Beach operators will not be allowed to take over Comino with deckchairs and umbrellas, the tourism minister has vowed, saying that action will be taken if people are not free to lay down a towel wherever they wish.
Clayton Bartolo pledged a crackdown on the Blue Lagoon deckchair abuse that has plagued the popular destination for years.
“On Blue Lagoon, I expect that whoever goes there and wants to sit on a towel without renting a sunbed and umbrella can do so and the operators must remove the deckchairs,” he said.
When Times of Malta highlighted the fact tourism ministers before him had made similar promises in the past but the issue still persists every summer, Bartolo insisted he would be “making sure” that anyone who does not want to hire a deckchair or umbrella can still have a space to sit.
Last year, a Times of Malta video exposing the problem went viral and has been viewed more than 9.7 million times to date.
With summer around the corner, many have already raised concern the issue might repeat itself this year, as umbrellas and deckchairs have already been spotted hogging most of the available space by the water’s edge.
But Bartolo is adamant such abuse will not be tolerated this year.
On bullying tactics by operators, who are known to harass those unwilling to hire deckchairs, Bartolo said this is “not good”.
“If this happens, action will be taken,” Bartolo said without saying what this action would involve. Asked whether the “action” would be immediate, the minister did not say.
Bartolo also did not say whether permits for concessions had been issued and if so, how many. Instead, he said the Comino Operational Working Committee will once again be set up to ensure that the island is “managed in a sustainable way”.
Last year, despite the scores of deckchairs set up daily, the tourism ministry claimed no permits for sunbed operators had been issued.
'Unspoilt paradise' to 'Wild West'
Activists from Moviment Graffitti said that a visit during last weekend confirmed the operators had already started hogging the majority of Blue Lagoon.
The NGO said that the majority of deckchairs set up had not yet been hired.
It said that the "unspoilt paradise" of the island, set on a Natura 2000 site had been turned into a "Wild West" by "private operators who treat the shoreline as their own personal beach lido."
A parliamentary petition to control the operators had been ignored, it said.
"Once again, deckchair vendors cover every inch of the shoreline with deckchairs and umbrellas from the crack of dawn, making it practically impossible to enjoy this national treasure unless you pay €12.50 per person."
The minister, however, insists deckchairs are often swiftly taken up by tourists.
“It is a known fact that Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular beaches in Malta, particularly with tourists, and so I understand that when they go there, the deckchairs already set up are all taken up,” the minister insisted.