I’ve also been to a few times.”
Sarandon even managed to squeeze in a trip to Morocco in 1998 while filming Stepmom. “I figured out that the timings worked so that during the break at Christmas we could go to Morocco. I think my youngest at the time was 5.”
That family holiday would highlight for Sarandon just how easily travel can help broaden the mind. Less than three years later, after jets were flown into the Twin Towers in New York, she saw how her children reacted to the explanations for the devastating incident.
“I was very grateful for the experience of going to Morocco and having explained to my children the culture, the call to prayer, and it all, before 9/11. Because they had an experience of that culture that then made it difficult just to accept the most superficial explanation of what was happening back then.”
Bucket-list destinations: Cuba, Ireland and Italy
Cuba is another of the star's favourite places and a destination she would like to return to, although she realises current restrictions on travel from the US make that difficult, something Sarandon believes is part of a bigger issue.
“In the US we really don't travel much as a nation. I think part of our problems politically have to do with the fact that we've become so isolated and so wary of anyone that is not us. And that comes from just being threatened by new places and not understanding the people in the cultures that exist there and the ‘other’ being so terrifying because you're out of your comfort zone.”
Sarandon's next trip will be to Ireland, something of a delayed holiday after the coronavirus pandemic forced her to cancel a planned family adventure to the Emerald Isle.
“I had a trip planned for Ireland that I couldn't do at the last moment. My kids and I had planned the whole thing and I feel like I really need to check that out. Although, I'm a little nervous about driving on the wrong side of the road.”
Sarandon's mother's ancestry was Sicilian, and her daughter's father is Italian film director Franco Amurri, who Sarandon was married to until 1988, so the actress is always keen to visit Italy, too. And while she loves Rome, where Eva’s father is from, you’re unlikely to find the Emmy-winner spending too much time in big cities or at tourist-trodden landmarks.
“I guess, maybe because I'm a New Yorker, I'm not that interested in cities. I prefer to find the little places where you can wander around and I really perk up when I'm on small roads and going through tiny places.”
Sustainability is an 'important conversation to have'
During the pandemic, the Golden Globe-nominated star has spent some of her downtime finding out more about the sustainability credits of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. As the operator of several landmarks, including New York’s The Plaza and the 133-year-old Fairmont Banff Springs in Canada, the group has been working to transform its more historic hotels into planet-friendly properties.
“The hotels that already exist, that are iconic, they [Fairmont] have been going back and trying to adapt them for water conservation and energy saving and food and waste reduction," says Sarandon. "It has been more of a challenge than the new hotels that are built with these in mind."
Her own visit to Fairmont Banff Springs propelled the actor to consider the future when she came face-to-face with the pristine environment in which it sits – the ancient hotel towers over a turquoise glacial lake surrounded by picture-perfect mountain peaks and lush green forest.
“I remember going the first time to Banff and going in to the Fairmont there and just being overwhelmed by the majesty of that old kind of castle building, but also by the really beautiful setting. And you think to yourself, in 20 years’ time, will my kids even be able to see these things?”
Issues like this are high on Fairmont’s development agenda and the hotel group has been operating its sustainability programme for nearly three decades. Today, this includes everything from food waste reduction schemes and rooftop bee hotels to water-saving techniques and reforestation plans.
“It's really important and I think people want to know that when they travel there’s been some kind of effort made to replace their carbon footprint in terms of planes, or travelling there, and I think it’s just a really important conversation to have.”
Becoming a 'memory maker'
Alongside learning about sustainability, Sarandon, who has nearly 100 screen credits to her name over her 50-year-plus film career, also kept herself busy in the pandemic honing her talents in another field: the art of scrapbooking.
“I'm always picking up little stones and things from places when I travel, I always try to bring back something organic. I also very compulsively make scrapbooks, and my scrapbook game really went next level during Covid.”
“I make them for my kids. They complain about them now, but I know that they’ll be cherishing them later. I also have to admit, and this is pretty pathetic, I go online and steal their Instagram pictures, so that even if I’m not there I still have things from their trips to trigger memories.
"I've always felt that as a parent, that one of your main duties is to be a memory maker, and I try to live my life that way with my kids.”