RIP HM Queen Elizabeth II

The news of the passing of HM Queen Elizabeth II evokes many emotions. It’s a day we knew would happen but never wanted to think about.

The tributes from all from over the world is a mark of the respect and esteem that she was held in by people from all walks of life, from Presidents to ‘paupers’. In the then Princess Elizabeth’s 21st birthday speech she solemnly swore to a life of service ‘whether it be long or short’ and she was true to her word with over 7 decades of selfless and unwavering service to the British nation and the Commonwealth.

Her Majesty has been a constant presence for so long, one of my first memories as a 7 year old boy was a street party with all my neighbours celebrating the Silver Jubilee of 25 years on the throne. As Queen her first Prime Minister was Winston Churchill (born in 1874) and it’s this connection to the past that was such an incredible conduit from today to a bygone era, an era without the internet or even television and when radio was the most used medium of communication.

Her reign was not without challenges. From wars and social unrest, family issues that still exist today and a pushback against the British monarchy after the death of Princess Diana. The Queen faced all her challenges with a traditional British stiff upper lip, stoic compassion and words of comfort without taking sides. She encompassed everything that is thought to be British – her famous mantra was never explain, never complain.

The Queen had a legendary sense of humour but also an empathy with all people and her ability to ask the right question at the right time was a lightning bolt for those present who knew they had to be on their A-game even in the presence of a pensioner, she could never be underestimated. For us ex-pats who live outside the UK, the Queen has been a shining light of Britishness, something to hold on to, a figurehead we could all be proud of. It’s difficult to explain to other nationalities but she seamlessly brought a community together when it was needed most.

Whatever your views on the modern-day monarchy you can’t help but be touched by the worldwide outpouring of grief for the death of a dignified 96-year-old great grandmother who in a world of change represented continuity, in an age of division remained transcendent and in a time of constant self-promotion embodied self-effacement.

Electric Scooters

Rarely do I feel the need to be a grumpy old git but something has been bothering me for quite a while. Electric scooters. They are a wonderful form of personal transportation, perfect for Ibiza’s resort towns where getting from one end to the other can be a very long walk or an even longer car journey due to summer traffic.

They are relatively cheap, easy to drive, very effective and they also seem to be above the law. Every day as I drive from San Antonio to Cala de Bou there are electric scooters hurtling towards me, the wrong way down a one-way road. These scooters can go in excess of 30 km/h so it doesn’t take a genius to deduce that this is a tragic accident waiting to happen. These scenes are taking place all over the island every day.

In the scooter drivers’ defence they are taking the easiest and most direct route on badly designed roadways but it’s also the most dangerous. They are a law unto themselves but what exactly is the law? Laws are clear when it comes to cars and motorbikes but electric scooters exist in a grey area. I’m sure there are laws (helmet, hi-vis vest, insurance?) but I doubt whether the predominantly young drivers know them or indeed care especially when nobody is enforcing them.

Ibiza’s resorts, already busy with cars, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians now have another form of transport vying for road and pavement space and without clear enforceable guidelines things are going to get very ugly very quickly.

The sales of electric scooters will increase, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg so the Island government must take swift action and set out clear rules and start enforcing them, anything less would be a serious failure to protect lives. It’s an accident waiting to happen.

English translation of letter to Periodico de Ibiza, published on 18/8/22 – link here

Safe Spaces Rule the Roost in Ibiza

It’s been a busy week for live performances on the White Isle. Not only did I witness the Robbie Williams ‘techno rebrand’ but I also spent 2 days at the Ibiza Rocks Hotel watching 3 young British hip hop artists, namely Aitch, Arrdee and Central Cee.

You may think that this is a strange place for a middle aged man to be and you’d be correct but when you have teenage kids the lines can become blurred. It wasn’t my kind of music (I’m not their target audience anyway) but a couple of thousand youngsters would heartily disagree with me, especially my own offspring who loved every minute if it.

The Ibiza Rocks Hotel has grasped the nettle and remodelled itself into a sleek pool party venue where a predominantly young crowd can party to their hearts content in swimwear while sipping cold drinks in the sunshine. The headline acts of DJ’s and Live PA’s are well organised, there’s plentiful staff and security watching over proceedings and the best thing is (for me anyway) that it’s all done and dusted by 10pm.

