International

Summer Clubbing to Resume on Europe's Party Islands: But It Won't Be Business as Usual

Ibiza Rocks
Elliot Young

Ibiza Rocks

In Ibiza, where rules favor reopening of day clubs, they’ll be dancing by themselves as more VIP tables replace dance floors at some venues.

As clubs begin to open in parts of Europe, including Spain, 2020 could be the year of dancing on your own -- or at least with just a few close friends in a booth, six feet away from anyone you don’t know. So far, it also seems as though much of this partying will take place during the day: In Ibiza, as of June 8 day clubs in hotels and beach bars -- which typically operate to midnight -- were allowed to open at 75% capacity and use outdoor terraces for table service. But nightclubs on the island aren’t allowed to reopen yet.

Andy McKay, who runs Ibiza Rocks, a 368-room hotel with a popular poolside club, is seizing the opportunity to be among the first venues in Europe to reopen. Starting July 1, McKay says Ibiza Rocks will host outdoor parties for the hotel guests from the U.K. and Ireland that make up 90% of his clientele. The venue, which normally packs in more than 2,000 clubbers, plans to operate at about 40% capacity -- and only with local DJs in July. The club will separate daybeds by six feet and try to keep “friendship groups” from mingling with one another. Mask-wearing will be optional for guests, but required for staff. “We’re not a police state,” McKay tells Billboard. “People have personal freedom, but that personal freedom does not extend to a group of 10 lads deciding they can invade a group of 10 others.”

After imposing strict lockdowns, several European countries -- including Spain, Germany, Greece, Belgium and the Netherlands -- say they plan to drop most travel restrictions by July 1. Italy has already dropped travel restrictions and the U.K., the European country hardest-hit by the virus, has also resumed international travel, but is enforcing a 14-day quarantine for travelers coming into the country.

Even with the fate of clubbing still uncertain, European tourists are headed to the party islands. Having been furloughed rather than laid off, many have money to spend. Flights to Ibiza from London on discount airline EasyJet are nearly all sold out through July 31. Last month, Amnesia sold 4,000 vouchers, priced at 25 euros and 45 euros with up to five drinks included, for events in 2020 and 2021. And tour operator TUI is set to take 6,000 German tourists to the Balearic Islands, of which Ibiza is one, in the last two weeks of June, according to media reports. It’s no wonder that McKay believes that “a good proportion of our audience will travel, quarantine or not.”

But a patchwork of club re-openings has some people worried about unregulated parties and  the spread of COVID-19. “If many tourists come and there are no open venues, there will be binge drinking,” says Joaquim Boadas, secretary general of the International Nightlife Association, based in Barcelona. “There will be much more of a risk of contagion with sharing a bottle at an illegal party.”

Around the world, club owners, agents and artists are struggling to salvage what they can of the summer clubbing season amid the coronavirus pandemic. Clubs are facing similar challenges, from capacity restrictions to club layouts to sanitary precautions they never had to consider before. And lately they have been caught in the crossfire as local and national governments modify rules and timetables for reopening seemingly by the day. On June 6, Spain’s national government said nightclubs could reopen with up to 30% capacity in cities that meet the health cut off. A day later, a state government said nightclubs would remain closed in Ibiza, a key spot for summer clubbing tourism, especially for electronic dance music. “Our main concern is not capacity [restrictions],” says José Luis Benitez, director of institutional relations at Palladium Hotel Group, which owns Ushuaïa Ibiza Beach Hotel. “It’s whether people can enjoy the clubs with total security, without fear of infecting themselves.”

To speed the safe reopening of clubs, nightlife associations are urging venue owners around the world to cover up their dance floors with more tables to limit social contact among strangers. “A more intimate, curated experience is the way that nightlife is going to come back,” says J.C. Diaz, president of the American Nightlife Association.

Diaz says an expanded table-service model would work well in other big clubbing destinations like Miami Beach and Las Vegas, where minimum spends can run $1,000 or more. Las Vegas execs have told Billboard that they don’t expect clubs to reopen there until 2021, because of a mix of economic and health concerns related to the coronavirus. In Miami Beach, shuttered nightclubs LIV and Story, which cater to EDM and hip-hop stars like DJ Khaled, wouldn’t benefit from the scheme right now, says David Grutman, CEO of Groot Hospitality, which operates the clubs. “We don’t think the current state of the economy would support that,” he says. (Table service accounts for about 60% of both clubs’ revenues.)

For now the industry is looking to Ibiza for signs of how clubbing will be restored. So far, not every club is eager to turn the lights back on, even when they can. Amnesia is holding off until at least August and rejects the idea of eliminating the dance floor. “The only way we’ll open up the club is in its original format,” says Neil Evans, Amnesia’s artistic director. “We’re an underground nightclub, and house music is about dancing.”

While Spain has suffered tremendously from COVID-19, the Balearic islands have recorded only 209 of the country’s more than 27,000 deaths. Ibiza has a number of open-air day venues that would benefit from the rules favoring hotel clubs and beach bars, including Blue Marlin and Ushuaïa, which draws EDM DJs and Latin artists to parties with up to 4,000 people.

Roberto Castaño
Ushuaïa

Big-name artists are also weighing the risks. Latin star Bad Bunny, who was booked for six shows at Pacha in Ibiza (four in June), has written off his European summer tour, his publicist says. "Artists will be reluctant to travel if they are going to have to quarantine and social distancing rules aren’t observed for artists, club staff or attendees,” says Steven Braines, CEO of The Weird & The Wonderful, a London-based talent agency and events company that represents dance acts Maya Jane Coles, Rossko and Catz 'N Dogz.

In Croatia, another popular summer clubbing spot in southern Europe, Papaya club on Zrće Beach says it plans to use mostly resident DJs when it opens back up in early July. "Because of the safety measures still in force worldwide, all major DJ performances and festivals will unfortunately stay postponed [until] 2021," the club says. (Another big Croatian club, Noa Beach Club on Pag island, plans to resume operations on June 10.)

Venue owners throughout the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas will try to avoid situations like the one over the weekend in Greece, where an overcrowded party at a beach bar on the island of Mykonos flouted social-distancing rules, resulting in a 20,000-euro fine and inspectors shutting down the venue for 60 days.

At Ibiza Rocks, McKay says his staff will work to protect the clubbers. That includes all-cashless transactions and limits on how many people can be in the swimming pools at the same time. After keeping costs down in July, the venue hopes to bring on headliner-level talent in August and September. “We do not expect to turn a profit at all,” says McKay, who estimates the pandemic will cost the business 5 million euros in losses. “This is about maintaining the business so we’re still standing at the beginning of next summer.”

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