Recent weeks have seen the publication in newspapers and in social media of considerable commentary on the Blue Lagoon and the renting of deck chairs and umbrellas. We are two providers who want to put the record straight.

Much of what has been asserted is highly exaggerated and untrue, creating the view that those of us providing this service are reckless ‘pirates’ intent on exploiting tourists, the Blue Lagoon itself and that we have changed a once idyllic and peaceful location into one of chaos and exploitation.

Nothing could be further from the truth; the chaos that now exists in the Blue Lagoon was not created by us as service providers – it is part of a larger and deeper problem facing Maltese tourism. To blame the chaos on deck chair and umbrella providers is depicting us as ‘scapegoats’ in order to avoid confronting the real issues.

The Blue Lagoon is world famous, and each year ever larger numbers of tourists come to visit it. This year during the height of summer some 4,000-5,000 visitors came to the Lagoon every day. Unlike other beaches in Malta, the Blue Lagoon is mostly rocky with a very small ‘beach’ area. Everyone wants to be on this beach and the reality is that there is simply not enough room.

Although there are restrictions on the number of deck chairs or umbrellas to be made available, there are no restrictions on the numbers of visitors, or on the boats which carry them. The situation has reached the point where nowadays visitors start leaving the Lagoon as early as 11.30am, seriously disappointed, when traditionally the boat operators used to start transferring back visitors from the Lagoon from 3pm.

This situation has nothing to do with deck chairs. The simple reality is that there are now too many visitors attempting to enjoy the Blue Lagoon on its busiest days, leading to chaos, with or without deck chairs and umbrellas.

Yet it is only the deck chair and umbrella providers who are subject to regulation and who, contrary to what has been asserted, actually contribute to the upkeep of the Blue Lagoon. Indeed, the providers have all been awarded contracts by the MTA to provide a specified and limited number of deck chairs at a substantial cost. Recognising the commercial value of the Lagoon, the MTA itself set a minimum rate for a tender at €29,000 per area. However, the concession fees being actually paid are way higher, with MTA, this year alone, receiving just short of €250,000.

As the situation stands, despite our payment and our contract, we can only partially use the areas allocated to us. Previously, contractors were allowed to place the chairs in an orderly fashion, with space left for others behind and beside the chairs. The current ‘free for all’ is instead leading directly to chaos as people start competing for the same restricted space. No benefit can arise from this chaos.

Like most, we are not keen on the current situation, which seriously damages the reputation of the Lagoon and of Malta. If not addressed, it will seriously undermine one key part of our tourist industry.

We favour an orderly approach to service provision and we accept that restrictions are unavoidable in such a situation. But those restrictions must apply fairly and not just to deck chairs and umbrellas.

Those who decry the current situation and who write (inaccurately) about it must recognise that the situation is not brought about by the service providers as is so often claimed. In reality, only an overall solution (and not selective, piecemeal restrictions) will be effective.

The ‘elephant in Comino’ is not the deck chairs and umbrellas, but the unfettered and unsustainable number of people visiting its shores each day. Criminalising us as service providers may satisfy some but it will not, in any way, solve the real problem we collectively face.

The chaos experienced during the height of this summer season is causing problems on a number of fronts. It causes problems for tourists, for the Blue Lagoon itself, for MTA and for us. It is simply not in our immediate or longer-term interest to damage a location and livelihood with which we have been involved for almost a decade.

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