Every year when the season comes to an end Ibiza’s authorities take stock of the situation. An interview with the Island Council’s tourist representative, Pepa Mari, and the chairman of the hotel owners’ association, Juanjo Riera
“The main problem is the lack of public transport options”
A lot of companies on Ibiza were in for a disappointment when they counted their gains at the end of October. Initial figures indicate that, on average, the tourist industry was hit by a five to ten percent loss in profits. However, they did manage to escape the summer debacle that many were fearing, which still doesn’t change the fact that there are some trying times ahead for the island in coming years. Most politicians and company representatives agree that there are some problems that still need to be solved in order for Ibiza to continue attracting visitors in future.
actualIBIZA: Where did you spend your holidays this summer?
Juanjo Riera: In my own hotels – but not as a guest. Strictly speaking I didn’t take a holiday.
Pepa Mari: I had a lot of work to focus on. I did treat myself to two weeks’ holiday with my family in northern Italy.
Some facts and figures about summer 2009
- Compared to the same time last year occupation rates in Ibiza’s hotels fell 7.5 percent to 83.2 percent (source: Hotel Owners’ Association of Ibiza and Formentera)
- The average occupation rate for Ibiza’s hotels in the period from May to August fell from 73.7 percent in 2008 to 68.6 percent this year (source: Hotel Owners’ Association of Ibiza and Formentera)
- The average occupation rate for hotels on Formentera during the period May to August fell from 73.2 percent last year to 71.9 percent this year (source: Hotel Owners’ Association of Ibiza and Formentera)
- In August, 977,000 passenger travelled through Ibiza airport, 0.7 fewer than the same time last year (source: Spanish airport authorities, AENA)
- During the period from January to August the number of air passengers fell 2.2 percent to approximately 3.4 million (source: Spanish airport authorities, AENA)
- Revenues from restaurants and bars fell an estimated 20 percent compared to the previous year (source: The Restaurant Federation of Ibiza)
actualIBIZA: Before the summer season started the sector was bracing itself for the worst. Were there any surprises in store as the season progressed?
Juanjo Riera: Although the season wasn’t a resounding success it wasn’t as bad as we were expecting. What does worry me, though, is the fact that hotel owners were forced to cut their prices by between 10 and 15 percent in order to fill their beds. The only time we could charge full price was in August. This summer there wasn’t a single day when all of our hotels were filled to capacity, and this is a first.
Pepa Mari: At the beginning of the season we were very worried, but things turned out to be better than expected. The sector reported a loss of between five and seven percent. In view of these figures I would say that, on a national scale, Ibiza had a pretty good year in spite of the crisis. Other holiday destinations made much bigger losses.
actualIBIZA: Over the past few years the tourism industry on Ibiza was booming. Is it possible that the financial crisis will see a return to normality on the island?
Juanjo Riera: A drop in the number of visitors s just one of the negative impacts that the crisis will have. The second is that holidaymakers are cutting down the time that they spend on the islands. In other words we need more tourists in order to make sure that our hotels stay full. We all know what will happen if we end up with fewer tourists opting to spend less time here.
Pepa Mari: It’s true that for many years the gap between the summer and winter seasons seems to get bigger and bigger. Over time the number of tourists coming here in summer grew steadily. Now the credit crunch is starting to narrow this gap. This isn’t the time or place to speculate whether or not this is a good thing from our perspective. However, what’s clear is that we have to develop a tourism model that doesn’t depend on major seasonal variations.
actualIBIZA: According to a Gadeso survey holidaymakers are complaining about outdated tourist facilities, a lack of measures to deal with noise and environmental pollution, and high prices that are very hard to justify. To what extent is the tourist crisis on Ibiza a homegrown problem and how much of it can be attributed to external factors?
Juanjo Riera: There’s no doubt that we can blame Ibiza for encouraging too many construction projects in the past. Development has been so rapid that the infrastructure simply couldn’t keep up. These things are our own fault. On the other hand we obviously have no influence on how the British pound is faring, which has hit UK tourists particularly hard and there’s also no way that we can stop the airlines from striking routes to Ibiza from their schedules. This summer there were fewer charter flights to the island.
Pepa Mari: We shouldn’t forget that Ibiza is a holiday destination that has been a successful feature of the tourist industry’s portfolio for decades now, so it’s only logical that some of our hotels and restaurants could do with being modernised. However, this doesn’t means that we aren’t responsible for making sure that this kind of modernisation takes place. There is definitely still a lot to be done in this regard. As for noise reduction measures, the communities and the Island Council have already taken steps to introduce tighter regulations. Consider the laws prohibiting after-hours parties, for example.
actualIBIZA: Do you believe that the current tourism crisis is just a temporary one and that the next few years will see us returning to the kind of figures we had in the past?
