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What’s it like travelling in Europe at the moment? Thoughts from my Ibiza trip.

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Last week I flew to Ibiza from London City Airport to take a look at how air travel is adapting to the ‘new normal’ (whatever that is).

I thought it was worth sharing some feedback about how tourism has adapted on the ground.  This clearly varies from country to country in Europe, although I imagine there will be broad similarities wherever you go.

During my stay in Ibiza I was told that the airport was operating at around 30% of its usual summer capacity:

Ibiza airport departues

This is a lot higher than what London City Airport is currently flying, but it still marks a huge capacity reduction from previous years, and should give you an idea of how little travel there currently is.  If Ibiza isn’t busy in July …..

Do you have to wear a face mask?

Masks are by and large the most significant change you will experience when travelling.

The parliament of the Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera) made wearing a mask compulsory in public just before our trip. This means that you are supposed to wear a mask whenever you are outside of your hotel except when at a beach, a pool or whilst eating.

Ibiza restaurant

In practise, however, it is not quite as strict.  On a walking tour of the old town it was effectively unnecessary to wear a mask, as there was practically no-one around:

Ibiza old town

The rule wasn’t strictly enforced at our hotel either, although staff were required to wear a mask at all times.  There was nobody to check that you are wearing yours when you move from the pool area to the lobby, for example, or anywhere else in the hotel.

On the whole, the mask requirement appears to be based on a common sense approach, which allows for a little flexibility when out and about.

Hotels are surprisingly normal

We stayed in an unbranded hotel at one end of Ibiza’s famous Playa d’en Bossa beach called Torre del Mar, which had recently re-opened after an extensive renovation.

Ibiza Torre del Mar

Occupancy was still fairly low, running at between 30% and 50%. However, it was surprising how normal it all felt.  Bar the plexiglass screens shielding the hotel reception:

Ibiza Torre del Mar checkin

……. as well as some distance markers on the floor:

Ibiza Torre del Mar reception

….. it all felt remarkably normal. The indoor spa with pool and a number of sauna and steam rooms were open:

Ibiza Torre del Mar spa

…. as was the pool and poolside restaurant:

Ibiza Torre del Mar pool

In my room there were even fewer things out of place. In fact, there wasn’t a single thing that had changed as far as I could tell, except perhaps that the hotel information was loaded onto an app rather than on paper or professionally printed.  It wasn’t clear if this was the hotel embracing a digital-first strategy or whether this was because of Covid-19, however.

Ibiza Torre del Mar room

In the hotel restaurant, single use paper menus were available although most people chose to scan the QR code and load the menu on their phone. Again, this wasn’t particularly disruptive.

Another minor change happened at checkout, where you would drop your keycards into a little box rather than handing them to hotel staff. I assume these keycards are then systematically cleaned, which isn’t much different from the ‘express checkout’ service you find at many hotels.

Ibiza Torre del Mar checkout

Out and about in Ibiza

In Ibiza, the biggest change is the lack of crowds. Whilst Ibiza isn’t a destination I would normally be attracted to – I’m not really someone who enjoys megaclubs with 10,000 other people – I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful and welcoming the island is.

That said, whilst restaurants, shops and hotels are starting to re-open, many are still closed. Walk down the main strip and you’ll find long stretches with shuttered shops. Near the harbour, many restaurants are partially boarded up or still preparing to re-open. A lot of restaurants and bars will squirt some hand gel as you enter.

Nonetheless, unless you want to go clubbing, there is still a lot you can do.  Bars are permitted to open until 2am. You can still taste some of the spectacular local dishes and enjoy beaches and the Mediterranean. The vibe in Ibiza is the complete opposite of what I imagine it normally is: very relaxed.  It really does feel like you have the whole place to yourself.

Whilst this is the death knell for many Ibizan businesses which survive on the huge number of tourists who arrive, it makes it very pleasant for those who are there right now. On one evening we had dinner at Pikes, the legendary Ibizan hotel / restaurant / bar / club. Whilst normally it would be absolutely packed, you can see how empty it is now:

Ibiza Pikes Pamela

and

Ibiza Pikes Pamela

…. although again, empty isn’t bad, just different.  It certainly lends itself to more of a VIP feel.

The food at Pikes is fantastic, by the way, from Gordon Ramsay-trained head chef Lee Milne. The service, however, was out of this world – possibly the best service I have ever had: extremely casual but very, very good. I cannot it recommend highly enough.

Conclusion

I was pleasantly surprised to find how little of the tourist experience has changed. It certainly felt like a privilege to experience the island during its quietest season in decades.