The amphitheatre with pool, terrace and VIP balcony is locked off from the outside world and standing in the streets outside you wouldn’t know that inside is a controlled venue designed to give maximum fun with the fewest possible problems. Of course there’s drama – we’re talking young, hormonal people drinking alcohol in the hot sun – but it’s a secure environment so any minor incidents can be efficiently diffused and dealt with by the conscientious staff who act quickly should there be any particularly disruptive individuals. Woodstock ‘99 this ain’t!

This isn’t reinventing the wheel, nightclubs have operated a similar policy for decades but daytime partying in the sun is now firmly established and throws up its own challenges with an exuberant young crowd but the venue is safe so you feel you can really let yourself go, which is what a holiday is all about.

Daytime partying continues to go from strength to strength in Ibiza and one of the main reasons is that the customers are in a safe space away from the parasites and hawkers. O Beach is another good example of a venue that you feel able to relax in, girls especially love it there as it ticks all the boxes (food, drink, surroundings, Instagram) and they know that security is on hand should any issues arise.

Ushuaia, Destino, Nikki Beach and others follow the same model – controlled spaces designed for maximum fun and, of course, maximum profit. This isn’t charity, it’s a 2-way street and the beach clubs know that if they create the right vibe that is safe then the customers will relax, enjoy…..and most importantly spend. It’s a lucrative business if you can get it right, the recently announced closure of Bora Bora, Ibiza’s original beach club in Playa den Bossa will in all likelihood reopen as a high end beach club and who can blame them.

Outside of these venues only serves to underline why safe spaces are so desirable. Peak season parasites lurk around trying to sell cheap plastic crap, laughing gas and other needless items while pirate taxis hustle for an expensive fare to go a short distance.

Ibiza Rocks and the ever growing list of daytime venues have positioned themselves for certain segments of the market. Fun in the sun with live acts, entertainment and big bottles posted on instagram is here to stay and the secret is in the environment that each separate venue creates and regardless of whether it students on a budget or billionaires buying big bottles, safety and security is top of that list.

Review: Robbie Williams at 528 Ibiza

It was the worst kept secret on the Island as Robbie Williams broke his Ibiza virginity to wow the crowd by joining Lufthaus at 528 Ibiza, the venue on the outskirts of San Antonio that has undergone a major facelift.

Despite the usual Ibiza no-show rumours the self styled ‘entertainer’ from Stoke on Trent bounced on to the stage in what looked like an expensive pair of silk pyjamas. The atmosphere was electric as he set the tone early by saying it wasn’t a night for Ángels, his most iconic hit, it would prove to be an interesting night and a clear departure from his comfort zone.

Williams has just released a new single with Lufthaus and that was clearly what he was here for – to promote his new house music direction. Whether it is a midlife crisis or boredom from singing ballads to a middle aged crowd stuck in the 90s he embraced his new challenge with both hands.

This was an island party, mainly local residents and their friends on the guest list keen to see the Robster perform for the very first time on the White Isle in a beautiful, reinvented venue. If you were there for the hits then you were only treated to a few lines from ‘Feel’, Robbie you big tease!.

Williams didn’t travel to Ibiza to bash out his back catalogue and he looked like he was having a whale of a time behind the DJ box before sporadically coming to the front of the stage to engage the crowd with some dad dancing that most middle aged men will identify with. His stage presence was there for all to see as he threw himself (literally) into the hour long set with vocals, dancing and twiddling a few knobs on the DJ rig.

The purists might grimace and some unfair comparisons were made on the night with other artists attempting to reinvent themselves as a house DJ but regardless of snobby asides Williams has an undoubted musical pedigree that gives him gravitas to undertake this new challenge and be given some respect.

His old band mate Howard Donald has been on the DJ circuit for years, Craig David is still wowing crowds at Ibiza Rocks with his all action TS5 show and even celebrity chef Gok Wan was on the island a few weeks ago playing tunes for Clockwork Orange (but the less said about Paris Hilton the better).

