20 years on…

Garlands at the Bahia 11/09/2001

Monday 10 September 2001 in Ibiza was like any other late summer night. August was over but September was firing on all cylinders, San Antonio was awash with young Brits as was the norm for that time of the year. The West End was rocking in the prime of its life.

20 years ago Ibiza was a very different animal to what it is today. There were no beach clubs or daytime distractions, some still call it the glory years with world class, era-defining promotions every single night of the week in the planets best clubs. We never had it so good although we didn’t know it at the time, you never do.

Mondays in Ibiza was all about Manumission at Privilege, the worlds biggest promotion at the worlds biggest club. This particular night was ridiculously busy as was usual for the 2nd week of September, the crowd being whipped into it’s usual frenzy by their resident DJ’s and as the sun appeared through the iconic dome the party moved on to Carry on at Space and then Bora Bora for the hard core.

11 September 2001: I remember it as a normal morning. Crisp blue skies, I was tired from August and looking forward to the end of the summer, very similar to today. Then around lunchtime everything changed.

Sky News is always on in my house, it’s background noise. Feet up on the sofa thinking about a siesta when Kay Burley announced that an aeroplane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York.

We all know what happened next so no need to go through the painful details here but as the Twin Towers crumbled to the ground I knew that life had changed forever. There was no WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter or smartphones so it was all about 24 hour news. CNN gave us the heartbreaking US perspective, a nation and the world in a state of shock.

I went back to my office late afternoon and tried to carry on regardless but the mood on the streets of San Antonio was like I had never seen before. The first call I made, Maxine, the young lady on the other end of the phone, was trying to work but openly weeping. As she talked to me I could hear the tears falling.

That night was the Garlands party at the Bahia Hotel (now Ocean Beach Hotel) but there was some confusion about whether it would go ahead but word soon got out that it was happening.

So on the evening of 11 September 2001 after watching in disbelief at so much pain unfolding on our TV’s, myself and several hundred others gathered under the stars and partied like we’d never partied before.

The late great Dave Booth and Huey Garry were on the decks with Grandma Funk doing guest vocals ‘shaking that ass’. Judge Jules and others were at the bar, Ibiza’s response was to go harder than ever before. It was a surreal atmosphere but the mood was upbeat, glad to be alive, this might be the last party for a while so let’s make the most of it.

Recent events have taken over our lives and sometimes it’s easy to forget but every anniversary I always remember those poor innocent lost souls and the time we partied under the stars in Ibiza like there was no tomorrow, because we weren’t sure there would be. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since that fateful day, a lot has changed in 2 decades but lest we forget.

Gastronomy with Entertainment – The New Star of Ibiza

Ibiza’s 2nd summer without nightclubs and a continuing 1am closing time has brought about a shift in evening pursuits with gastronomy taking centre stage.

It’s a long time since chicken, chips and salad was a local delicacy and Ibiza’s worst keep secret is that it’s the home of many wonderful restaurants with some of the finest chefs in Europe and the COVID crisis has put them at the forefront of the changing times. So many great restaurants to choose from including the relatively new phenomenon for high quality food coupled with professional entertainment.

This is hardly a new concept, back in the 80’s and 90’s the Ibiza Casino was as good as it got for this type of evening. A glitzy show with semi naked dancers and a headline act such as the Drifters with questionable food and even more questionable drinks served at the table by hordes of waiters. It was all about quantity wrapped up in a fun evening and for about £35 per person was seen as expensive at the time.

When El Divino nightclub closed down and Pacha Group opened Lio almost 10 years ago, a brand new template was created which has now become an island staple. Lio changed the game for the segment with its incredible backdrop, immersive entertainment, glamorous crowd and eye watering prices. Any doubters were soon proved wrong as those trying to book a table found out.

Ibiza business is never slow to follow a winning formula and Heart soon opened mixing a world-renowned chef with a show to provide more competition to a new market that had started to grow as tastes became more discerning and an older target audience with more money to spend.

Meanwhile STK opened, a further addition catering mainly to an upmarket British crowd trading on a reputation of high quality food mixed with a touch of celebrity that only Ibiza can deliver. We’ve also seen Ushuaia enter the market this summer with their Palmarama evening with big names and an international crowd.