Precautions are in place but these are, on the whole, fairly unobtrusive. After four months of being grounded I certainly appreciated the whole experience a lot more – it has reminded me that travel is a distinct pleasure that many of us have the privilege of being able to afford.

HfP travelled to Ibiza as the guest of London City Airport, BA CityFlyer and the Ibiza Tourism Board.

Comments (98)

  • John says:

    Interesting. Well, the Ibiza Tourism Board’s efforts have inspired me to go, but only if it remains quiet for the rest of the year….

    • Mike says:

      ditto after reading Rhys article I am already googling flights / hotels – I had honestly thought everything was closed

  • Celia says:

    For those of us who have been visiting Ibiza for many years, if you find an agroturismo away from the club scene, it is always peaceful. We never mix with the crowds and always find beauty and tranquility. You just have to look a little further than the surface reputation. Enjoy.

    • Rhys says:

      Yes I was told this, too.

    • ChrisW says:

      Rhys are the prices the same in Ibiza this year? I imagine hotels are cheaper because there’s so many spare rooms but I went last summer and Ibiza was eye wateringly expensive. A small bottle of water at Pikes was about £12 from memory and a single basic spirit much more than that.

      • Rhys says:

        I honestly wouldn’t know – this was the first time I’ve been.

        • ChrisW says:

          Did you find food, drinks and transport to be very expensive?

          • Rhys says:

            It certainly wasn’t as cheap as you might find in other parts of Spain, but part of the problem was that some starters were more like sharing starters, and not individual portions…

    • Colin says:

      The problems will start if/when the usual crowds return. We’ve already seen the behaviour of yobbish tourists in Magaluf resulting in some businesses having to close. Hopefully there’ll be a shift towards a better class of visitor/people from other parts of Spain.

  • Vicky says:

    Having just returned from a week on Majorca I concur with the article. We rented a private villa with a pool in the middle of the countryside which for us was our preferred option as no people and no masks required.

    Staff we spoke to at various restaurants said things are picking up slowly but it’s going to be a tough winter for them.

    • Yuff says:

      It hasn’t stopped car rental companies increasing their prices more than 10 fold.
      Usually pay £3-5 a day in Mallorca to rent a car, it’s currently 40-50 a day although I would never normally go in August.
      Looks like I’ll have to take a taxi………just as well I cancelled my plat Amex as I don’t have car insurance atm

      • Lottie says:

        +1 car hire prices are going through the roof, at least double what we normally pay in Italy. We got our flights moved for free but Avis wanted £150 extra to add another day. The holidays team said it was happening all over Europe.

    • ChrisW says:

      Most seasonal beach destinations struggle to attract tourists in winter!

      • Yuff says:

        I suspect current occupancy isn dissimilar to March this year, probably less……..

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Exactly. They rely on a great summer to see them through winter season.

  • JP-MCO says:

    I am so pleased to hear that you and Rob enjoyed a nice mini-break in Ibiza! 😂

    • Freddy says:

      Rob and Rhys – the 2020 version of Kevin and Perry hitting Ibiza !

      • Rhys says:

        Rob didn’t go!

      • old bob says:

        Ibiza looks good its a few years since my last foreign sojourn, i’ll have a word with Geoff, it will make a change from the pub. We can share in a Morecombe and Wise fashion if you see what I mean.

      • ankomonkey says:

        🙂

  • Ja says:

    I have just come back from Venice. It was fantastic. Fairly empty and a great time to visit. Masks have to be worn on the boats etc and when you go into places like the Doges palace they take your temperature. The problem came flying back into T5. I was queuing to get into the border control area. No electronic gates were open. They were checking to see if everyone had done their online contact forms. After about 40 mins in the queue they suddenly opened up the gates and I was out 5 mins later. If they hadn’t opened them up it would have taken over an hour.

    • Harry T says:

      Glad you had a good time in Venice, it sounds lovely right now. I was hoping to visit for the first time this summer, when it’s quiet, but Jet2 cancelled my flights!

    • Rhys says:

      Yes, UK Border Force a farce as usual. They have three months to prepare and yet still seem like they don’t know what they’re doing. No real communication to passengers. It’s a real friction point for customer journeys at the moment.

      • Harry T says:

        Edinburgh airport were doing a great job last weekend!

        • Andrew says:

          Edinburgh Arrivals is usually fine.

          I arrived on a Delta flight from Boston last summer, with hand luggage, and was outside the airport about 10 minutes after the door opened.

          Edinburgh Departures is usually a miserable experience.

    • Renaud says:

      We didn’t have the same experience at T5 2 weeks ago. Returned from Nice on the 10th (first day without quarantine from France, so you could have expected some hiccups), border controls went smoothly, the online form checks didn’t add too much time overall.
      Okay I remember now, as a family we were sent to a priority queue, so maybe it wasn’t all that quick for the rest of the pax!

