2020 will be the first year all the necessary pieces of the tourism jigsaw are working together to make winter business a success.
- Editorial Opinion, by Nick Gibbs
I’d best get something straight from the off. Nothing, no amount of positive spin or wishful thinking, could negate the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis in terms of health and wellbeing. It is already a tragedy for every family that has experienced loss and there will be more to come. Our thoughts are with them all.
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Also, there is no doubt that for some individuals and organisations the economic effects of the crisis are already such that they may not recover for a very long time, if at all. This article is not intended to trivialise the financial problems some of our community will undoubtedly experience.
But taking the Ibiza economy as a whole, and taking it in the medium to long term, is there the possibility that we could look back in 5 years and wonder how such awful circumstances lead to the achievement of something great for our island? Something great for our economy, our environment and our people. I will try to explain.
The Ibiza tourist season is very short when compared to other similar destinations. The reason for this has always be given as due to it being geared around the clubbing calendar. That seems less of a factor now than it once was, but none the less the short season remains.
Over the years, businesses and business groups, local government, tourism groups, and private campaigns have all fought to extend the unusually short Ibiza tourist season. There has been some limited headway perhaps, but overall the return is very modest compared to the considerable and ongoing level of effort.
A Playa d’en Bossa hotelier told me that a recent attempt by several of the hotels in the resort to open a month longer than usual was not repeated as they had very limited support from leisure businesses in the area. They were open but everything else was shut.
All credit to Jet2.com who have extended their flights several weeks, but you can’t help but feel sorry for some tourists who arrive full of expectation to find the gloomy reality of everything around them being boarded up for winter.
Government initiatives have had some success, but really very little benefit in relation to the huge amount of effort. Over the last decade Ibiza has been focussing all of its tourism effort around all of the world tourism trade fairs on promoting cultural and sporting tourism in the off season. A decade of effort and promotion, yet all we can show for that is two direct international winter routes, to London City and Amsterdam – and there is no evidence whatsoever to demonstrate either of these schedules as being a result of the tourism campaigns, far from it, my experience of B.A.’s London City service is that a majority of passengers are locals taking a trip back to the U.K.
There was also a great community initiative to get winter flights to Ibiza not so long ago, plus the San Antonio Octoberfestival, and there have been many, many, more examples of efforts to get Ibiza’s winter tourism started, but despite some limited individual successes such as the trail marathon, in so far as making a real change to Ibiza’s off season tourism is concerned, they have failed.
It seems to me that the problem is always the same. All of the initiatives rely on all involved parties giving it their full support. Tourism requires all of; government, airlines, hotels, bars and restaurants, leisure activities and resources. If any of these are missing, tourism fails. You can’t expect tourists to come if there is nothing to do when they get here, you can’t expect places to stay open if there are no tourists coming. This has become the vicious circle that has hampered all efforts to get Ibiza’s winter tourism going.
50 Years +
This situation has been going a long time. I have an Ibiza magazine from the 1960s with its front page dedicated to the task of addressing a lack of winter flights and tourism. Fifty years plus, but in terms of the concerted effort of our own tourist board, it is getting on for a decade.
2020 will be remembered globally for all the wrong reasons. It will prove to be one of the most trying years our modern global society has known. But in order to minimise its negative effect we must look to exploit every possible positive opportunity we can.
Ibiza 2020 is already positioning itself for a late and extended season. The best estimates are of some tourism, perhaps Spanish visitors, from June. Some are predicting little to nothing until September. But very few people seem ready to totally throw in the towel.
The Government have already announced the ‘Autumn is the new Summer’ campaign, shifting some of the planned festivals and events into October and November.
I cannot claim to have had direct discussion with anybody senior enough in a tour operator to make a difference, but I do have that coming up, and I think it is reasonable to consider that they will want to do business if they can.
There is little doubt many restaurants want to stay open, as so many participate in the winter gastronomy events loved by us locals.
