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TOURISM

‘Like Covid never happened’: Ibiza’s nightclubs are back with a bang

After being closed for two years, Ibiza's famous mega-clubs have reopened their doors to the usual throngs of partygoers, as authorities on the tiny Spanish island try to strike a balance between tourism and sustainability.

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People party at the Pachá Ibiza nightclub in Eivissa in June 2022. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

On a warm June night, the pandemic seems a distant memory.

A crowd dances to the pulsing beat of electronic music, hands in the air, at the Pacha nightclub near the main marina on the Mediterranean holiday island of Ibiza.

“It is like Covid never happened inside here,” said Michelle, a 31-year-old British healthcare worker at the entrance to the club, which is packed with 3,500 people.

“It has exceeded our expectations,” said Paloma Tur, the spokeswoman for Grupo Pacha which runs the hulking white nightclub that includes a rooftop terrace and garden.

“We still can’t say for certain that the numbers will be better than 2019, but everything indicates yes.”

As in many other venues, almost all of the famous nightclub’s 150 staff received help from a government furlough scheme during the pandemic when Pacha was shut.

Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for 84 percent of Ibiza’s gross domestic product, for which clubbing is a major draw. The health crisis was “a real disaster”, said Juan Miguel Costa of the island’s tourism board.

The pandemic affected all sectors but the leisure sector — which employs over 3,000 people directly and indirectly — was the last to fully open up after virus restrictions were lifted.

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Ibiza was a ‘hippie’ refuge in the 60s and 70s, but now the island is world famous as a mecca for tourists in search of its wild and glitzy nightlife. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

Mass tourism complaints

Roberto de Lope, the director general of nightclub operator Ushuaia Entertainment, said it was a “relief” to finally open their club on the island on April 30th and start selling drinks.

“But we are still affected, with a lot of loans that we must pay back,” he added.

On the southeast coast of the island, one of the group’s clubs Hi Ibiza, which can hold 5,700 people, was preparing to open at midnight.

But the party was already in full swing across the street at its other venue, Ushuaia.

As the sun set over the Mediterranean, more than 7,000 tanned partygoers danced around the swimming pools of this outdoor club, which last year was only allowed to open its doors for a few days and with a reduced capacity.

Scotland’s Calvin Harris, one of the world’s top earning DJs, was performing that night.

Tickets at the door cost 90 euros ($95), and cocktails sold for around 20 euros.

But while the mega-clubs draw deep-pocketed tourists from around the globe, many Ibiza residents argue the island does not need to rely on hard partying to draw visitors.

They point out that Ibiza and the neighbouring island of Formentera drew 1.9 million tourists in 2021, a little more than half pre-pandemic numbers, even though most nightclubs were shut.

“I think Ibiza has realised that we don’t just live off parties,” said Jaume Ribas, the spokesman of an association called “Prou”, or “enough” in Catalan, which has for years lobbied against mass tourism on the island.

READ ALSO: Mallorca restaurants ban poorly dressed diners to stop booze tourism

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Thousands of revellers party at the famous Ushuaia nightclub in Ibiza two years after it closed. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

‘Feel free’

Blessed with scores of stunning coves and beaches, Ibiza is home to just 152,000 people but its population swells to up to 450,000 during the peak summer holidays.

The influx causes traffic problems and has been blamed for a rise in crime related to the drug trade as well as a shortage of housing for locals.

“The problems have accelerated this year,” said Ribas.

The regional government of the Balearic Islands, of which Ibiza is part, said it is working to strike a balance between tourism and sustainability.

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Tourism represents around 90 percent of Ibiza’s GDP. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

“Ibiza’s tourism model is evolving,” said Costa of the island’s tourism board, citing efforts to close illegal rentals on homesharing sites like Airbnb and shut illegal raves.

“Obviously leisure is an essential product for us, we are a world-renowned brand thanks to electronic music,” Costa added.

“But it is not the case anymore that the tourism season started when the nightclubs opened and ended then they closed.”

Ibiza’s association with partying remains strong, however, especially as global tourism bounces back.

Sara Borrego, 32, came to Ibiza from Cadiz in southern Spain with a group of friends to celebrate her upcoming wedding, which was postponed due to the pandemic.

Dressed in white and wearing a crown that said “bride”, she did not stop dancing amid the crowd at Ushuaia.

“There are no more restrictions, we don’t have to wear a mask, we feel free,” she said with a huge smile.

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TRAVEL NEWS

EU delays passport scan system and €7 travel fee until 2023

Two major changes that were due to come into force in 2022 for travellers entering the EU - an enhanced passport scanning system and the introduction of a €7 visa for tourists - have been delayed for a year.

EU delays passport scan system and €7 travel fee until 2023

Although both the EES and ETIAS schemes are still due to be introduced in the European Commission has pushed back the start dates for both until 2023.

It comes amid a chaotic summer for travel in Europe, with airports struggling with staff shortages and strikes while some crossings from the UK to France have been hit by long delays as extra post-Brexit checks are performed during the peak holiday season. 

The two separate changes to travel in the EU and Schengen zone were originally due to come into effect in 2020, but were delayed because of the pandemic. Now the EES system is expected to come into effect in May 2023, while ETIAS will come into effect in November 2023. 

The EES – Entry and Exit System – is essentially enhanced passport scanning at the EU’s borders and means passports will not only be checked for ID and security, but also for entry and exit dates, in effect tightening up enforcement of the ’90 day rule’ that limits the amount of time non-EU citizens can spend in the Bloc without having a visa.

It will not affect non-EU citizens who live in an EU country with a residency permit or visa.

There have been concerns that the longer checks will make transiting the EU’s external borders slower, a particular problem at the UK port of Dover, where the infrastructure is already struggling to cope with enhanced post-Brexit checks of people travelling to France.

You can read a full explanation of EES, what it is and who is affects HERE.

The ETIAS system will apply to all non-EU visitors to an EU country – eg tourists, second-home owners, those making family visits and people doing short-term work.

It will involve visitors registering in advance for a visa and paying a €7 fee. The visa will be valid for three years and can be used for multiple trips – essentially the system is very similar to the ESTA visa required for visitors to the USA. 

Residents of an EU country who have a residency card or visa will not need one.

You can read the full details on ETIAS, how it works and who it affects HERE.

Both systems will apply only to people who do not have citizenship of an EU country – for example Brits, Americans, Australians and Canadians – and will be used only at external EU/Schengen borders, so it won’t be required when travelling between France and Germany, for example. 

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