  • Richmond_Surrey says:

    I imagine, it’s similar to out of season time in Ibiza. I went in November and it was lovely. Drove around the island ans took a lot of pictures of beautiful beaches and nature.

    I’m tempted to visit Venice, since I’m not far away from it now. Might be once in a lifetime opportunity to see it not crowded.

    • Rhys says:

      Yes I imagine so, although this is with peak season weather!

    • Lady London says:

      Go for it.
      If we’re all lucky you may never get another chance.

  • Patrycja says:

    I am currently in Palma de Mallorca. Edinburgh airport was empty on Sunday morning when we flew out, security took less than 5 minutes. Everyone wore a mask in the terminal and on a plane. Arriving to Mallorca was easy, we had to show QR code proving we completed health questionnaire but no other checks were conducted. 30mins later we were in our hotel. Cleaning procedures in our hotel have been stepped up and you can request cleaning anytime during the day. Local businesses are desperate for tourist as there are very few around. I agree with Rhys, the biggest change is wearing a mask outside in a summer heat. We switched from washable masks which are thicker to single use ones during the day.
    We were initially nervous about travelling so early but loved every minute of our trip so far

  • Steve says:

    “On the whole, the mask requirement appears to be based on a common sense approach, which allows for a little flexibility when out and about.”

    Strictly speaking, that is not what the rules state. However, if it does come down to common sense, I fear for the majority of Brits who have demonstrated over the past few weeks / months that they are totally devoid of any such quality.

    • Harry T says:

      Common sense is a social construct that bears no correlation with reality, especially in the UK.

      • Lady London says:

        It will be an absolute miracle if I dont get Covid after having had to run quite a few errands round North and West London. It’s absolutely frightening to be in crowds of people who basically don’t give a $hit. No masks, no attempt at distancing. I am wondering if there are religions that are telling people it’s all in the hands of the Gods so they are not making any effort. Frightening.

    • Andrew says:

      I have some sympathy for the population as a whole. It’s hard to understand why it’s common sense to wear a mask now when it wasn’t three months ago when cases were over 10x higher.

      • Renaud says:

        2 reasons:
        – it was less known at the time how the virus propagates and whether masks were effective to limit the spread
        – there was a huge shortage of PPE for front-line workers, making them mandatory for everyone would only have made this worse and deprived NHS staff from critical equipment.

        • Andrew says:

          Except your two points contradict each other. If we didn’t know enough about how the virus spread then how could masks be considered ‘critical equipment’ for healthcare workers? We always knew it spread via droplets hence the fear of coughing. I have no doubt a well maintained, properly worn surgical mask in confined conditions (such as a healthcare setting) confers some protection. What’s still not been shown is how helpful wearing a thin scarf tied around your mouth while you walk through a shop is. The messaging has been confused from the start but no new evidence has come to light in the last 4 months that should change the advice around masks.

          • DB2020 says:

            What appears to have changed is advice from the WHO regarding masks being effective in limiting the spread of the virus, based on studies in Japan and South Korea, plus a few South East Asian countries.

            What hasn’t changed and is often overlooked as a fact is that whilst the masks are effective in blocking particles ranging in size from a minimum of 3 microns upwards, the Covid-19 virus is 1 micron in diameter. That is a contradiction that no public health body or government wants to reference or explain in their various public policies and statements.

            Nevertheless, I’m all for people wearing masks and not coughing or sneezing all over the rest of us.

          • Rhys says:

            Isn’t it easy to explain – that the viral particles are more often than not piggybacking on water droplets etc as we breath/sneeze/cough?

          • Renaud says:

            There isn’t necessarily a contradiction. There was never any doubt that NHS staff, being particularly exposed, absolutely needed PPE, which was in very short supply at the start of the pandemic. Now that the supply has been sorted, and that it is known that masks or even scarfes can limit the spread in less-exposed environments, it makes sense to recommend or impose masks in enclosed spaces. We shouldn’t even have waited for weeks after the first lockdown easing measures to impose the mask on public transport.

          • Andrew says:

            Masks are able to block small particles thanks to an electrostatic effect (the virus particles are attacted to the charged fibers) and the fact that virus particles zigzag through the fibers, rather than passing straight, greatly increasing the chances they’ll be caught. These effects are unlikely to be present in a homemade mask damp from having been worn for a while or stashed in someone’s pocket. This was the reason given months ago as to why the NHS couldn’t just reuse masks but it’s all been quietly forgotten now that we’re being encouraged to repurpose an old bandana.

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