Monday, October 19, 2009

Ibiza: A Small Island Cultural Battleground

Culture is a key motivator in many tourism journeys. The desire to be an audience to a particular cultural entertainment offering can persuade potential visitors to become actual visitors to a destination, be that if the cultural offering is a long established visitor attraction with well-documented ancient origins, or whether the cultural offering is much more contemporary such as a modern day music festival or superclub. Ibiza is one such destination where a varied cultural entertainment offering attracts a wide range of visitors (from mainly Spain, Italy and Northern Europe), who wish to combine culture with the hot and sunny weather that Ibiza experiences during the Summer months. Ibiza is one of the three 'main' islands (those with international airports) in the Spanish Balearic archipelago, and has a smaller ‘sister’ island called Formentera.

Both Ibiza and Formentera are known as the ‘Pine Islands’ due to their native pine forests, and Ibiza (like all other islands in the Balearics) has a rich cultural history, having been conquered and ‘owned’ by ancient empires, and scarred by wars as the next civilization of conquerors moved in. Historically these have included Phoenicians, Romans, Carthaginians, Moors and Catalans, and Ibiza has been left with several remnants from these empires, most notably D’ Alt Villa a part of Ibiza town’s ‘old town’, an ancient high-walled settlement placed strategically at the top of a hill. The ruins of D' Alt Villa's medieval walls were originally built by the Carthaginians in the 5th century BC, and were later extended by the Moors. They are a highly visible and impressive site on the headland upon which they sit, and attract thousands of visitors each year who wish to explore and engage with this culturally rich and unique setting, this along with several archaeological sites on the island are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Above: D'Alt Villa nestled on the headland above Ibiza Town

Ibiza’s more contemporary culture is around the nightclub industry and the hedonistic behaviour participated in by many clubbers including casual sex, alcohol consumption, and illegal drug use. Ibiza has had a bit of a ‘hippy’ reputation since the early 1970s, it along with it’s sister island of Formentera have several nudist beaches, and the spirit of ‘freedom’ is something that in recent years has shaped the perception of Ibiza to holidaymakers as a more hedonistic retreat than the Balearic islands of Menorca and Mallorca, which also have distinct identities of their own. Menorca has always been considered to be a peaceful and relaxing destination, whilst Mallorca has everything from the drunken rowdiness of Magaluf, to the traditional Soller Railway, and exclusive luxury villas around the North of the island. During the early 1980s Mallorca gained a bloody reputation as a holiday destination as gangs of mostly British males rampaged on the streets of Magaluf, resulting in at least one death, and the introduction of the paramilitary style tourist police. Despite its inclusion in the Club 18-30 brochures, Ibiza managed to escape much of this wave of British lager fuelled carnage, and at the time was a cosmopolitan destination where British tourists lagged in numbers behind German and Scandinavian ones.

The venue that is now Amnesia was in the 1970s a hangout for hippies, and those who lead ‘alternative’ and ‘new age’ lifestyles (as later was Café Del Mar, which was founded in 1980). The musical repertoire in the early 80s included hip hop, 80s electro, soul, reggae, disco, punk, europop, indie, and industrial genres. Resident Amensia DJ Alfredo Fiorito, and Café Del Mar DJ Carlos often mixed tracks together to fuse musical genres into new hybrids. The development of house music in the mid 1980s had a profound impact, as this was adopted in a number of Ibizan clubs as the main music style, although it was still often fused with other kinds of music to create a distinctive and contemporary sound that became unique to Ibiza. Bands like ‘The Woodentops’, ‘Fini Tribe’, and ‘Front 242’ would be played alongside and mixed with Chicago house, to an audience of musical hedonists, who were keen to engage with such original experimentation.

