Empty deckchairs again greet people stepping off boats at Comino as operators prepare their beach furniture before these are even rented out to day trippers.

The issue made headlines last year when visitors to the tiny island located between Malta and Gozo complained of umbrellas and deckchairs taking up most of the space, especially in the Blue Lagoon area.

The Malta Tourism Authority then stepped up efforts to ensure operators abided by the rules. It even placed signs all over the island displaying the prices that should be charged. The signs are still there this year.

However, while operators appear to be sticking to the rates set by the tourism watchdog, the age-old practice of laying out sunbeds and umbrellas even before they are demanded by beachgoers remains.

An inspection by the Times of Malta carried out earlier this week confirmed that operators are observing regulations as to where umbrellas and deckchairs can be placed but they are doing so first thing in the morning not when actually rented.

This means that those not wishing to rent umbrellas or sunbeds have to find a spot elsewhere, with many having no alternative but to place their towels on the rocks, with shrubs instead of sand, at their feet.

Also, the beach furniture is placed in such a way that even those renting umbrellas and deckchairs had a restricted space.

Unaccompanied bathers or those opting to rent just one sunbed are also being forced to move to another part of the beach because the operators seem to have a rule not to rent out less than two umbrellas/sunbeds.

The MTA sign lists prices for every individual items but, on the day this newspaper was in Comino, operators would not allow the use of just a sunbed without an umbrella and clients had to pay €10 even if not using an umbrella.

Beachgoers who spoke to this newspaper vented their frustration, complaining they were left with very few options and were forced to sit “in the bushes”.

“Is this safe? We have to put our towels and bags in this area because there is no space left down there but we’re too close to the edge this way,” one tourist lamented.

Another complained that while there were lockers to store valuables and bags, it was unfair that people had to walk up away from the shoreline when there was ample space being taken up by empty deckchairs.

In the past, abuse was rampant with as many as 1,500 deckchairs being spread all over the Blue Lagoon, including Cominotto, and the garigue.

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