The majority of the crowd last night loved the occasion and left happy – it was a win/win/win for a guest list heavy crowd, the 528 venue who announced themselves to the world and an established recording artist craving to do something different. Some might be disappointed that the lighters didn’t come out for an Angels encore but they can always book a ticket on his next greatest hits tour in a cold city rather than this intimate evening in the balmy Ibiza countryside, this was a million miles away from Knebworth.

My only small gripe was that a genuine house remix of one of his big hits would have truly brought the house down while protecting his integrity but alas it wasn’t to be. This was a truly original ‘I was there’ Ibiza night and these occasions don’t come round often these days. Bravo Señor Williams.

More Winter Flights but Taxi Woes Continue for the White Isle

Winter flight have always been a hot topic so the recently announced addition of more direct winter flights is a big positive for Ibiza. EasyJet has added direct connections to Milan Malpensa to their winter timetable while Vueling are adding to their existing Paris Orly to Ibiza route. This compliments the existing schedules of Transavia’s direct flights to Amsterdam and British Airways very popular route between Ibiza and London City.

It signifies a further shift by low cost carriers looking for new international winter routes and is great news for Ibiza residents who can now get away for a few days without the need for a stopover. Less than 10 years ago there were very few direct winter international flights so momentum is finally building in the right direction and moves the Island towards being a bonafide winter destination.

Ibiza is amazing in wintertime, in fact it’s probably one of Europe’s best kept secrets. It’s completely different from summer but with a fantastic climate, heaps of culture, plenty of culinary options and outdoor pursuits its a great winter option and now more people than ever before will have the chance to sample it.

Meanwhile the peak season situation with taxis isn’t improving with long snaking queues appearing in the press and social media along with stories of unanswered telephone calls and lots of frustration from tourists wanting mobility on the island. To be fair this mainly applies during the peak hours before and after dinner but the sight of baffled tourists standing on the roadside waiting for non-existent white taxis to pass by is now a daily staple.

There’s simply not enough taxis during peak hours and is a situation that shames an island reliant on tourism and the need to move those tourists around in the months when many local businesses make the majority of their annual income. After 2 years of relatively low numbers there was always going to be a big bounce-back and its clear that the authorities were unprepared to find a solution.

As is usual with these things there are lots of factors involved including licensing issues, self protection from taxi unions and complicated regulation including the local government’s insistence that taxi drivers must take a day off per week but none of this is relevant to a family of 4 who just want to get to their 9pm dinner reservation with the minimum amount of fuss in the summer heat.

Unfortunately there appears to be no short term solution for the lack or taxis during the peak summer weeks so for now its a matter of being as organised and as patient as possible or alternatively come back in the winter on a direct flight when there are more taxis than you will ever need.

Influencer Awards Fiasco

Some world destinations are ideal for social media with stunning backdrops, lively venues and a smorgasbord of content. It’s fair to say that Ibiza ticks all these boxes so this must have been one of the reasons why the first ‘International Influencer Awards’ was held on the island at the beginning of June.

The concept was straightforward. Invite 40 of the most ‘influential’ social media movers and shakers from all over the world to a weekend of all expenses fun on the White Isle so they could showcase Ibiza and Formentera to their combined total of 160 million followers. The Island Council seemed to think it was a good idea and bought into it to the tune of a 100,000 EUR subsidy of taxpayers money as long as the organisers could independently justify fours times that being spent on local brands.

What followed was a PR disaster that has caused many red faces and started a debate amongst local press and intellects as to the direction that the island is heading in and whether social media accurately reflects what Ibiza is all about (when did social media accurately reflect anything?).

What was supposed to be a positive experience turned sour by the general passive and narcissistic behaviour of the participants culminating in a now infamous post by Spanish influencer Maria Pombo drunkenly looking for a McDonalds at 4am in the morning after previously eating at a top end restaurant, all paid for of course.

The already cynical Ibiza press jumped in denouncing the perception of this group of free loading airheads being ferried around in black mercedes minivans, too busy looking for affirmation on their phones to engage with the island and the brands they were supposed to be supporting on their all expenses paid jolly up.