According to Norris (2007) it was the likes of Trevor Fung and Nicky Holloway who saw the potential for Ibiza to become a clubbing holiday destination and actively promoted the island within their networks to bring groups of clubbers from the UK to the island. It wasn’t until 1983 that Ibiza gained widespread notoriety in the British media. ‘Wham’ filmed their ‘Club Tropicana’ video on the island, and in 1985 Ibiza made the front page of ‘hip’ culture magazine ‘The Face’ as ‘the place to be’. Round about this time the drug Ecstasy (or E) also began to appear in Ibiza and was immediately adopted by clubbers for the euphoric ‘colourful and shiny’ effect that it had upon their altered state of consciousness. In 1986 Paul Oakenfold visited the island, and in 1987 he returned with Danny Rampling. The clubs, the music, the E took hold, particularly in Sant Antoni de Portmany (San Antonio), and the house scene became faster paced, blending with indie-dance, techno and trance mixes until eventually the rave scene emerged as the islands musical champion of the late 80s and early 90s. Ibiza’s modern day clubbing identity was born, and legendary Superclub venues including Privilege (the world’s largest club), Space, Eden, DC10 and Pacha thrived. San Antonio, Ibiza town and the nearby Playa D’en Bossa became the destinations of choice for pleasure-seeking club tourists. Today the Ibiza sound is much more stylish and often chilled out with trance and techno remaining popular house music derivatives within the island’s clubs.

The importance of Ibiza’s climate in attracting visitors should not be underestimated, from October until around Easter time, tourism to the island plummets as unsettled, and often stormy grey skies replace the Summer’s clear blue skies and Mediterranean sunshine. In January, average temperatures drop as low as 8 degrees Celsius and in August, they rise as high as 30 degrees Celsius. Without the more or less guarantee of good weather, culture alone does not bring large enough numbers of visitors to the island to sustain many of the islands goods and services, so seasonality is the norm. One of the most primitive entertainment pastimes – sunbathing is also the most popular amongst the island’s visitors (yes sunbathing IS entertaining, as the sun’s rays stimulate the skin’s senses leading to an emotional response such as feeling ‘relaxed’ – as well as of course a physical outcome in terms of a suntan). Most of Ibiza’s large clubs close on the first weekend in October, and do not re-open again until June, and many of the islands bars, pubs, hotels, and restaurants follow suit.

In the European Union cultural tourism’s contribution to ‘GDP is estimated to be around 11% and it provides employment to more than 12% of the labour force (24 million jobs)’ (New Europe, 2008). All inbound tourism brings Ibiza (and any other tourist destinations) wealth. Whether or not tourists visiting Ibiza for traditional cultural tourism bring a higher spend per capita to the island than those seeking more contemporary club culture tourism is debatable. Many traditional culture seekers spend money on car hire, food in good restaurants, and on entry and souvenirs at the attractions, which they are visiting. At the same time clubbers spend Euros to gain entry into the top night-spots (a 60 Euro entry charge is not uncommon), as well as on the drinks inside (a beer can cost 10 Euros). There is a positive financial knock-on from all in-bound tourism – whatever the motivation behind it in terms of goods and services purchased on the island, with everything from supermarket to hotel expenditure benefiting the local economy. However, what club tourism also brings to Ibiza in greater numbers than traditional cultural tourism does, is drunkenness, anti social behaviour, crime, illegal drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, and a higher cost per tourist capita in terms of law enforcement, street cleaning, damage repairs, and healthcare, than what the more traditional cultural tourist brings with them. Clubs and bars on Ibiza (many of which are foreign owned) employ a higher proportion of ‘foreign’ (non-Ibizan) workers than what more traditional cultural attractions do. For clubs and bars such jobs are either on premises e.g. bar staff, or out and about e.g. ‘PRs’ (the annoying people with flyers), so the direct financial benefit to Ibizan residents of club tourism is lessened by this (although if foreign workers are living on Ibiza, they have to spend money to live, which does of course benefit the island’s economy).

In recent years the Ibizan authorities have begun to clamp down upon the nightclub industry on the island, and have now brought in a 6am closure rule for clubs. NME (2009) reported that ‘Spain's tourist board has decided that, after a decade of the debauched UK clubbing featured in TV documentaries like 'Ibiza Uncovered', the island must clean up its image. They want the island to appeal to families and a smarter, international clubbing set’. In the same article Privilege manager Juan Medero is quoted as saying that they want to attract more German and Italian tourists, and that British clubbers do still behave like hooligans. Juan Medero’s comments are echoed by many Ibizan residents. On a recent visit to the island I asked a taxi driver from the airport about the now ended 2009 season. His comments were that business had been good – particularly from British clubbers, but that their rowdy behaviour at all times of day often lead him to turn down fares. This kind of reputation can only do harm to Ibiza as a destination, so it is little surprise that the authorities want to do something about it. The demographic of the average ‘rowdy drunk’ on the island is in the 18-25 age group, and many of these tourists are there for the club scene. There are many positives that the club scene has brought to the island, not least economically but also aesthetically, many hotels and apartments have redecorated, rebranded and refurbished along a ‘cool’ clubbing image to attract an increasingly stylish clubbing clientele (as in the photo below).


