Question time: Coastal management

Why should the situation at beaches remain so chaotic?

Paul Bugeja, CEO, Malta Tourism Authority

The coast is one of the most important elements of Malta’s touristic product. Challenges encountered in the correct management of our coast are inspired by the need to accommodate various demands on a limited resource. The Malta Tourism Authority, together with the government, non-governmental organisations and other entities have been collaborating towards a sustainable concept of coastal management, particularly in relation to the use of beaches during the peak season.

Keeping sustainability in mind is key in ensuring that efforts made are not one-offs but a continuous exercise in asserting law and order.

Over the years, the Malta Tourism Authority has steadily increased its involvement. It directly manages 10 beaches and financially supports the management of a further six, mostly in Gozo. Eleven beaches currently hold a Blue Flag status and many others are now equipped with easier walkways, floating wheelchairs, hoists and ramps.

Through the years, private operators started to cater for the different requests that are made by beachgoers. Different beaches and coastal areas operated under different arrangements, according to the amount of space available and the number of operators and facilities that each beach can physically take. This makes management more complex because it must be ensured that all operators abide by their contractual obligations at all times.

In Għadira, there are 15 operators, including kiosks, food and beverage outlets, deckchair operators and water sports operators. On the strength of agreements signed in 2012, operators can set up on areas that are specifically allocated to them, just like in Armier and Little Armier. Supervisors and enforcement officers commissioned by the Malta Tourism Authority ensure that daily inspections on site are conducted and that order is maintained.

Beach management is a very complex and costly endeavour

Beach management is a very complex and costly endeavour and it includes a large number of areas. It does not only entail the supervision of private operators that offer services by encroaching public land. On the contrary, it requires coordination with other entities in aspects such as the delineation of boat-free swimming zones, cleaning and waste collection, the prevention of environmental degradation and maintaining bathing water quality.

In the past, efforts by different regulators were made to monitor and control the coast. Throughout last year, the Malta Tourism Authority increased the number of enforcement officers at its disposal and also introduced shift work hours. This summer, the tourism watchdog has  teamed up with the Lands Authority in the investigation of every bay, assuring adherence to the effective encroachment rules in force and the way permitted facilities are run.

Inspections on various beaches were conducted jointly, eliminating the possibility of any grey areas with regard to the validity of permits.

The Malta Tourism Authority is being very clear and decisive in its approach and in its intention to collaborate with the Lands Authority and other relevant entities, such as Transport Malta, the Planning Authority, the Environment and Resources Authority as well as local councils.

A mere two decades ago, beach management in this country consisted almost exclusively of beach cleaning, however, it has since expanded into a wide range of facilities and services.

The Malta Tourism Authority has managed to execute an ambitious but successful plan in improving what the islands’ beaches have to offer. As with all plans, one needs to take stock of things from time to time and take corrective action where required. Nevertheless, results are very positive.

Robert Arrigo, Nationalist Party spokesman for Tourism

The recent spate of checking on beach concessions and their permits, or non permits, is disturbing.

To start with, the resorts should be checked out by the enforcement authorities at the start of the season, say in May, not in August, and not do so only after newspaper reports.

I say this because Maltese and foreigners who plan their day out on a particular beach should know they will be going to a licensed resort. Disturbing them and disrupting  their plans is neither nice, nor serious, nor professional.

The tourism industry changes faster than the authorities move

Furthermore, the beach concession owner would have made plans with regard to staff recruitment, stocks and investment. If there are problems with his licence, this should be tackled in May. Of course, this can only happen if the operator would have applied for a licence. On the other hand, he should be warned by the authorities if no application was received.

The tourism industry changes faster than the authorities move.

Putting up a grand show by removing sunbeds in the high season is not a nice sight. The next morning the same thing happens because it is the high season and each day is important for sales.

As in everything else, and, especially, in the case of such a dynamic industry as is tourism, we should be one step ahead.

It must also be ensured that the people have access to and can walk freely on the foreshore.

The Malta Tourism Authority’s licence number should feature prominently on every beach concession’s website. This should really apply to all websites advertising any sort of accommodation or service to foreigners.

The reason behind such a move should not be to charge a fee but, rather, so that if a client is injured on an unlicensed site, in a room or on a beach, while in the shower or on a sunbed it would be clear who would shoulder the responsibility should a claim be made.

If such a mishap were to happen and the place is not licensed, an insurance company might simply refuse to entertain any claim. Let’s bear in mind that just such case highlighted on a TV show in Europe is enough to give Malta a bad name.

The authorities in question (the government has not simplified matters) should provide all the necessary tools so that, in the case of beaches, all is in order before summer starts. We all know summer comes every year and one can do all that needs to be done throughout winter.

Take the complaints about beach ladders. We all know they are needed and, yet, some are installed late in summer.

Good organisation is essential.

In the case of beaches, I tend to agree with the system adopted in Sicily where the sandy beach is carved out in a way whereby sunbed operators and the public can share it equally. Thus, there will be a private area where sunbeds can be offered and an equal of the beach is accessible to the public. Such beaches also have public showers that can be used for free.

So everybody can make their choices and no beach would be blocked by one operator and all operators must display their licence in a prominent place.

Given the proper rules are in place and adequate scrutiny is done in advance, the summer season can be normal. Doing so is crucial for the industry.

Tourism must be above politics. We are dealing with a huge industry that provides jobs for Maltese and foreigners alike. It also provides a good income for so many.

A level playing field should be the norm, not the exception.

If you would like to put any questions to the two parties in Parliament send an e-mail marked clearly Question Time to [email protected].

Comments not loading? We recommend using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox with javascript turned on.
Comments powered by Disqus