And of the clubs, the indoor superclubs at least, is there any reason they cannot work just as well in the winter? The clubs of London, Berlin and Amsterdam have plenty of people wanting to party. Ibiza cannot offer the guarantee of summer sun, but on balance it can offer a climate vastly superior to Northern Europe, and all of the infrastructure and accommodation of clubbing central to boot.
There are also many new potential opportunities. There are many niche music festivals – surely Ibiza has to be a more attractive proposition in November or March than Butlins in ‘it’s so bracing’ Skegness? And of course the many offers of sporting and cultural holidays the Government wants, and of Weddings and Yoga retreats and of everything where really the summer sun is not the pre-requisite for success. The only pre-requisite is reaching a critical mass of visitors for the island to stay open sufficiently to make it a desirable place to come, and an easy place to reach.
Take Halloween as one very good example. I’ll say with some confidence that no one does Halloween like Ibiza does Halloween. There is no reason at all we could not become an annual essential for the 25 years plus party people of Europe, over what could easily be extended to 4 or 5 days. I think Halloween alone could push what we used to call closing party weekend, and that level of occupancy, back an extra 4 weeks.
Hiking holidays, yoga retreats, cycling, arts and crafts, none of these really want the full on summer sun – it’s just too hot. I am writing this from my desk at the beginning of April. I have been working at my home desk since 11th March and I think there have only been three or four days in that period where my desk has not been flooded with natural sunlight. Our low season climate is generally perfect for these types of activities.
And then we have the weeks coming up. Despite whatever notices by businesses stating ‘we would have been opening today’, the big picture in Ibiza is that nothing usually gets going until May, and even then our first tourists will often be disappointed at the lack of open leisure venues, about the uncleaned beaches and general slow start to the season. This time of year always strikes me as particularly crazy as the climate is at its best.
First Year Ever
Ibiza 2020, specifically the Autumn of Ibiza 2020, will be the first year ever when all pieces of the tourism jigsaw puzzle will be working in unison outside of the regular period of the season, with the objective of getting something from what is destined to be a very bad year.
If we make it work this year. If we make a success of Ibiza in Autumn 2020, why wouldn’t we continue it next year?
Why wouldn’t it become an established part of what we consider our tourist season?
In the knowledge we can make Ibiza work without blazing sun and bulging superclubs, why then not March and April?
Why not then an Ibiza Christmas?
Perhaps i am getting carried away, but honestly, I don’t think so.
Flattening the Curve
Those looking in from outside may consider our desire to extend the season as one driven by greed. Ibiza is, after all, a very successful destination, why should it desire an even bigger slice of the tourist cake?
Of course every destination wants to do better, but with Ibiza it is also about flattening the curve – a concept many of us have become familiar with in recent weeks. Ibiza is a very small island and its success has also become its greatest threat. Our island infrastructure is stretched to breaking point in the summer – something that has a negative effect on our environment and our native and resident population.
Flattening out this curve to reduce the limits of the summer peak and push that volume to the less demanding months would have huge social and environmental benefits, and ultimately give our visitors a better experience.
There are of course many known and unknown hurdles to overcome.
Will the tour companies want to extend? I have no idea what Jet2 Ryanair etc do with their Ibiza/Med summer sun airplanes in winter for example – if they use them elsewhere it may be impossible to extend as they do not have the resources to do it.
Will the restrictions be lifted? Will anybody have any money? Will the clubs and hotels be prepared to budge on their pricing for winter business?
Yes, there are many hurdles, but we have two options. Either sit back and accept the whole situation as a disaster that we have no ability to affect, or we try. We at least try. And really, right now, what else have we got to do? That next Netflix box set will not pay our mortgage or our rent.
Ibiza 2020 will be awful. Of that there is no doubt. Some people and businesses will suffer and may not recover. But also it brings an opportunity. It brings the first opportunity for everybody to be on board with that long held ambition of extending our season.
If we do this right, if we all work together, we could be in the astonishing position of looking back at 2020 with the insular view as it being the year Ibiza’s tourism industry all changed for the better.
It is reaching for the stars, but we are an island of promoters and organisers. We can do this.