With the holiday season in full swing, the bars around Ibiza’s Platja d’en Bossa should be packed with the young revellers who descend on the Spanish island each summer to soak up its famed party atmosphere.
But at Murphy’s, a short walk from the beach, a staff member is trying to coax in passers-by as a few scattered tables of tourists sip beers and tinto de verano to the sound of pumping house music.
Alex Sasaki, the co-owner, had high hopes after a “really bad” 2020 when the bar could only open for a month amid a strict coronavirus lockdown. This summer started well with a wave of young Dutch visitors, followed by a surge in arrivals from the UK when the British government put Ibiza and the rest of the Balearic Islands on its open “green” list, which coincided with this summer’s European football championships.
“It was good most of all because of the Euros,” said Sasaki, 31. “The bars were full even in the afternoon.”
The arrival of the British — who traditionally account for 40 per cent of Ibiza’s foreign visitors — gave local businesses hope for a return to normality after 18 months of misery, before the rug was pulled from under them again.
A boom in Covid-19 infections in recent weeks that began in Mallorca led the Netherlands to advise against travel to the Balearics and the UK to downgrade the islands to its “amber” list that requires the unvaccinated to quarantine on their return. With cruel irony, the new rules that came into effect on Monday coincided with England’s “freedom day” when a swath of restrictions were lifted.
“That was a huge disappointment for us,” Sasaki said of the decision. “We want all the tourists back.”
At the Bull Bar Tavern, hostess Dunia El Moutchou said she feared the impact, especially after a bumper few weeks of trade had raised hopes. Daily revenues that slumped as low as €600 last summer, had risen to €4,000 recently, above even pre-pandemic 2019 levels. “It destroyed us because we don’t know what will happen one week to the next,” she said.
For those who booked holidays before the rules changed, a decision had to be made.
Sipping a mojito at the Bull Bar as the summer sun beat down, Dutch student Fam Wilderink said she and her friends had a “breakdown” two days before their trip as they watched the infection rates rise. “We were like, ‘Do we have to do this?’ . . . because the situation was getting progressively worse,” said the 21-year-old, referring to the possible need to quarantine on her return.
But Tara Hunt, a visitor from Birmingham, had no such concerns about quarantine — in common with most of the British visitors who spoke to the Financial Times. “We were never going to change our plans,” she said. “We’re more than a year into a pandemic and we’re over it.”
Poppy Canny, a 20-year-old influencer, agreed a vacation was a necessity. “I’ve had so many holidays cancelled over the past two years: Ibiza (twice), Amsterdam, Paris, America, Bali, New Zealand,” she reeled off, adding she had also declined to be vaccinated. “I’m young and healthy, I don’t have any health complications, I’m not going to die,” she said.
Yet infection rates are increasing across the island chain. The 14-day incidence rate in the Balearics has risen from 114 per 100,000 at the start of the month to 692 on July 21, rising to 1,833 for the 20 to 29 age group. The number of active cases in Ibiza has almost tripled in just 10 days, to more than 1,750. Only this week, the Balearic government announced that bar and restaurant opening hours would be cut back in the face of the rising threat.
For Ibiza’s hotel industry, the effect had been severe but uneven, said Ana Gordillo, head of the island’s hotel lobby group. The high-end of the market has maintained high occupancy rates since the start of the season, but the change in guidance has led to cancellations at those hotels that depend on the package tour market.
“One more year like last year would be catastrophic,” Gordillo said.
Sasaki at Murphy’s said revenues were down 60 to 70 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels. Just up the street, Sebastián Acosta has reduced the opening hours at his tattoo parlour as customer numbers dried up.
“A few tattoos, two piercings . . . five people all day,” he said, lamenting the loss of the groups of young British men that would visit after a day of drinking, one of which would face the consequences of losing that day’s bet. “Five guys, €10 each, a tattoo on the bum,” he explained.
One of the island’s main attractions are the giant superclubs such as Pacha, where thousands of partygoers dance the night away. But the clubs have been closed since the start of the pandemic, with the planned reopening at the end of the month also thrown into doubt.
“We’ve had a good number of years riding the wave,” said José Luis Benítez, head of the island’s nightlife federation. “Last year we dealt with it well but this year we didn’t see it coming. We’ll see next year who’s able to open and who can’t.”
The beach bar at Platja d’en Bossa’s Bora Bora Ibiza club can still serve drinks, but the ban on opening the dance floor had been devastating, said director Jesús Sainz Hernández. The club and the attached VIP area accounted for more than half of revenues, he said, adding: “Hopefully this is a year of survival, and 2022 that of recovery.”
At Murphy’s, Sasaki has already readjusted his ambitions for this summer. “If we break-even, we’re happy,” he said.
Displaying a glass-half-full attitude befitting a party island, he added: “But next year will be really, really huge.”