After 2 years of limited nightlife those commentators who had urged the Island to furrow a more locally focussed path were horrified that the island was well and truly back to pre-pandemic levels of shallowness. Juan Carlos Rodriguez Tur writing an opinion piece for the Periodico de Ibiza called the Awards “embarrassing, shameful, outrageous and ridiculous”. His distaste didn’t end there. “They have spent a weekend partying, going on a yacht, visiting beach clubs and discos at the expense of the Ibizan taxpayer without the slightest positive impact for the island. In fact, they have done just the opposite: influence the image of Ibiza as an exclusive destination in which only superficiality and excesses have a place”. Bullseye!

Xescu Prats waded in with his piece in the Diario de Ibiza, writing “choosing a troop of adolescent-minded youtubers to share with their millions of followers rice dishes with steak and drunken searches for McDonalds does not add (to the island), it subtracts”. Señor Prats called for a deeper reflection. “It’s amazing that luxury hotels, beach clubs, nightclubs and restaurants with bizarre cuisine are being given so much visibility while heritage, culture, local family hotels and traditional gastronomy are progressively losing prominence. What is truly important to the island is being turned into an accessory only benefitting the interests of certain business groups to the detriment of the general interest”. Ouch!

To pour more petrol on the fire a charity account set up for donations on the back of the awards yielded an embarrassing amount of money so the negative perception solidified into reality. To their credit the Awards organisers realised this was a spectacular own goal and moved quickly to renounce all subsidies from the Ibiza Island Council while issuing a grovelling apology but the damage had already been done.

It should have been a good fit but with poorly chosen guests, no specific promotion agreement in place with content creators who all have different audiences, priorities and objectives it proved impossible to control and the fallout was spectacularly played out in public. Social media works both ways.

It’s been a chastising experience and in reality does a brand as strong as Ibiza really need a group of posturing professionals exhibiting only the luxury side of a diverse story? These influencers, with their predominantly youthful following, are precisely the opposite of the traditional free spirited values associated with the long and rich history of the White Isle.

Social media is here to stay and is an important part of showcasing to the world all the different aspects of Ibiza but in the future I doubt whether the island authorities will want to talk about this disastrous episode never mind get involved. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and you can guarantee there’s a self styled influencer taking plenty of selfies along the way.

Record Number of Tourists for the Balearics

April 2022 saw record numbers of tourists arriving in the Balearic Islands. A total of 1,302,886 arrived surpassing 2019’s figures by 0.26% although it was national tourism that made the big difference accounting for almost 20% of all tourists.

Breaking it down to the individual islands it was Menorca that showed the biggest rise with 36% more visitors than 2019 while Ibiza/Formentera remained stable with a rise of 3.5% with Mallorca arrivals decreasing by a relatively small 2%.

Not only are there more tourists but they are spending more than ever before. Total spending in the Balearics rose by 19% in Mallorca, 34% in Ibiza/Formentera and a massive 65% in Menorca. Expenditure per tourist in April 2022 was 1023.52 euros compared 838.48 euros in April 2019.

The data for May and June is not yet available but everything seems to indicate that they will follow the same trend as April meaning that Ibiza and the Balearics are heading for a record breaking summer.

Original article in Periodico de Ibiza

Ibiza and British Tourism: A Short History

As the UK sees an outpouring of patriotism for the platinum jubilee now is as good a time as any for a short history of Ibiza’s relationship with British tourism.

After the bitter Spanish civil war and extreme poverty Ibiza finally woke up to find that its white sandy beaches, 300 days of sunshine per year, liberal attitude and cheap living costs was a magic formula for an economic miracle and the British (along with other sun-starved north European tourists) were at the centre.

Like most relationships it had a strong start, the courting and heavy petting came in the 60’s and 70’s when mass tourism found its way to the island. While the Germans invaded Mallorca (pardon the expression) British tour operators such as Thomson Holidays started bringing over plane loads of eager holidaymakers to newly built hotels while their reps happily sold sangria filled, cheesy excursions to travellers waving fistfuls of travellers cheques.

The package holiday revolution had begun. Most Brits went home happy clutching a stuffed donkey, a bullfighting poster and sunburn, it’s cliched but thanks to my late parents I’m talking from personal experience. That was the 70’s for you.

For 2 countries only a thousand miles apart geographically the culture differences were huge but the pay off for both sides was immense. British tourists lapping up the the sun, sea and sangria while local businesses prospered with plenty of pesetas. British entrepreneurs started to settle on the island, young ladies met future husbands.