All the the Ibiza establishments naturally add their own unique twist or 2 that’s gold dust for the Instagram generation. Glitz, glamour, fine food, cocktails & a quality show all at a price that would be unthinkable only a few years previously.

The new addition to the scene is ‘528 Ibiza’ who have just extended their debut season. It’s an exciting collaboration between an Ibiza creative icon and an island native of the highest esteem. Andy McKay (of Manumission and Ibiza Rocks fame) has joined forces with Bartolo Escandell, one of Ibiza’s favourite sons who has converted the large outdoor terrace at his Benimussa Park into a spectacular venue mixing old and new with a state of the art stage.

The evening will attract the same target audience as the aforementioned but this one feels more authentically Ibiza from the tasting of traditional fine foods on arrival to a sit down menu of quality food, produced locally, all presented and explained with loving care.

The professional show mixes things up from dramatic dance to acrobats to comedy to crowd-pleasing anthemic song while also giving a nod to the islands history with good old Tanit, making an appearance or 2

The fact that this venue has been converted into something so special focussing on fine food, local culture and professional entertainment proves that Ibiza gastronomy is moving forward at a rapid pace of knots with entrepreneurs looking for new gaps in the market to exploit and there appears to be no lack of demand.

This summer season has been full of surprises as the island jostles to find new products to compensate for the short term loss of traditional ones. Ibiza has not been found wanting and in many ways has solidified it’s position as a high quality upmarket holiday destination and fine food under the stars with profesional entertainment is the new wow on the island.

The Rebirth of San Antonio

COVID has brought about more challenges in 18 months than most of us will see in a lifetime but it has also thrown up opportunities.

Here in Ibiza, San Antonio has had 2 summers like no other. It’s fair to say that ‘San An’ has had an identity crisis over the last 3 decades, from 80’s hooligans to 90’s space cadets to noughties wannabes. It’s had a chequered recent history but times have changed.

The San An identity crisis revolves mainly around one small area called the ‘West End’, a place that was once the envy of the island, it was the market leader in fun and frolics but has gradually spiralled into a lawless abyss where anything goes and everything is for sale.

In 2015 a new socialist government tried to suffocate the West End by banning terraces after midnight and closing all establishments at 3am. These arbitrary measures only ended up causing more mayhem with mass movement at the same hour displacing the problems to other areas.

The people of San An weren’t impressed and the socialist government lasted 1 term before Marcos Serra, a young forward thinking Mayor was elected in 2019. There was much expectation that he would finally get to grips with the challenges of the West End, creating incentives for those wanting to improve the area and coming down hard on anyone stepping out of line. Then along came COVID.

For 2 summers the West End has remained closed apart from a handful of terraces. For all of us who live in San Antonio we have now seen what the town is like without it, without the noise pollution, without the problems it brings and also without the tourists it attracts.

We’ve seen the other side and we now understand that having a central meeting area that attracts life is a fundamental part of any resort town but we need it to be on our terms. A place that is safe, that is clean, a place that offers fun, food and revelry, not just fast food takeaways and all you can drink. A place where your teenage kids can wander freely.

COVID has shown us something that we never thought we’d see. It took a Chinese virus less than 2 months to do what some have been trying to do for over 30 years but is San An a better place without the West End? The jury is out but even though it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what we want, we know what we don’t want, we don’t want to go back to how it was before.

The challenge has been laid before us and San An needs to build back better. It’s a cliched political phrase but one that has never been so apt but here’s the good news, San Antonio is already having a rebirth right in front of our eyes.

What better example than the recently opened ‘Base Hotel’ right in the middle of the West End where the dilapidated Hotel Don Juan once stood. Owned and operated by the people who built Hotel Es Vive from nothing to become one of the Balearics most celebrated hangouts before selling out to a company part owned by Lionel Messi no less. After a big refurbishment, the Base Hotel offers rooms of high quality that won’t break the bank.

Only 50 metres away from the Base Hotel at the bottom of the West End is the historic Hotel Portmany. San Antonio’s first ever hostelry has had an expensive refurb and now offers large and luxurious apartments in the heart of the town. Then around the corner is Sa Clau, part of the Mambo group offering quality accommodation. The list goes on.