Above: You could be forgiven for thinking these images are from a club, they are actually from the very stylish Hotel Club Garbi in Playa D'en Bossa

In Britain, it seems that a large proportion of youngsters have grown into young adults believing that Ibiza is ‘the ONLY place to be’ and that if they haven’t secured the bragging rights about going on holiday to Ibiza that they have missed out on something. This is a sad indictment upon British society and the youth who grow up believing that they need to conform to a ‘trendy’ scene otherwise they will lose out, or be seen to be different and ostracised by ‘the beautiful people’ who they often look up to. This might partially be due to the bombardment of ‘IIbiza’ promotion, and the trendy branding of ‘IIbiza’ in the British media. Firstly let’s tackle the ‘IIbiza’ issue, this is an incorrect pronunciation of the island’s name that is both ridiculous, and bemusing to the average Ibizan (Ibiza is actually called Eivissa in it’s pure Catalan form). Ibiza is the popularised Spanish name of the island, and it should be pronounced with a ‘soft’ European ‘I’ as is the case with the words ‘igloo’ and ‘ink’ in phonetic terms this looks like ‘iˈβiθa’ and sounds like what Pedro Vidal indicates upon this page. Brand ‘IIbiza’ pronounced using a ‘hard’ American ‘I’ as in ‘idle’ and ‘ice’, which looks phonetically like ‘ɪˈbiːzə’ was coined in the early 2000s, and very sadly picked up by the British media, which has lead to equally sad Radio One DJs (and affected others) ‘educating’ Britain’s youth to call the island by the wrong name. I was disappointed that even the Captain and flight crew on board the Jet2 flight that I took to Ibiza also referred to the island as ‘IIbiza’ during their announcements. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a directive ‘from the top’ to try and promote their destination as being something that in reality it wasn’t and isn’t, considering that this was mid-October and that the majority of those on the flight were at least middle-aged and definitely NOT clubbers.

How would the British like it if visitors to England constantly referred to it as ‘EEngland’, and how would Americans like it if America was referred to as ‘AYmerica’? Whilst it may seem like a trivial thing to some, this mispronunciation is a metaphor for the culture gap that exists between a significant number of (particularly British) clubbers and Ibizans, as well as other visitors to the island, and the brand ‘IIbiza’ is something that the island’s authorities are not surprisingly keen to lose, although undoubtedly its associated revenue streams WOULD be missed.

The questions for Ibizan authorities is whether a reduction in rowdy British clubbers will definitely lead to an increase in better behaved (and possibly lower spending) clubbers from other countries, as well as an increase in more traditional cultural tourists, and whether the combined income from both of these groups would still balance the books of the islands economy. This is a difficult time for Ibiza in terms of cultural identity and in which direction the authorities and the island’s marketers should go for the 2010 season, but potentially for Ibiza, in the words of ‘Rusty’ everything is gonna change.


References

New Europe. (2008) Employment up 11% thanks to cultural tourism. [Internet] Diegem, The Media Company. URL available at:

New Musical Express. (2009) Is this the end of Ibiza as we know it?. [Internet] London, New Musical Express. URL available from:

Norris, R. (2007) Paul Oakenfold the authorised biography of the world’s most successful DJ. London, Corgi Books.






3 comments:

Ibiza Island said...

Thanks for sharing such a nice post. I am surely going to visit soon as it is one of the beautiful place on earth. Ibiza is the third biggest of the Balearic Islands.There are beautiful sandy beaches in Ibiza.Dont miss the beautiful hotels, spa, traditional tapas bars when visiting ibiza.

Anonymous said...

The BEST paper that I read this year???

Miriam said...

Ibiza is such a great place, if you can you have to search for Ibiza house renting and stay there during summers!

Regards,
M