Juanjo Riera: Frankly I can’t see it happening. We have to invest more in modernising our hotels and updating our infrastructure by focusing on things like the harbour in Eivissa and the airport. What we need here are state investments. The same goes for public transport, which is also a pressing issue. Islands’ economies depend on offering attractive connections with the outside world. Again the state has to take responsibility and help out. It’s unacceptable that the Balearic Islands are being asked to pay taxes hand over fist and are getting practically nothing in return.
Pepa Mari: Times are changing. Our objective is not to look back to the past. Our aim is to position ourselves to succeed in the future. Quality of life is more important than sheer quantity, and this goes not only for tourists, but for the people living here too. Yet there are still some major hurdles to overcome when it comes to transport options.
actualIBIZA: Could you please be more specific…
Juanjo Riera: … What I’m saying is that flight and ferry prices need to be subsidised more. This can only be done indirectly – take a look at what Ryanair is doing, for example. Ryanair is maintaining a number of flights to specific destinations during the winter. In return the state is subsidising advertising campaigns for Ibiza in these locations. Deals like this could also be struck with travel providers.
Pepa Mari: It looks as if the 50 percent residents’ discount is preventing the airlines and ferry services from introducing more attractive prices for non-residents. So the system of subsidies needs to be revised. Both sides – the island and its visitors – need to be able to benefit from this system. If, for example, an airline is willing to fly to Manchester in the winter as well as the summer, we would return the favour by carrying out advertising campaigns in that city. It’s also in our interests to make sure that companies are making a profit on their flights. The problem, however, is that we have limited financial resources to do so.
actualIBIZA: Cambio de modelo is a phrase that politicians like to bandy about – suggesting the tourist industry on Ibiza needs to be redefined. What do you think of this idea?
Juanjo Riera: First of all someone needs to explain to me what this phrase really means. For decades Ibiza has symbolised sun, sea and sandy beaches, but our Mediterranean competitors can offer exactly the same package. What makes Ibiza special is its nightlife. I doubt whether this is going to attract even a handful of traditional tourists. We need to go one step further and cement our status as the music producers’ island of choice. Ibiza tops the charts worldwide in terms of electronic music.
Pepa Mari: The thing that’s changed over the past few years is the way people take their holidays and what their expectations are. More and more people are booking online and the number of destinations that we’re having to compete with has increased too. We need to react to these changes by emphasising what makes us special, and we have plenty of assets at hand: an unspoilt natural environment, an excellent selection of restaurants, plenty of cultural heritage, plus a welcoming and tolerant atmosphere. We also need to do more to advertise our strong position in the electronic music scene.
actualIBIZA: How can we make Ibiza more attractive to tourists in winter?
Juanjo Riera: Basically the island simply lacks life and soul in the winter months. First of all a lot of shops are closed on Saturday afternoons, which makes me ask myself whether the owners are really interested in winter tourism at all! Tourists want to be able to go to restaurants, hotels, galleries and shops. And, as I’ve said before, Ibiza needs another two golf courses.
Pepa Mari: Ibiza isn’t any less attractive in winter than it is in summer. The only thing that might be lacking to some extent are shops, restaurants and hotels that stay open off-season. On the other hand the island offers an interesting range of activities that are available even when the weather isn’t perfect. There are plenty of galleries, sports facilities, spas, yoga classes, painting courses and much more besides. We’re working to package activities like these more effectively and make them available to potential visitors. Incidentally, we’ll be hosting the “Un Hivern a Eivissa” programme again this winter.
actualIBIZA: Are you worried about the coming winter season?
Juanjo Riera: Worried no – concerned yes. The construction sector has ground to a halt, which is having an impact on many small businesses, particularly carpenters and plumbers. There simply isn’t enough work around to keep them occupied. I’m also afraid that some of the top hotels that stayed open last year are not going to thrive this winter due to a lack of business. Otherwise, all I can do is repeat what I’ve said before: our biggest handicap is the limited number and high cost of air and ferry services.
Pepa Mari: This winter is going to be a tough time for a lot of people, particularly because we’re going to see an increase in the number of people out of work. This is why we’re working even harder to introduce measures that will compensate for the knock-on effect that the financial crisis is having.
actualIBIZA: What about the tourist packages for European pensioners that the Balearic government announced were going to be launched this winter?
Juanjo Riera: So far I haven’t received any specific details about this. However, if Ibiza does get the opportunity to cater for some groups of European pensioners, they are likely to be few and far between.
Pepa Mari: I can’t give you any details at the moment. From the perspective of tourist providers who have been offering these kinds of package deals for years now, we can’t cater for retirees in the UK, Germany or Scandinavia. After all we can’t just steal these travel agencies’ customers.
actualIBIZA: In your opinion how well are politicians and companies working together? There have been disagreements in the past.
Juanjo Riera: Cooperations of this kind are now running pretty smoothly. It’s my belief that we should focus on real problems rather than political issues.
Pepa Mari: We’ve dealt with the problems that dogged us initially. After all both parties have the same objective: to market our island as well as possible.