At one of the busiest junctions in Ibiza town and in the shadow of Dalt Vila, stands a monument know as The Man Of The Sea. Its a stone sculpture of a sailor, erected in the memory of the seafarers that made Ibiza great. The Ibicencos that now captain Ibiza, are the sons or daughters of those weather beaten sailors that once eked out an existence from the sea and land, lending the island its simple identity. They now must decide the future of their beautiful island, as we approach a critical juncture in its history, with the point of no return looming large on the horizon.
Ibiza has never been more popular. Last summer the island reached a saturation point of 122%, meaning there were more tourists on the island than rooms available to accommodate them. The report conducted by the Societat d’Història Natural de les Balears also highlighted the growing impact the tourism industry is having on the local population. In the two decades I have been visiting Ibiza, it is in the last three years that I have noticed a distinct change in its direction. I was hoping that it was just a phase but its not, Ibiza is now attracting high end investors to cater to a more upmarket business model and its beginning to spread like an infectious virus.
Local families are being evicted from their homes as they cannot afford the ever increasing rents. Its very difficult to find decent workers accommodation as 82% of wages goes towards rent. The pressure the millions of tourist toilet flushes, showers and water consumption puts on dwindling water reserves continues to mount. There are more old cars on the road polluting the once pristine air quality. Everybody it seems is in a rush and connected to the matrix, the complete opposite of what Ibiza used to be about. Imported predators are eating the local fauna and trees are becoming diseased. Beaches are being polluted with noise, cigarette buts, plastic and sludge from Hotels, while vested interests are demanding more buildings and tourists out of season.
Its a mess, that seems to have no coherent plan or direction, as the politicians squabble and grandstand, more concerned with holding power and point scoring than protecting the islands best interests. But this is now commonplace across Europe, and serving in politics for the right reasons, is becoming a thankless job and nigh impossible to evoke real change. With Brexit and the violent way the Catalan question was handled, people are having second thoughts about the Euro project. Ibiza needs to retain its stoic resilience and ability to decide its own future and determine what type of tourism model it wants for its grandchildren to inherit. I am convinced that business and environmental sustainability can work and live well together if the right balance can be found. Balance and sustainability should be the keywords to the forefront of everything that is happening in Ibiza right now, but sadly it is being overlooked.
The pendulum has swung in the favour of high end corporate commercialism. Local families are selling their businesses, preferring not to adapt to the fast paced and demanding digital world. Up until the turn of second millennium, the clubs co-existed with the island as it was not so much about the money, it was more about the music and the party. Only 10% of the islands revenue was clubbing related, the rest was traditional family tourism, visiting for its beautiful beaches, scenery, local culture and food. Family hotels are now disappearing at an alarming rate, in preference for adult only rooms and putting all your eggs in the Adult Only basket, could prove to be a costly exercise if there was to be a change in trends.
I am a believer in the premise that you cant halt progress and all life is cyclical. Those who know and love the island can see what is happening right now, its a clear and present danger. It is this generation that will have to make the difficult decisions that will shape the islands future. The easy decision is to take the money and let corporate commercialism take over unchecked, while the hard decision will be to stop, take stock and go down the path of a sustainable tourism model. Even in my clubbing days, I could feel the islands unique sense of freedom, its natural scenery and marine landscapes, that sense of magic that prevails in the air. This has always been Ibiza’s most valuable asset and it is incumbent on this generation to ensure that we protect it, as its voice is soft and sometimes unheard. We can have both, but not one at the expense of the other.
Ibiza is regarded as the premier destination in the World for electronic dance music, to have it acknowledged as a trend setter in sustainable tourism, would in my opinion help solve some of the problems we are now witnessing. Peoples attitudes and behaviours need to change as they will have to prioritise what is important to them. Stop complaining and work towards changing or influencing one person next to you. To loose a special and unique environment that many call a paradise, or just simply destroy it for financial gain, would be a devastating tragedy.
The Ibicencos have always been grateful to the land and the sea, as it has sustained many generations down through the centuries. Simplicity is beautiful and Ibiza has all the raw materials to enhance it like no other holiday destination in Europe. It also has a vibrant night life and party scene that feeds off an opposite energy. The high end market is a fickle and demanding mistress, it requires high maintenance, something Ibiza is not so good at. Protect and enhance natural assets, invest in a sustainable tourism model and concentrate a liberal nightlife policy in predefined areas and the island will right itself in my opinion.
Ibiza is about individuality not corporation. Its people and the ones who call it their home, are another important element of its multicultural personality. Its like a perfect storm is about to hit the island, a convergence of elements that could shipwreck its future. Its now up to the descendants of the sailors who helped shape its identity, to chart a course that will hopefully protect its natural beauty for generations to come.