A little further afield Wikiwoo continues to attract the insta-influencer crowd with it’s photo friendly design and the new, enormous and luxurious 5 star OKU Ibiza has opened in Cala Gracio boasting the largest swimming pool on the island. This has spurred on the ageing Hotel Tanit next door to finally have a multi-million pound makeover which will bring it right up to date and don’t be surprised if it becomes a mini Ushuaia as it’s owned by the same company.

Extensive work has now started on the Hotel Catalina which is directly above Savannah and next to Cafe del Mar. When finished this will be the next big offering by the Mambo group and is set to rejuvenate that area with quality rooms on the sunset strip.

This is only a snapshot of what’s happening and much more will follow. Massive investment in San Antonio all against a backdrop of the biggest crisis in modern history. San An is going from strength to strength, there will always be haters but that comes with the territory and in many ways it’s been self induced over the last 35 years but times have changed and it isn’t 1987 any more.

COVID has inadvertently thrown up the chance for San Antonio to bounce back better in a new and improved way where quality is better than quantity, spenders are better than forcing cheap drinks on unsuspecting youngsters and where a little less can be a whole lot more.

We have seen that we can survive without the West End but we can also see the benefit of a clean and safe, fun filled leisure area that attracts all nationalities and all ages from all over the island. All we need now is for the West End to wake up and embrace the challenge.

Ibiza smiling again but not a time to celebrate yet

So it’s here. After much talk, hearsay and conjecture the UK Government finally put the Balearic Islands on their ‘green list’ and the Brits have started to arrive in their droves.

For those who have been hiding under a rock (and I don’t blame you btw) British tourists now arriving in the Balearic islands do not have to quarantine on their return but do have to take a post arrival test.

The news was a bit of a surprise but the UK government has been consistent in being inconsistent so it shouldn’t have come as such a shock. The news also started a chain reaction that saw many Ibiza businesses scramble to open, mainly those that rely almost exclusively on the British market.

Ibiza is a truly international destination these days so even without the Brits the White isle has been very busy with its own European invasion. Ibiza town has been rocking for weeks with bars showing the Euro football championships on their terraces creating a vibrant and charged atmosphere. The British market is the final piece of the jigsaw and will be very welcome especially in San Antonio which has struggled without its main market.

As much as the news has been welcomed, it also comes with a big caveat. The Balearics are on the UK green ‘watch list’ which enables the UK government to remove a destination with very little notice if they see a rise in infections.

This arbitrary decision making is significant because as we saw when Portugal was put on the green list and then quickly removed, it creates a lack of confidence for travellers to commit to an expensive overseas holiday that might have to be cancelled although I’m pleased to say theres still plenty of demand for San An over Skegness.

So we can be thankful that business is starting to resume but also remember that the rug can be ripped away from us at any time if infection numbers rise dramatically. As we have seen over the last week with a major outbreak amongst several hundred teenage students in Mallorca celebrating the end of school, it’s still too early to let our guard down.

This isolated incident is a sobering reminder that not only will we be walking a Covid tightrope for some time to come but also that Balearic businesses, especially those that attract the party crowd, have a collective responsibility to control their customers as much as possible to minimise the risk of rising infection levels. No one likes a party pooper but after the last 16 months the stakes are too high to throw common sense out of the window.

The last 2 weeks have been a real turning point, it’s amazing to see Ibiza come to life once again. It’s been a long time coming and we should enjoy every day as it comes but with many businesses still unable to open or function to capacity there’s still a long way to go to get back to where we were. Smiles are returning but we aren’t out of the woods just yet.

Adiós San An Workers, it was ‘Fun’

For many years the ‘San An Worker’ was a mainstay of Ibiza’s famous west coast resort.

They were easy to spot and even easier to manipulate. They came in their thousands renting small apartments and using them as dormitories, spending all day in bed, searching for guest list freebies like a heat seeking missile and even starting their own eco-system, culture and vocabulary.

A moment in time that organically appeared, a rite of passage for thousands, an era that lasted for more than a decade. You just have to look at the Facebook groups to see the misty eyed nostalgia that this time evokes amongst middle aged men and women talking about the best time of their lives when life was simpler and when all you had to worry about was the next meal and the next party.

