Every summer, bathers and sunbed operators become quite territorial over the best spots by the sea. But the tourism authority has upped its game and there is no turning back, MTA CEO Paul Bugeja tells Sarah Carabott.

­­­­The tourism authority has more than doubled its beach monitoring officers, and after swooping down on at least three bays in recent days, other deckchair operators seem to be toeing the line.

Paradise Bay.Paradise Bay.

 “When they saw that we mean business, operators realised there was no going back, and we intend on remaining strict,” MTA CEO Paul Bugeja told this newspaper.

He noted that following enforcement action at Fra Ben and Armier, operators such as those at Paradise Bay and Għajn Tuffieħa, who can set up deckchairs only on demand, have self-regulated themselves.

READ: Fra Ben operator shut down after defying instructions

 “We need to find the right balance between the needs of different bathers. It has also been proven that when deckchairs are set up only on demand, this could create a chaotic situation that is not aesthetically pleasing either.

When deckchairs are set up only on demand, this could create a chaotic situation that is not aesthetically pleasing either

“Setting them all up before bathers head to the beach makes the bay look more organised, and operators can utilise their allocated space better,” Mr Bugeja said. The regulations and concessions differ from one beach to another, he explained. At some bays, operators are limited to particular sections and can set up umbrellas and sunbeds even if they are not rented out.

At other beaches, the operator can only hire deckchairs and umbrellas on demand. For example deckchairs can be set up only on demand at Ramla l-Ħamra in Gozo and Pretty Bay in Birżebbuġa, among others.

Pretty Bay.Pretty Bay.

Għadira’s management system and Armier’s split bays

Għadira Bay.Għadira Bay.

Għadira has a management system that was launched in 2012 with the intention of organising the situation there. The bay was sectioned into different parts, and at the begging of every summer, MTA’s surveyors mark the allocated area with bollards. These are checked mid-season.

Through this management plan, a large section in the middle of the sandy bay has been cleared of all deckchairs and umbrellas where no hiring can take place.

MTA beach supervisors monitor the beach operation daily, and its enforcement officers conduct regular checks to ensure that each operator keeps within their designated area, where they can set deckchairs before these are hired out by bathers.  In all, there are four food outlets and five food kiosks that also rent out deckchairs, and three operators that only rent our sunbeds and umbrellas. The latter eight have a concession that lasts for 15 years, starting from 2012.

Armier Bay.Armier Bay.

While MTA manages this beach through its supervisors and the contracted provision of lifeguard services, it does not have a say on every aspect of its running. Cleaning, for example, is the responsibility of the Cleansing Department, with whom it coordinates regularly.

Not far away, Armier hosts four operators who can set up their deckchairs from the very back, down to around 40 per cent of the bay. This means that around 60 per cent of the bay (from the centre to the shoreline) is free of deckchairs. Asking an operator to set up a sunbed at the shoreline is not allowed.

Little Armier Bay. Photos: Matthew MirabelliLittle Armier Bay. Photos: Matthew Mirabelli

Meanwhile, there is one lido at Little Armier, which quite some time ago was allocated 40 per cent of the bay (from shoreline to back).

‘We will be very strict’

“Inspectors visit the bays daily, sometimes more than once, and as we have shown, we will be very strict.

“We have increased the number of monitoring officers from eight last year to 18 this year, and their working shifts also stretch throughout the evenings and cover weekends,” Mr Bugeja said.

However, with the exception of Comino, MTA officials need to work closely with the Lands Department to enforce the law on any of the 20 or so beaches in Malta, as the land is technically owned by the Lands Authority.

So while MTA monitors the beaches, it goes on site with Lands officials whenever enforcement action is needed.

‘Renting’ Comino

Three years ago the MTA decided to rent out Blue Lagoon and Santa Marija Bay from the Lands Authority, so that it would be able to better regulate the area, which hosted over 1,500 deckchairs and umbrellas.

A public call was issued for three operators at Blue Lagoon and another one at Santa Marija and competition was so high that the tendered amounts were substantially higher than the minimum requested by MTA.

It was not MTA’s intention to make a profit, and in fact it had requested an amount that would reasonably cover the expenses related to monitoring the bays. With the collected funds MTA increased beach and lifeguards supervision in other beaches.

All four operators have an allocated section where they can set up a limited number of deckchairs before they start being hired out.

The three operators at Blue Lagoon can hire out up to 250 sunbeds in between them. At the moment, apart from other areas, they can also set up deckchairs at the very back of the sandy part.

However, the MTA hopes to free up this area from next year, when the new Comino Committee that has been set up under the leadership of Gavin Gulia, discusses the way forward for the whole of Comino.

Over the past years it also transpired that the Santa Marija concession had to decrease – from 80 to 50 deckchairs – in order to protect sand dunes at the bay.

MTA opened up Santa Marija to operators in a bid to spread out the bathers and alleviate part of the pressure on the Blue Lagoon.