A postcard from Ibiza, where a long, tough winter awaits
The end of October is usually met with both relief and celebration in Ibiza. After months of hard graft with little pause for respite, club closing parties mark the end of the tourist season and finally, locals are able to take a breath and enjoy the last days of sunshine before the peacefulness of winter arrives. But this year, it’s a totally different story. Despite relatively low numbers of Covid-19 cases over the course of summer, Ibiza was hit hard by tough government restrictions and UK quarantine rules, and now residents are facing the bleakest winter in recent memory.
As an island that relies almost entirely on tourism for trade, it was inevitable that Ibiza would struggle to navigate the complications presented by a global pandemic. More than half of island residents work within hospitality and this year, the industry was practically non-existent. With an unfathomable drop in tourist numbers — UK visitors through Ibiza airport dropped 83 per cent in July compared to 2019, and a substantially reduced timeframe in which to make money, many people were faced with an unprecedented crisis.
“This summer was very short and many businesses only managed to open for a few weeks, if at all,” explains Christian Anadon, joint director of the Mambo Group, which in spite of regulations, was still able to usher people through the doors at La Torre, Casa Maca and the world famous Café Mambo. But even here, a place that’s now synonymous with thousand-strong crowds at sunset each night, it was remarkably quiet. “2020 has been a difficult year,” he adds. “And if 2021 continues on the same path, many people will have a hard time staying in business.”
This is especially true for smaller enterprises, which lack the security of a financial cushion and depend on profits accumulated over summer to survive. For many of the island’s boutique hotels, for instance, the season never actually got going, and even when they began welcoming back visitors for a brief time, the rewards were minimal. In total, hotel occupancy in July 2020 was down almost 60 per cent on the same period last year, leaving many with the glaring realisation that the forthcoming months are going to be an arduous struggle.
“This winter will be long for many of us,” says Tom Brantschen, owner of Finca Can Martí, an eco-hotel in a lush northern valley that even by its own serene standards, was strangely muted this year. “It kind of feels like we’re facing three winters in a row.” It’s a predicament shared by lots of islanders, many of whom haven’t been earning for almost a year, and aren’t likely to see the ripples of new opportunities until at least next spring. “We will have to cut on spending and do our best to hold on until next season starts,” he concludes. “We can’t recoup on the months we weren’t able to open so we just have to hope that the 2021 season will be as normal as possible.”
The likelihood of a turnaround hinges heavily on the reopening of Ibiza’s internationally revered clubs, which this year were prohibited from doing so, a decision that had a knock-on impact to every aspect of tourism on the island. “A big chunk of clubbers are actually good spenders,” explains Michael Stivanello, clubbing director at Ibiza Spotlight, the island’s biggest media and ticketing platform. “They visit restaurants, spend the afternoons at beach clubs, charter a boat for the day, hit the bars. Roughly 20-25 per cent of tourists that visit Ibiza come because of the nightlife, and because the vast majority of these people stayed away, the consequences were manifold.”
And, even though this summer drew a different kind of visitor to the island, allowing its lesser-known charms a rare chance to shine, there’s no eschewing the fact that packing out Ibiza’s dance floors is irrevocably intertwined with its success as a global tourist destination. “This year it was absolutely evident how much every sector on the island suffered because the clubs were shut,” Stivanello adds. “And while we need to be realistic, I feel very strongly that the only way we can have safe and successful tourism next year is by testing everyone — first the residents and then everyone who arrives by plane or boat. It’s a lot of effort and it’s costly but with a well working testing scheme I’m confident we can reopen the clubs and dance floors again next year.”
For many, the alternative is simply unthinkable. Unemployment, limited financial help from the government and a complete lack of savings has left them on the brink of destitution, forced to flip a coin on whether to buy food or pay rent and bills. The Ibiza Food Bank emerged this year as an initiative to help those in need, and with contributions from local volunteers and businesses, has already been feeding around 4,000 people per week who can’t afford to do so themselves. In winter, that number is guaranteed to grow. “We think it will soon rise to 10,000 per week,” says Luke Peppe, Ibiza Food Bank founder and owner of Ibiza Villas 2000. “That’s between 8-10 per cent of Ibiza’s population.”
At this point, positivity is understandably in low supply but even in crisis, islanders remain upbeat and determined to enforce change, whether that’s in relation to more sustainable models of living, attitudes towards nightlife, or better relations among themselves. The fact that the Canary Islands, where numbers have also remained comparatively low, have been added to the UK’s air corridor list also holds a glimmer of hope for next year. “I have never seen a community join together and work so well towards one objective,” concludes Peppe. When the time comes, it’s that collective sense of tenaciousness that will ensure Ibiza comes back fighting.