‘Worker’ was always a curious collective noun for a group of young Brits who did nearly everything except work. Their priority was to have fun, workers parties became part of the fabric of San Antonio – free entry, cheaper drinks, worker friendly door staff and DJ’s. A whole culture and micro economy evolved from the freedom that Ibiza gives those willing to immerse themselves. Late nights, even later mornings, a lifestyle that would give your parents nightmares.

A few stayed on the island and settled down like modern day hippes but most shuffled off back to the UK, battered and bruised to shocked parents, friends and partners who couldn’t grasp the carnage that went before.

Workers were a scourge to many and a licence to print money for others but nothing lasts forever. Brexit and Covid changed the rules of the game along with an Ibiza housing shortage that has seen the majority of summer apartments rented annually for better and more stable returns. Ket Castle isn’t a madhouse anymore, it’s now Es Pons, an oasis of calm for private residents.

Things change, evolution is unstoppable but how can we not look back with a knowing nod and a wink on an era that gave us the Sh*t Party and the Peru 2. Shipwrecked, Dirty Rotten Sluts, grimy wristbands, workers club passes, Ket Cove, Space closing and it’s fallout, the Eden back room and after hours parties at Wips….a supermarket. We can also include Star Cafe and then New Star for those of a certain vintage. Daily crises a plenty, you really had to be there to believe it!

Will those days ever return? It’s doubtful as the factors that have rendered them almost extinct won’t be changing any time soon but the Ibiza workers spirit lives on but the modern version actually work for a living yet come together in their spare time to party and chill. An older crowd, a few trustafarians, those who eek a living online while Clockwork Orange have wound back the clock with their Ibiza weekender that emotes of long gone days and pure nostalgia.

Ibiza has changed beyond recognition in a relatively short space of time. It’s still a haven for the free-spirited crowd but the days of the masses having the summer of their lives is something we can look back on with a smile (or a grimace) and for now it’s confined to the history books. As the saying goes…..don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

Time to ‘Hug’ a Tourist

Something strange happened in Ibiza about 10 days ago. The place became alive. It wasn’t not alive before but this was something entirely different. The roads were chaotic with erratic drivers, the streets busy and the shops were bustling.

12 months ago we didn’t know what the next day or week would bring but this year Ibiza feels like it should, like a summer season is about to start. The difference is tangible. We still have a long way to go until we’re back to pre-pandemic normality but it finally feels like the clouds are lifting and the island is on the road to recovery.

The main reason is because there are plenty of tourists around. It’s not the mass tourism that we’re used to but they are definitely here. Germans, Swiss, French and other nationalities enjoying an Ibiza experience like no other. We are missing the Brits but bars and restaurant terraces are vibrant, smiles are returning to faces. There’s still challenges ahead but you get the sense that the end of the crisis is in sight.

If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that Ibiza needs to value it’s tourists more. For years we’ve taken them granted, turning up in there plane-loads with pockets full of money, happy to spend even when the service hasn’t always been exemplary.

This relentless wave of new arrivals backed up by clever entrepreneurs keeping Ibiza fresh and relevant gave us a sense of entitlement that in turn gave rise to the anti-tourist brigade. These second and third generation idealists excel in peddling misinformed propaganda where everything that is wrong with Ibiza is down to tourism, a convenient way of passing the blame on to those who have no voice in the local political arena.

Many still question the need for so much tourism yet COVID has proven beyond doubt that the blood that runs through the veins of the White Isle are those who arrive on flights for a few days of fun in the sun spending their hard earned cash and then spreading the word upon their return home. Not only are they our only true commodity, they are also our biggest form of advertising.

COVID may change the way people travel, it might even signal the end of the mass tourism we knew before. Quality over quantity might not be a bad thing for a small island stretched to its limits but now more than ever, there should be no doubt about the importance of tourism. Of course it brings issues but they have to be overcome in a rational way balancing the needs of residents but also understanding that most of the residents are here only because of the tourists.

It might go against the grain for some but now is the time to ‘hug’ a tourist. Not in a physical way but in a metaphorical sense treating them with respect and patience. Ibiza had it ‘easy’ for years, a world leading brand welcoming millions every summer but we’ve now seen the other side and without tourism we are left with nothing more than an empty shell, a playground without children.

