Ibiza (Spain) (AFP)
On Ibiza’s largely empty Figueretas beach, social distancing isn’t hard to do. Here, the terraces of the bars are sparsely populated and the shutters of the apartments which overhang them are mostly closed.
As Spanish health officials struggle to contain the rise in coronavirus infections, this island fears its tourist season has suffered a final blow after Britain’s decision to quarantine all arrivals from Spain.
But both tourists who are here and locals are enjoying an unprecedented period of calm in Ibiza – one of the Balearic Islands – which is normally overrun with clubbers and DJs from all over the world.
“The impact has been terrible. The pandemic has hit the local economy for one simple reason: 90 percent of the island’s GDP comes from tourism, ”said Vicent Torres, head of the island’s board of directors.
In mid-June, the Balearics had high hopes of making the most of the summer when the archipelago welcomed the first foreign tourists admitted to Spain after the lockdown under a pilot project with Germany.
And in July, the recovery was well underway, “better than expected,” said Iago Negueruela, tourism manager for the Balearic Islands regional government.
But Britain’s announcement on July 25 that it would impose quarantine on anyone arriving from Spain, given the increase in cases, threatened to wipe out the recovery.
And the irony is that the Balearic Islands have seen very few cases of infection.
– Burst of cancellations –
The effect was immediate.
“From day one, customers were calling to cancel their reservations,” said Lucas Prats, manager of a four-star hotel in central Ibiza Town.
“For those who have to work (when they return to the UK) this is a problem,” he admitted.
“It was a big blow,” Torres admitted, noting that British tourism accounts for around 30 percent of visitors to the island.
“It’s going to be very difficult to come back as the British tourists were just starting to arrive and we were confident it would jumpstart the season. But this decision shattered all our expectations. ”
Famous for its clubbing culture and nightlife, Ibiza is also facing the closure of its iconic dance clubs, some of the most popular in the world, but closed to slow the spread of the virus.
The Spanish government, which denounced the British decision as unfair, fought for an exemption for travelers returning from the Balearic Islands or the Canary Islands. But London refused.
If such an exemption “is not agreed quickly, some businesses and hotels will close their doors and it will be very difficult for them to reopen,” Torres said.
Louis Morgan, 23, who has been coming from Wales for a few weeks now, believes a quarantine requirement for those coming from the Balearic Islands “seems unreasonable”.
And his girlfriend Milly Davies, 22, agreed.
“The infection rate is much lower here,” she says.
– Enjoy the peace –
Although the towns and beaches of the island are normally crowded, neither tourists nor locals are unhappy with the atmosphere of unprecedented calm.
“It’s pretty cool, actually. We were walking in the streets and it was quieter, ”Davies said, after an evening stroll through Ibiza Town.
“There are fewer tourists, fewer parties, maybe more families… you can feel the difference in traffic when you go to the beach with the children, it’s quite noticeable,” said Swiss national Santi Soto, 47 years old, who visits regularly with her husband and two boys.
For taxi driver Angel Torres, the crisis has given islanders a rare moment of peace.
“You can hear people say ‘I wish it would stay like this forever’ because there is no overcrowding on the beaches, or in restaurants, or on the roads,” said the 47-year-old. , sitting in his taxi.
“So you can enjoy the island a lot more than in other years, even if it’s an economic blow. ”
Juan Jose Roig, who lives in the highest part of town, said he was happy to be able to hear the cicadas around his house.
“We have the island to ourselves and we are enjoying it as we did 30 years ago,” the 53-year-old electrician told AFP.
“There has to be a halfway point where people can eat well and work well, while still having space.
“We will have to rethink the tourism model a little, it is essential”.
© 2020 AFP