- Will clubbing return to the White Isle this summer? And if so, in what form? Riri Hylton investigates.
Spain's plans to roll out a vaccine passport by June may have raised hopes for Ibiza revellers this summer, but on the ground things remain uncertain.
After agreeing to work with the EU to establish travel corridors, the Spanish government announced its own pilot scheme last month to ensure safe travel between Spain and key tourism markets ahead of the summer. Tens of thousands of German holiday makers flew to the Balearics over the Easter period as part of the scheme.
The government hopes that this approach, alongside plans to vaccinate 70 percent of the population by June, will allow Spain to welcome around half the number of tourists it had pre-pandemic. But despite these efforts, those working in nightlife remain unimpressed. Last week, representatives of the sector called for the resignation of the finance minister, María Jesús Montero, for refusing to meet with them seven months after they made a request.
"The main problem is that there is no dialogue between the industry and the government," Anna Tur told Resident Advisor. The Ibizan DJ has performed in super clubs across the island and recently established a Balearic DJ and producer association to tackle issues around communication. "It's very difficult to make them understand our culture if they do not know this lifestyle," she said.
2020 was far from a typical season on the White Isle. The pandemic forced beach clubs, bars and restaurants to operate at reduced capacities while nightclubs remained closed.
"Last summer was a disaster," Es Paradis manager Steeve Valverde told RA. "Just before the pandemic, in October, we started work for the next season, so in February we had everything ready for the summer. This year everything is on standby because we don't want to make the same mistake, spending money on marketing and tomorrow they say 'you cannot open.' We are on our toes."
With some 100 Covid-19-related deaths in a population of around 158,000, Ibiza has fared better than most regions in Spain, which currently stands at over 76,000 deaths in a population of 46 million. Infection rates on the White Isle are also low. At the time of writing, Ibiza has 102 active cases compared to 69,000 in the rest of the country.
Around 90 percent of Ibiza's economy depends on tourism, with more than three-quarters of the island's residents working in the sector. The industry attracts more than four million people to the island in the summer season, which traditionally runs May through October. Within this period most businesses can expect to bring in a year's earnings in only 100 days. The International Nightlife Association estimates that Ibiza's summer tourism is worth €770 million.
Around one quarter of all travellers to Ibiza are British. Earlier this year, the UK government announced its latest Covid-19 roadmap, which states that international travel may resume, at the earliest, on May 17th. Tony Truman, owner of open-air hotspot O Beach (FKA Ocean Beach) as well as other businesses on the island, took this as a cue to announce the venue's opening parties.
"We're lucky two of our main venues are both open-air venues," he told RA. "It's going to be a tame version of the normal beach club, but probably up on last year's shenanigans." The UK's new traffic light travel system, which grades countries according to their level of risk, may also offer some reassurance.
Meanwhile, the Balearic government is yet to clarify the new restrictions. Truman has heard that there will be an increase on last year's 50 percent capacity for outdoor venues, though nothing has been confirmed. "They have suggested verbally that that will be at 70 percent this year, which will be fantastic because then there'll be a bit of skin on the bone."
For some businesses, the announcements can't come soon enough. Ibiza-born restaurateur Joan Roig owns two businesses on the island and said the government had done "absolutely nothing" to support him during the pandemic. "At this moment the business is really bad," he told RA. "If we cannot work this summer, if we don't have assistance from the government, I will disappear."
Due to the 10 PM curfew, which was introduced in January, Roig's restaurants have been reduced from 11-hour to four-hour days. He estimates that tourists make up 70 percent of his clientele in the summer season, and at least a third of that group is British. His main hope is that the government makes good on current plans. "If we keep controlling things with the PCR [Covid-19 tests] and vaccinations, I think we could be ready for that corridor."
But for Marc Domènech, it's already too late. His burger joint Fan Burger, which opened in 2018, was forced to close in late January due to the pandemic. He estimates that around 50 percent of his customers were visitors to the island in the summer season. "We were a late-night business," he told RA. "Our place was the beginning of the party."
Fan Burger would open at 8 PM, catching some of the ravers as they headed south to key clubbing spots, before closing around 1 AM. The island's 10 PM curfew forced Domènech to change his opening times, but this wasn't enough to save what until the pandemic was a profitable business. "We went down from six or seven employees to just one employee and in the end I had to fire him," he said.
Super clubs on the White Isle have been shut since October 2019, but in mid-March Amnesia became the first to announce parties for the 2021 season, beginning in reverse order with its closing event. Other major venues such as Hï Ibiza and Eden followed suit with opening night announcements. DC-10, Ushuaïa, Es Paradis and Privilege are yet to announce anything.
Pacha too, is taking a cautious approach. "We have our lineup," the super club's head of marketing, Gaston Calabresi, told RA. "The moment we have clarity around how we can operate we will announce it." He added: "We didn't want to promise anything without being sure that we will be able to fulfil it."
As Spain came out of its first lockdown on June 21st last year, it looked as though Ibiza would return to some measure of normality. Policy, AKA Gary Sovereign, is a resident DJ at the Soul City bar on San Antonio's West End strip and has worked the summers for the past ten years. He decided to remain on the island for the winter after arriving last season.
"I came in July and it was really cool," he said. "It wasn't busy, but there were a few people and tourists were coming in. Come mid-July it was great." He continued: "All the bars and [some smaller] clubs were busy. Everyone had to adopt the table booking system which definitely had its benefits."
Around this time, Ibiza's local government made it clear that indoor venues with dedicated dance space wouldn't be allowed to open. This was despite safety proposals put to them by club owners. Many in the sector felt unsupported.
"When there is a crisis like this you should have a talk with people who are in business, at least to have their opinion about what can be done," Valverde said. "I can understand the scale of the pandemic, but they just decided things without asking. It was a bit disappointing from our side."
Things got worse on the island as the summer progressed. On July 25th, the UK removed Spain from its safe travel list and directed all returning travellers to self-isolate for 14 days. Airlines followed suit, cancelling flights between the UK and the Balearics. "Then the local government decided there were going to be reduced capacities," Sovereign explained. "Any bar that had a DJ and didn't offer food had to close. That was the beginning of the end."
Musician Matt Johnson, who was booked to play at O Beach (FKA Ocean Beach) last season, also noted a drastic change. "It was pretty quiet anyway, we're talking in the hundreds, and then it just went to 40 people. It was eerie." As the months drew on, the government brought in more restrictions, finally imposing an island-wide lockdown in mid-January as Covid-19 cases rose. This ended on March 15th.
Calabresi, from Pacha, predicts that parties will happen this summer season, sanctioned or otherwise, and urges the government to give clubs and venues the go-ahead. "Going out and interacting with people who are like-minded is a universal need," he said. "If you close clubs people are going to search for options to fulfil that need."
"I think that this was not truly accounted for," he added. "On one side, music being culture and the role that it has for the development of communities, and on the other side, clubs being a space where people go to fulfil basic needs, which is this sense of belonging and relationships."
At the end of March the Leisure Association Of Ibiza (AOI) asked the local government to reopen the nightclubs. It suggested new safety protocols as part of its detailed proposal, but is still yet to receive an official response. The clubs appear ready, but with little communication from the government, fears of another fallow year are growing.
"Everything is on the table, but we are in April and we don't have proper information," Anna Tur said. "Everybody on the island, the whole industry, is waiting."