The British package holiday or ‘square deal’ to Ibiza was a simple formula that continued to evolve but like most relationships there were some bumpy times ahead. In the late 80’s Ibiza became the victim of its own success. All night opening hours and cheap drinks led to excessive behaviour which the UK tabloid press jumped all over framing a narrative of drink and drug excess. In truth it wasn’t a million miles away from reality due to Ibiza’s liberal attitude that was in stark contrast to the starched shirt, stiff upper lip way of life of Thatchers Britain trying desperately to clamp down on the blossoming rave culture.

Suddenly the ‘drunken Brit abroad’ went from hero to zero. Local Ibiza businesses were earning too much to care but it still wasn’t prepared for the shitstorm that followed and the repercussions to its reputation that still rumble on to this day.

In the mid 90’s the Island exploded. Edgy clubs became accesible not to just the cool kids but to a core British audience – Manumission at Privilege became the biggest club night in the world with it’s infamous sex show broadcast weekly on ‘Ibiza Uncovered’ – the ground breaking Sky TV series. It brought Ibiza directly to British living rooms destroying plenty of myths along the way but creating a boom in demand especially from a young British audience desperate to be part of the story. Ibiza had landed on the world stage but mainstream had its price and it’s reputation suffered a little but it would bounce back.

As a new Millenium was ushered in, Ibiza and the world had no idea that firstly the internet and then social media was about the change the game. Within a decade the tourism business model that had existed for nearly 40 years was to become extinct as the traditional 7, 10 and 14 night ‘package’ holiday became a thing of the past. It was now all about short breaks and weekend fun in the sun.

British short haul tour operators began to disappear, no more plastic trays with processed food and holidays reps with clipboards, low cost airlines Ryanair and easyJet became the new ‘no frills’ public transport to the sun with daily flights from nearly every UK airport. Hotels were now bookable online, who needed a tour operator any more? The opening up of the skies saw record numbers of Brits flowing into Ibiza airport, the upward trajectory of an island finally unshackled was limitless or so we thought until a Chinese bat threw a very large spanner into the works.

Suddenly the British market was taken away from Ibiza by a clueless British government that went from green to amber to red in little over 2 weeks whilst instilling a fear of travelling. Ibiza without Brits was like fish without chips, bread without butter, spotted dick without custard (you get the idea). Some welcomed the change of dynamic but some businesses didn’t even open – the simple economics has been undisputed for decades – nobody spends money like Brits abroad. Self survival kicked in and many critics of British tourism were soon pining for their return. Nobody denies that the relationship between residents and tourists can be fractious but this 2 year period taught us to be careful for what you wish for. The British market doesn’t always cover itself in glory but no relationship is ever perfect.

Summer 2022 has started like a runaway train, fuelled by a pent up demand for fun in the sun that’s been lacking for 2 long years. It’s back to business as usual but with more positivity than ever before. Over the last few years the White Isle has seen unprecedented investment in its hotel infrastructure and food and beverage sector. There’s more options than ever which can only be good for the consumer. Ibiza is right at the top of its game. More connectivity than ever before, world class venues, hostelry and cuisine offering a product and service like never before and right in the very middle of all this are the British tourists who come here in their hundreds of thousands every summer.

The relationship between Ibiza and British tourism goes back over 4 generations and is ingrained in the identity of the Island. The journey hasn’t always been easy but the friendships and the shared history together can never be forgotten or devalued. There will be challenges ahead – there always is, but coming out of it’s darkest hour the future has never been so bright.

Great Start but same old challenges for the White Isle

Taxi queue at Ibiza airport

The summer season is finally under way after what feels like a lifetime standing on the starting line and it’s been a busy start for Ibiza, there’s a crackle in the air as the island gets back to normal.

The traditional club opening weekend was brought forward by a month by eager club owners and promoters wanting to make up for lost time. The atmosphere has been electric, 2 years of hurt just a distant memory.

For us 80’s children Duran Duran at Ushuaia was pure hedonistic nostalgia and kudos to the International Music Summit for pulling it off and spreading the love across the weekend (and age spectrum) including the now iconic show under lights at the top of Ibiza old town with the famous cathedral and marina as it’s backdrop.