Spanish Amber No Surprise Unfortunately

Yesterday’s announcement from the UK government that Spain will be on the amber travel list in their traffic light system shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone aware of the guidelines set down by Boris Johnson and his cohorts.

The reality is that even though the parameters were very clear and that Spain has had over 5 months to get its act in order, the excruciatingly slow rollout of the vaccine has meant that not enough of the population has been jabbed to drive down the stats to a level where we become a low risk country open to travel without restrictions.

On the other side Portugal seems to have played a blinder and as holiday bookings to the Algarve surge today, the Spanish costas will be taking cancellation after cancellation, for May and June at least.

Ibiza’s over reliance on tourism means that along with the other holiday islands the decisions of other governments affect our economy more than other Spanish cities and provinces but this doesn’t seem to matter to those in Madrid and Barcelona (and maybe even Palma) who have other industries to fall back on.

The importance of tourism to the islands and the Spanish economy makes the slow and ponderous vaccine rollout even more bewildering. Either our elected leaders are too stupid to understand the high stakes or they are just too lazy to genuinely care. Us Balearic commentators have been calling it for a while that unless we show more urgency and a greater self survival instinct then it will be another rollercoaster summer.

Yet a Balearic government kowtowing to their Madrid leaders and colleagues have delivered us to this point with their lack of leadership and grasp of the situation while promising help to small businesses with an application process so mired in red tape that you have to be a masochist to even get involved.

All is not lost through so we shouldn’t be too downbeat and the clear objective now must be to step up the vaccination rollout in the coming weeks so that our numbers stay sufficiently low to get the UK green light at the end of June. This will signal a 4 month season that will save many islanders from bankruptcy, destitution and another winter of long food bank queues.

Contrary to popular opinion Ibiza is open now, there are plenty of non-British tourists knocking around and the weather is glorious. This is not down to our leaders but down to our beautiful island being on many’s wish list even in these difficult times. It’s clear that there’s still a big demand to come here but our leaders are currently letting us down with their lethargy. The inquest, when it comes, will be long and ugly.

Ibiza’s ‘Slow De-escalation’ Continues

New measures for Ibiza are set to be announced this Friday that will last for at least 2 weeks.

The Balearic Government has decided to continue its plan of a ‘slow de-escalation’ (in the words of President Francina Armengol) to counter the threat of new variants plus the need to get to June with low incident numbers to enable the reactivation of the tourist season whilst allowing the vaccine program to kick in.

Bar and restaurant interiors look continue to be closed but terraces will be allowed to open to 100% capacity with 4 per table while removing the maximum 2 household per table rule.

In a strange twist a split timetable is being mooted with terraces open until 5pm everyday and then again in the evenings from 8.30-10.30pm BUT only for Monday to Thursday with weekends reverting to terraces closed at 5pm.

Shops can stay open until 9pm with large stores able to open on Sunday’s and bank holidays.

Social and family gatherings continue to be for a maximum of 6 people with no household limit for outside but a limit of 2 households for inside and the general curfew is put back an hour to 11pm. Sports competitions will also be allowed to resume for those under 12 years of age.

The new measures are sure to split opinions once again but it’s also a sign that Ibiza is slowly moving in the right direction.

Via Diario de Ibiza

Ibiza Vaccine Countdown…We Think

As May, the historical start of the tourist season, fast approaches it’s fair to say that the ‘mass vaccination program’ hasn’t been what many of us had hoped for with photos in the local press (such as above) showing a handful of bemused people in the vast space of the Ibiza exhibition centre waiting for their jab. A million miles away from where we hoped to be.

There’s an argument that Spain is doing all it can in the face of a lack of vaccination supply due to EU failings and this can’t be denied but if I was to play devils advocate I’d argue that the Spanish holiday Islands have a totally different set of requirements to anywhere else in the country and possibly should be prioritised as we are seeing in the Greek islands.

Madrid, Barcelona and major Spanish cities have other industries to fall back on and have carried on regardless (especially Madrid) while the Balearic economy has been totally decimated. Ibiza has been overly affected by a pandemic that has seen travel bans from foreign governments and as a ratio of population affected the island must be right up there. As tourism has come to a grinding halt the food bank queues have got longer.

