SALOU – It’s about 4 p.m. in the lobby of a hotel in the Costa Dorada, on the Catalan coast of Spain. A brunette sporting micro-shorts and a boy without a shirt are miming a sexual act amongst a sweaty and inebriated crowd.
The deejay shouts into his microphone: “Have you had enough?” Of course not. The girl, who is not shy, takes off her top and continues to rub against her partner. Welcome to Best Cap Hotel, in Salou, Tarragona, a seaside resort 70 kilometers from Barcelona.
The concept: palm trees and wild parties. Once the weather turns warm, a wave of university students flow in each year from all over Europe. Their goal is to “relax before end-of-year exams” in late June, a bit like what American students do in Cancun, Mexico.
This weeklong holiday was created so that students would have time off to study for their exams, but it has become synonymous with decadent parties that young Europeans look forward to all year.
A group of French entrepreneurs sensed an opportunity to make money and launched their own – French –version of Spring Break.
With almost 3,000 participants in a week, Funbreak, founded by 27-year-old Maxime Comi and his mother Colette is the undisputed leader of the market. For 249 euros, you get three days of “sea, sex and fun” – hotel, food, open bar and club entrance fee included. Spain was chosen for its warm climate, exotic atmosphere and numerous “all inclusive” resorts. “We increase our numbers by 30% every year,” says Colette. For 2013, she’s expecting revenues of around two million euros.
Still, the atmosphere is not quite as trash as on the Mexican and Florida coasts. Kids are lounging around under the neon lights of the hotel in shorts and flip-flops with an alcoholic drink in hand. At lunchtime. A group of female students is playing with a Wii console near the bar. Two zombied-out post-partygoers are watching them, having burgers and fries for breakfast.
Though it's not an all-out party atmosphere, the European spring breakers don’t seem to mind. “There’s loads to do here: arcade games, swimming pools, a sauna, a Jacuzzi, the beach is two meters away, everyone talks to each other… it’s easy-going,” says Jean, a 24-year-old student who is here for the second time.
“And of course," adds 27-year-old Joffrey, "There are the girls.” To be precise, 34% of those present are girls. “A fair amount,” declares Maxime Comi.
Like with nightclubs, girls are the number one selling point to attract clients. And so Maxime and his mother target schools with bigger proportions of female students: business and communications instead of engineering schools. They also spare no expenses to reel them in: massages, manicures, makeup and hair salons.
Security is tight: 26 cameras in the hotel and eight security guards keep watch 24 hours a day. The girls appreciate this. Oceane is in the Jacuzzi, surrounded by about ten boys: “We didn’t come here to sit and talk: fewer girls means more guys for us.”
“Like a piece of meat”
But after midnight, some of them start to come on a bit too strong. “It’s reassuring to know that we can count on security if we have a problem,” says Lucie, 22, who has a boyfriend. “Sometimes, we feel like a piece of meat. We came here to party, we don’t really care about the rest.”
Is Spring Break a place where people come to get laid? “The boys are here to have sex. The girls want something a little more friendly,” says a member of the staff, slightly bitter.
You have to wait until 10 p.m. for the temperature to rise up a notch. The boys have put on a shirt. The girls have put on their make-up, done their hair, and are now perched on high heels (but they’ve kept their micro-shorts on). It’s time for the “before” party, before people go out clubbing. The point is to hook up. Students are at the bar, wearing different colored glow-in-the-dark bracelets. Red means “taken,” yellow “depends on your bank account,” green “open.”
The system works: a half-hour later, the evening is in full gear. A young man wearing a diaper, a black wig and sunglasses is dancing to Lady Gaga. Another is handing flower necklaces to girls. Glasses are piling up on the patio and hands are getting frisky. “Party in room 1206,” shouts Alexandre while spilling half of his drink on the girl next to him.
Up in the rooms, people are getting wasted. It smells like marijuana and Red Bull. “We bought some booze. We can’t get drunk with what they serve us in the clubs,” says 24-year-old Antoine. “We’re aware of what’s going on: the kids come here to get trashed so we tell the bartenders to serve them less alcohol, otherwise they would all be completely hammered by six p.m. We don’t want that,” explains Benji, one of the 27 staff members.
At midnight, all of the students have to be driven to the Pacha, a branch of the famous Ibiza club. The music, the crowd, the alcohol, and the absence of surveillance by the staff allows the Spring Breakers to let loose. “After four p.m., they’re a bloody wreck,” says a night watchman, who makes sure no unauthorized person gets into the hotel. What he worries the most about are the accidents: two years ago a student fell off a 5th floor balcony. A broken arm. That’s the worse they’ve had so far.
Colette and Maxime are knocking on wood: in the years they’ve been organizing these parties, they’ve never had an alcoholic coma. “Of course if you take a closer look, you’ll see people vomiting. But contrary to the American students who aren’t allowed to drink before the age of 21, European students are used to it. They don’t want to get wasted, they want to have a good time,” says Maxime.
A week earlier, thousands of British students came down for the Saloufest festival. “They had organized it themselves, there was no activity planned for them," recalls the bouncer of a nightclub. "They spent their time drinking in the hotel or in the town’s bars. Until they’re dead drunk. French students are less excessive.”