Has Ushuaia Saved Ibiza?
At a recent tourism congress in Malaga, Abel Matutes, CEO of the Palladium Group of Hotels, raised a few eyebrows by stating Ushuaia “saved an island that was dead”. The son of ex PP Minister of Foreign Affairs and Don of Ibiza, Abel Matutes snr, has picked up some of his fathers skill of using tongue in cheek statements for contentious issues. However that’s about as far as the apple falls from the tree, as Abel Matutes Prats Jnr, is a horse of a different colour compared to his father. Married to American, Linda Scaperotto, he has four children, the eldest named Abel, a family heirloom handed down through generations of the Matutes family. He was born in Barcelona in 1977, has a love of F1 Racing, Football and politics, and has more than trebled the turnover of the company that his family built up from the stoney ground of Ibiza, considered the Craggy Island of Spain back in the 60’s and 70’s. Last year the Palladium Hotel Group turned over €600 million alongside the Matutes Groups other business interests in Air Europa, Baleària Ferries, Banking, Blue chip company shares and the families love of Ibiza real estate.
In 2011, Abel Jnr, in a move that would define his career, convinced a reluctant Matutes Group board, to invest over €200 million into the luxury entertainment market and the Ushuaia brand was born. It was a ballsy move by a young man who had graduated from the University Of Madrid with a Bachelor degree in Economics. Europe was in recession and Abel felt the only market that offered the best opportunity to make money in, was the luxury one. At the same time his father Abel snr, was telling his old network of friends and business associates, that his son was in danger of losing the family fortune by gambling so much into a sector the company had little experience in. An important factor to the success of the Ushuaia brand, was Abel’s offer of a partnership role to the owner of the Ushuaia name, Yann Pissenem, at the end of the 2010 summer season. The Frenchman, who had originally opened the Ushuaia Beach Club, playing trendy underground techno to the DC10 crowd with appearances from DJ’s such as Marco Carola and Richie Hawtin. It was an instant success and Abel Jnr was impressed by the Frenchmans business acumen and style, honed on the streets of Barcelona.
Hence, in true Ibiza fashion, a soon to be dominant Spanish-French alliance, was born out of respect and necessity. Abel needed Yann’s creative talent and DJ connections to build his new music empire and Yann required protection from the fines and licencing laws that were starting to restrict the expansion of his successful bar on Bossa beach, that had already seen a flash crowd of thousands descend on it for an infamous after party at Space. It also presented the Frenchman with a blank canvas to nurture and grow his Ushuaia baby within the spirit of Ibiza’s open air parties, the special Balearic vibe that first attracted Pissenem to invest in Ibiza. His vision to “dance under the moon” found a wealthy and willing partner in Abel, just two years his junior and coming from the same liberal generation influenced by the nineties dance music culture, which was just about to go mainstream with the likes of The Prodigy, The Shamen and SL2 appearing on the UK charts, after years hiding in the rave and acid house woods of Thatcher’s conservative Britain.
The new Ushuaia partnership hit the ground running in 2011 thanks to the launch of Ants, the most successful daytime party ever witnessed on the island and closely related to the original concept of Ushuaia. It added substance and most importantly island approval, for its music direction and quality, but it was not the cash cow that was going to bring the turnover Abel needed to grow the luxury end of the Hotel business. That came from the booking of the big room DJ’s like Avicii, David Guetta, SHM and Hardwell, which appealed to the Las Vegas crowd with plenty of spending power and a penchant for bottle service and partying. The refurbished rooms, some with a 10K a night price tag, were always booked out, as Saudi Princes and wealthy playboys spent small fortunes on bottles of Champagne and Vodka safe in the knowledge that their partying was at all times kept private and away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi. A year later, the Ushuaia Tower was refurbished due to demand for the adult friendly rooms contained in the Ushuaia Beach Hotel complex and the Palladium Groups revenue started to grow alongside its respect for the new, fresh “Prince Of Ibiza”.
The old don Abel Matutes snr, whose experience in the music industry was limited to the Hokey Pokey and other holiday tunes around the pools of his family friendly Fiesta Hotels, quickly recognised the potential the luxury product his son had championed, offered him. His gaze soon turned across the road to Space, where Pepe Rosello had transformed a small conference center Matutes owned, into an iconic, award winning club, built on the spirit of old Ibiza. Least people forget, there was never any club music in Playa den Bossa until Pepe Rosello and Space introduced it in 1986, as Bossa was predominantly a family resort and Space an afters venue for Amnesia, Pacha and Privilege. However by 2014, Space was drifting in direction and a number of parties there were beginning to feel old and tired. The club lost the services of its star player Richie Hawtin when Enter departed after a residency contract could not be agreed. It’s legendary party, We Love, was falling apart at the seams due to infighting between the promoters and the club management and Matutes felt the time was right for a new direction there. Without going into much detail, Matutes gained control of the venue, knocked it and built a brand new club in its place, Hi, the resulting offspring of the French Spanish Ushuaia relationship. Yann’s Parisian, theatre educated brother, Romain, was drafted in to help construct a state of the art digital theatre inside a club. (see below video)
So fast forward to 2018 and the Matutes Group, who had no interests in the clubbing industry seven years previously, except for a silent minority holding in Privilege, was now a major player in the industry. The old spirit of Ibiza was always about creativity, mixing things up in a hybrid style that was uniquely Balearic. The French-Spanish alliance was an old one in Ibiza, forged back in the 60’s when Les Bleus influenced the island so much with their style, leaving us their popular cars the Mehari and the CV2, imprinted on the islands culture. Importantly, it was now a Spanish owned company, not an English or German one, that was setting the trends in Ibiza clubland, a fact not lost on its patriotic owner Abel jnr, a loyal and traditional Partido Popular supporter, who in the latter days of Mariano Rajoy’s rule, became an outspoken critic of Rajoy’s botched handling of the Catalan question and how it would impact on the overall health of the party. Unlike his father and sister who ran for office and were elected under the PP banner, Abel has not yet declared his intention to run, but many within the party would see him as an ideal candidate for a new generation of PP rebuilding.
So has Ushuaia saved an Ibiza that was dead? It surely has been a successful business venture and an impressive one in such a short space of time. Nothing comes from nothing and one would have to applaud the initiative and drive of both men to make it happen. Adapt or you die, in today’s fast moving digital society and from a business perspective, Yes, Ushuaia has lent the island a certain status and has helped keep the all important brand Ibiza relevant today, but so has DC10, Pacha and Amnesia. But to say Ibiza was dead in general is going a bit too far, yes in certain aspects it was struggling, but it was far from dead musically, with respected industry magazine Resident Advisor stating that Ibiza 2009 was “the year that La Isla Blanca fought back” and where “a whole new breed of outdoor day parties started in the beach bars of Playa D’en Bossa” -- ironically, Ushuaia being one of them. There has long been a tradition on the island to make as much money as possible while the tourist is present, and the Matutes Group have upped it to a whole new level with the luxury product concept in Playa den Bossa, which now includes the Hard Rock Hotel and Tatel restaurant jointly owned by Matutes, Cristiano Ronaldo, Enrique Iglesias and Rafa Nadal. In conclusion, one could surmise, that in terms of Spanish cultural identity, Ushuaia has saved Ibiza, and that can be seen on the ground, with 11,000 people employed by the Matutes group, helping the Hummingbird hover above the Pacha Cherries, as the islands homegrown style mascot.