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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)

  • Sandgrounder says:

    I have recently returned from Iceland, flying with Easyjet from Luton. I was amused that they felt it necessary to advise people to remove their face covering before using the oxygen mask in the event of an emergency. However, given that on my return three people in front of me forgot to take their masks off to use the automatic passport gates, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.

    • Andrew says:

      It’s becoming so natural to wear one, it’s easy to forget to take it off.

      • Colin says:

        I thought everyone was going to suffocate as a result of wearing a mask?

  • kumar says:

    Can someone please confirm if hot water is still free on BA planes (in particular from LCY).Need to pack my teabags.

    • Lumma says:

      You get a plastic bag with a small bottle of water, bag of crisps and some pretzels in economy and that’s it

    • Reeferman says:

      I flew out of LCY (with BA) on Sunday afternoon – no hot drinks at all (and no ice for any cold ones either)

  • ChrisW says:

    I’m currently in (regional mainland) Spain. I flew here a week ago not for a holiday but to be somewhere that felt safer than London and I’m very glad I did.
    – with a much lower population density than London it is far easier to social distance.
    – mask use is consistent by everyone everywhere inside – there are no selfish idiots like the UK here.
    – most places are open and life feels pretty normal here beyond the mask usage. No queueing to enter a supermarket.
    – while the UK is in a lot better shape than it was six weeks ago, there’s not a lot to go back to London for right now

    • Rob says:

      You should join me in Jersey. No masks required as no covid.

      • marcw says:

        Just for the food and wine, Spain way better than some random island in the channel. Also there’s no harm wearing a mask. Get ready for the winter season!

      • JenT says:

        Out of interest, did you have the PCR test on arrival?

        • Rob says:

          Yes.

          It is pointless getting one done before you fly. The reason is that, if anyone tests positive, the Government is also locking up for 14 days the two rows behind and in front of them on the aircraft, on both sides of the aisle. Waste of time paying £65 to test yourself when there are another 30 people putting you at equal risk.

          • Jen T says:

            That’d be a tricky one to explain to my employer if I went on a short break…

      • Alex Sm says:

        We were supposed to go to Guernsey this August but flights were cancelled (though hotel refused to refund as they have no lockdown or restrictions). The only slight problem is that they do not allow people from UK mainland to travel freely to Ch.Islands and IoM. Is it the case on Jersey too?

    • mark2 says:

      Most of this country has got a much lower population density than London; you don’t need to go to Spain.
      I can recommend Warwickshire and Worcestershire or any other rural county.

      • Colin says:

        How does the weather in Warwickshire and Worcestershire compare your Spain?

        • Colin says:

          *to Spain

        • ankomonkey says:

          My wife’s currently in Seville and it’s 39 degrees C. I’m currently home in Warwickshire and yesterday was a sunny 21 degrees C. I think I prefer Warwickshire’s weather to Seville’s right now!

          • Optimus Prime says:

            But she’s eating out and having tapas every day 😉

          • ankomonkey says:

            @Optimus Prime – haven’t been for several years, but the restaurant ‘Catalan’ in Warwick used to be excellent. I’d be tempted to re-try it if it was on Amex Shop Small 😉

      • Rob says:

        London has virtually no coronavirus – don’t you read the stats? My bit of West London was 8 active cases per 100k vs 143 in Leicester when it was locked down again. Lambeth and the City is nil.

        • Colin says:

          There’s not a lot to do in London though at the moment. I went through central London the other day and it’s dead

          You could argue that it’s a benefit that it’s quiet but what makes London good is the fact that there’s always something going on, which isn’t the case at the moment.

          It’s not really a surprise that no tourists want to come at the moment.

          • Colin says:

            Using “the city” as a guide for number of cases is a bit silly as no one lives there.

            You’re right about London in general though. Very few cases now. Not really a surprise as tube use is down 80% YOY and hardly anyone is going to offices etc.

            Central London footfall is down massively (on weekends too, when the impact of offices being closed is irrelevant).

        • Alex Sm says:

          @Colin – why do you call 2,000 people no-one?

  • Anna says:

    We went to Ibiza 10 years ago and would go back in a flash but school holiday prices are beyond crazy – instead we now have 2/3 weeks in an upmarket Caribbean resort flying in J for the same price! When we have more flexibility we’ll be back to properly explore the island, especially the Punic ruins. Not many people know that Ibiza was a very important destination for trade in the ancient world and the Phoenicians considered it a sacred place where they aspired to be buried!

    • Anna says:

      I highly recommend The White Island by Stephen Armstrong for a very informative and entertaining history of Ibiza from ancient times to the present day.

  • Mark says:

    As of Monday this week mask wearing is being enforced more widely and I’ve seen the police stopping quite a few people and reminding them of the rule. Failure to comply risks a €100 fine.

  • Mark says:

    Love Ibiza.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to witness both sides to the island. I was a club DJ for 17 years and was fortunate enough to play or be a guest at some of the Islands most iconic venues. However the island is so much more than the party scene. The idillic countryside and villages and beautiful beaches are what make Ibiza.

    • Anna says:

      Wow – was it like White Lines? I was amused to see 10 years ago when I went that the likes of Carl Cox and Judge Jules we’re still going strong!

    • ankomonkey says:

      Genuinely cool claim to fame. Are you Mark Ronson?

      • Adam says:

        Mark Knight perhaps? I feel a game of guess the DJ coming on! White Lines is just about the most tedious thing I’ve watched all year.

  • Simon Robinson says:

    Very comparable to where I am at the moment- Corfu. BA flight from Heathrow was 50% full, though a surprising number of people were travelling Club. First wing at Heathrow has reopened, and service there is far better than in the past- better food, excellent service! I also suspect BA is clearing out its cellars- white was an exceptional Montrachet and the red was a top end Paulliac.
    Domes Miramare (Marriott) reopened the day we arrived.. the staff had gone to extraordinary lengths to make to make the hotel COVID compliant. Lots of social distancing- but that’s easy when there’s no one here! Noticeable differences include no more buffets and housekeeping every 2 days, though they will deliver items to your door.
    It’s very sad to see an island which relies so much on tourism to have so much shut- local hotels and restaurants are shuttered up. The bigger chains can cope with the financial implications.
    A lot of our friends commented on why we should travel now- well we made a conscious choice to go to a top end hotel- plus we also behave accordingly- wearing masks in public. The main reason though is that my partner is an NHS ICU doctor- and he needed a break!

    • Harry T says:

      I’m glad your partner managed a well-earned break – I’m sure he has worked tirelessly throughout the covid crisis.

  • Gormlesstraveller says:

    The island has also been long known for its spiritualism and healing qualities, not just the consumerism and partying.

    That said, as a HfP fan I am disappointed that you stayed in a non points-earning hotel..

    • Rob says:

      Ibiza Tourism Board organised it, not us.

    • Michael Jennings says:

      I went to Mallorca for the first time a couple of years ago. I mentally thought of it as a place that was overwhelmed with British people on package holidays – and a little bit of it is that – but I rented a car and drove all over the island and was struck by what a stunningly beautiful place it is. I suspect Ibiza is the same. I have a long weekend booked next year, so I guess I will find out.

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