Now is crunch time. Now is when we need to show the world that Ibiza and the Balearics is a ‘safe destination, that the virus numbers are under control and that we have a strategy in place to ensure that they don’t spike again. A 2 pronged attack of testing arrivals and the vaccinating the local population in the hope that the Balearics is separated from the mainland and put on the safe travel list that enables tourists to travel freely without too many restrictions.

The reality is that daily press headlines aren’t reflected on the street coupled with the frustrating flip flopping with the Astra Zeneca vaccine. First it was only for the under 55’s then it was suspended due to potential blood clots issues (that weren’t directly attributed to the vaccine) then it was reintroduced for those under 65 then it was suspended again and when it was finally given the green light it was decided that it was now only for the over 60’s. Confused?

The AZ decisions went directly against the advice of the US, European and UK advisory/regulatory organisations which is a massive call when so many peoples lives rely on getting back to relative normality, If the capital of Spain was in Palma and not Madrid then the Spanish government might be more bullish with it’s decision making.

It’s not all negative as there is some light at the end of the tunnel. We have been told (again) that the ‘mass vaccination program’ is now going to be ramped up but like Peter and the wolf, when you are told the same thing over and over again and it doesn’t materialise you become a bit punch drunk but this weeks unveiling of an online bookable system for the jab is a big step forward and is a cause for optimism that we might actually catch up.

As San Antonio Mayor Marcos Serra said last week the press headlines about the vaccination program need to be converted into reality and the next 6 weeks should signpost the way forward with a clear roadmap. With more vaccines coming on to the market and delivery issues starting to be resolved let’s hope that this is the beginning of the end and not just the end of the beginning.

Ibiza Needs Tourism…..BUT

As predicted by many, including myself, the Balearic Government announced this week that flights would be arriving en masse from Germany over the Easter period. This could change as Germany may go into another national lockdown but the message has been received loud & clear by us all: We will open our borders at the drop of a hat for the tourist dollar no matter what the implications.

All this news comes as Germany reports ‘exponential growth’ in infections whilst Ibiza has managed to substantially bring down its numbers. It hasn’t been easy to do – restaurants, bars and big stores have been closed for several weeks only reopening in the last few days. Movement has been restricted, Ibiza has done what it’s been told (kind of), most have played by the rules and we are coming out on top.

The method behind the madness of potentially letting in thousands of tourists from a country with more contagions than your own is very simple…MONEY. The vast majority in the Balearic archipelago earn their income from tourism. The Balearics and especially the 3 smaller islands are 1 trick ponies, we have very little else. The only ones who don’t rely on tourism are the migrants who retired and relocated or those who earn their coin in the cyber-world or off island whilst enjoying the lifestyle that 300 days of sunshine per year affords you.

If someone says, ‘close the borders until it’s all over’ or ‘forget about tourism’ then I can 100% guarantee that they don’t need this industry to feed their family or put shoes on their children’s feet. It’s a fantastic position to be in and these are the lucky ones but most of us in Ibiza and the Balearics desperately need the cash flow and income that tourism brings especially as the Spanish government has been woefully inadequate in stepping up and helping out with a convoluted system that promises little and delivers even less. Every day there is talk of financial assistance but scratch away at the surface and the process is so difficult and arbitrary that few know how to or have the will to apply.

The bottom line is that the Balearics desperately needs tourism but luckily it can still afford to be selective and this is where the decision to resume tourism at Easter becomes even more bizarre. Easter lasts for 10 days but many will travel for a week or less.

Faced with a long summer ahead of us including the 3 main months of mid June to Mid September, where the overwhelming profit is earned, are we really going to take a risk for a handful of days at the start of April where only a select few will benefit? Have we really worked this hard up until now to let down our guard just for a few days? Wouldn’t it be better to stay closed for a short time longer so infections can lower further and more vaccines can be administered?

Those arriving, national and international, will need a negative PCR certificate to enter and also fill out the usual online forms but as we saw at Christmas, when the same provisions were in place, this isn’t a failsafe system. We need tourism, we live off tourism but we also need to be sensible with a clear and concise plan that allows for all eventualities.

Like the flu this virus isn’t going to disappear so we need to learn to live with it and some calculated risks may have to be taken along the way but only when the rewards outweigh these risks. Easter, in my humble opinion, is too much too soon.