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‘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 Pach√° 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

Cabin crew staff to extend Spain strike by 12 days

A cabin crew strike at EasyJet and Ryanair saw 15 flights to and from Spain cancelled and 175 others delayed Saturday, as staff at the Irish airline announced 12 more days of stoppages.

Cabin crew staff to extend Spain strike by 12 days

The strike at the two low-cost airlines over pay and working conditions began as European schools started breaking up for the summer, creating headaches for both holidaymakers and the aviation sector.

By 1:00 pm (1100 GMT) on Saturday, 10 Ryanair and five EasyJet flights had been cancelled and 175 flights delayed, of which 123 Ryanair and 52 EasyJet, unions said in a statement.

The series of rolling strikes by Ryanair cabin crew in Spain — where there are some 1,900 employees –began on June 24, with EasyJet staff joining on Friday.

READ ALSO: Ryanair strike in Spain: 54 flights cancelled and 300 delayed on Thursday

Ryanair’s USO union rep said the new stoppages would take place in three four-day stretches: July 12 to 15, July 18 to 21, and July 25 to 28 at the 10 Spanish airports where Ryanair operates.

“After six days of strike and in view of the unwillingness of the company to listen to its staff and its preference for leaving thousands of passengers grounded rather than sitting down to negotiate an agreement under Spanish law, we have been forced to call new strike days,” said USO’s Lidia Arasanz.

She said the initial strike, which consisted of two three-day stretches, had seen “more than 200 flights cancelled and almost 1,000 delays”, with the upcoming stoppages likely to create similar levels of disruption.

EasyJet crew have pledged to strike during the first three weekends of July to demand parity in working conditions in line with other European airlines.

The strikes are a headache for the aviation sector, which has struggled to recruit people after massive layoffs during the Covid pandemic.

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