We were sold a lie. We were told that if we built a luxury resort then we would get better people but the luxury myth and the privatisation of clubs, beaches and VIP areas aimed at wannabe millionaires has already taken its toll.
The island and its conscience is already paying an unaffordable social toll through a housing crisis for residents and seasonal workers and a dramatic cultural toll with the loss of local identity and the progressive destruction of the island’s nature. Now we need to add the side effects of selling your soul to the ‘luxury’ tourism sector.
Alarm bells have been sounded by Ibiza’s hoteliers, announcing that the room sales for July and August are ‘slower than normal’, that overnight stays have fallen again in May and June and that the main cause is the image that Ibiza projects to the world together with the competition from other emerging Mediterranean destinations. For example the local press recently published a story that for the price of a week’s holiday in Ibiza you can enjoy a whole month in Lanzarote.
Ibiza Hotels Association vice-president Juanjo Planells said that in 2018 “we will see decreases in all the statistics” and that “clients stay less and less time in Ibiza”. Even the president of the Ibiza Nightlife Association, José Corraliza, acknowledged that “there is business concern for this seasons projections” and that “the decline curve has already begun”.
Spare your tears for now as the hotels will likely be ‘saved’ once again by drastically reducing their rates in order to fill the empty rooms but the downward trend is a reality and we will have to start thinking about a strategy to reverse it.
For decades Ibiza has coexisted with the burden of an image revolving around drugs and parties without control, our two great workhorses. Administrations have spent years investing in campaigns to change the world’s perception of Ibiza away from this perpetual orgy, to try and retain European family tourism that has traditionally put bread on the table. Their stays are counted by weeks not days.
The companies that promote luxury sold it to us as the remedy that would revolutionise the tourist industry and conquer a new image for Ibiza as well as filling our pockets but this premise has proved to be essentially false. In recent years inequalities have increased, beaches and landscapes have been prostituted and the benefits have been shared among only a privileged few who have become rich beyond their wildest dreams while others struggle to find a reasonably priced roof to put over their heads.
While we have been convincing ourselves that top end luxury is the only way forward the hippy, carefree, tolerant and strong character of Ibiza has been blurred on an island where people of all conditions, social class and nationality were previously welcomed with open arms, something we have almost lost.
With the perspective of time, we now know that the island of luxury and that of the perpetual drug fuelled party are the same dog just with a more golden and tacky collar. Identical debauchery but now led by people with more disposable cash paying triple for exactly the same product as before although now it’s packaged and presented with a falsely glamorous papier-mâché décor.
The problem is not a mere question of price but the massive imbalance between quality and price plus the projected image of the island when that imbalance is so brazen. The UK travel press has picked up on it: ‘5 star Dubai is £2000 cheaper than 5 star Ibiza’ scream the headlines. But also consider the quality behind the headline and what to expect for your money in those destinations.
Ibiza has some great entrepreneurs and professionals who run establishments with enough quality to serve as an alibi for their high prices however there are many others who could be described as charlatans at best and scammers at worst offering inferior products only faintly disguised. These days almost everything in Ibiza is sold as ‘luxury’ even when the majority of the product on offer is medium or low.
While the tourists of the world continue filling Ibiza’s villas, apartments and suites and paying for cheap rooms as if they were staying at the Waldorf Astoria we will be saved but at the same time it’s a dangerous strategy similar to planting landmines for future generations. How will Ibiza attract upper-middle class families once the demand for the this quasi-luxury product diminishes? Will there still be some authentic Ibiza fragment left to offer? Will it be credible?
Some might argue that the market regulates itself and that prices will adjust themselves accordingly but the millstone of exorbitant prices will not be taken away for years to come. It’s a cycle that needs to reach its natural conclusion.
For now the challenge is how we can diversify the Ibiza product and how can we transform it’s image to anticipate and hopefully avoid the crisis that looms like a dark cloud in the sky. If you ask the Ibiza hoteliers right now they may suggest that the bubble hasn’t burst but has already begun to deflate.
Adapted from article in Diario de Ibiza