Other clubs have opened their doors too including DC10 and if you were unfortunate enough to travel on a flight the day after there were plenty of casualties indicating that the Ibiza business of pure pleasure is definitely back with a bang.

The not so good news is that even after 2 years of waiting for this moment some of the same old problems have raised their ugly heads as local businesses jostle for position to try and take advantage of the pent up demand for all things Ibiza.

There’s a a continuing housing crisis with a lack of affordable accommodation for seasonal workers with rooms in shared apartments being offered online at 900 euros per month plus bills. These high living costs means that finding staff is becoming more and more difficult especially now that Brexit has ruled out the young British ‘workers’ who used to come over in their thousands.

Car hire prices are off the scale and early season tourists have been greeted by long taxi queues during peak hours. Whether it’s a lack of planning, incompetence or something more sinister it doesn’t look good and marginalises our greatest commodity within minutes of them arriving. Local officials say more seasonal taxi licences will be issued but for now it’s long queues and long waiting times. Not a great first impression.

Meanwhile I have been contacted by a prominent local resident about parking in San Antonio which isn’t getting any easier and finding a genuine parking place is like winning the lottery. The blue zone payment system that’s works so well across the island has been removed meaning that some cars rarely move decreasing the availability of parking which is a major problem. The waste-ground at Ses Variades has been a welcome solution but with some cars being damaged by over exuberant local teenagers many are reticent to park there.

A few years ago I challenged Ibiza’s then environmental councillor about putting a cap on vehicles on the island and was met with blank stares and excuses so unless more parking is forthcoming the problem isn’t going to get any better. Formentera has put a limit on cars so it can be done.

So as usual it’s a mixed bag to kick off the summer but positivity is in the air and it looks like it’s going to be one to remember with high early season demand from tourists after 2 tough years. It may only be May but there’s already a peak season feel to the place. The summer won’t be without its challenges but with a few proactive tweaks the new normal could see records tumbling across the island.

Early April in Ibiza Taking Tourists for Fools

It’s been a strange couple of weeks on the White Isle. The start of daily international flights coupled with inclement weather has meant that tourists have had a challenging time.

When I say tourists I’m not talking about friends and families of residents who enjoy the quietness of the low season but genuine tourists who have read so much about Ibiza and are visiting, possibly for the first time.

One evening last week I saw a group of young females, all in their mid 20’s and dressed to the nines, wandering around the cold, dark streets of San Antonio desperately trying to find somewhere to eat and drink. I bet they couldn’t believe what they were seeing, one of Ibiza’s main resorts in darkness and nearly everything closed.

Many of us have spent years calling for winter tourism in the Balearics yet we can’t even get the low season off to a good start. There are many factors of course but surely this is where the Balearic Tourism board need to be more actively involved. This is the same Balearic tourism board who go to all the major travel shows (all expenses paid) with the specific objective of promoting low season travel. Go figure.

More synergy is required between all the moving parts. The tourist board while promoting the islands needs to do its best to ensure that the main resorts are relatively open and functioning by acting as a conduit between local businesses such as bars, hotels restaurants and the main travel providers like airlines, tour operators and transport companies.

You can’t blame local business owners for not opening in April when numbers are low and costs are high so we are in a catch 22 position. Genuine tourists arriving on planes being met by hundreds of empty taxis and being taken to closed resorts.

This is where the island council and local government can play a more pivotal role to incentivise local businesses to open at the start of April. Make it easier for them, give them a sweetener on local taxes, favorable advertising terms, allow them to use the walkway for a limited time, anything that might make them think favourably about opening their doors in April.

The challenges over the last 2 years has seen pro-active local authorities thinking outside the box and that’s what we need to get the summer season off to a good start with some added stimulus. It’s what you might call a win/win.

It’s Easter in a couple of days, the biggest Spanish holiday of the year and Ibiza has plenty going on. The weather forecast is good and many sporting events are planned but we should never rest on our laurels especially during the shoulder months. If this was a school report on the first 3 weeks of tourism on the island it might read: very capable, outstanding ability but application at times is questionable. Can do much better.