The Conversation Spain
Blue flags: More sustainable beaches to boost coastal tourism
Poiente Beach (Benidorm, Valencian Community). Shutterstock / SerjuncoDue to the covid-19 pandemic, the summer of 2020 was the most atypical we have ever known, with limitations to the possibilities of travel and tourism. The health crisis forced millions of Europeans to change their holiday destinations. Spain is a world power when it comes to the reception and attention of tourists. According to the World Tourism Organization, it was the second country in the world that received the most visitors in 2019. Most of them are attracted by the beaches and the complementary leisure and hospitality services offered in coastal areas. Sustainable beach management that is compatible with this important sector of our economy is a matter of great importance. The blue flags This May 11, the list of blue flags for 2021 has been published. The blue flag is a recognition given by the Foundation for Environmental Education, an international institution without ties to governments. The distinction is awarded when a beach meets quality requirements in four dimensions: environmental education and awareness activities, water quality, environmental management and services. Those localities that want to apply for this recognition, voluntarily present their candidacy. After a rigorous inspection process, they are awarded or not the blue flag, which must be renewed annually. Most of the criteria refer to environmental management and to maintaining water in excellent conditions. Sustainable beach management and local economy In different areas, it is asked whether restrictions on human activity to preserve the environment represent a limitation to growth and economic development. It could be the case of the commitment to sustainable beach management. However, unlike what happens with environmental limitations to certain industrial activities, beaches with cleaner waters in a more careful environment are a factor that attracts tourism. Therefore, it can serve as a stimulus to the development of the local tourism sector. In a study we have related the evolution of the number of beaches whose management is recognized with a blue flag with the development of the tourism sector in each of the coastal municipalities of the Valencian Community. Choosing a single autonomous community ensures that a large part of the regulations and management policies are similar, as well as discounting other possible effects derived from the international marketing policies of the autonomous governments. Blue flags in the Valencian Community. Blue Flag The Valencian Community has about 60 coastal municipalities along its more than 500 km of coastline. It is the autonomous community with the highest number of beaches with blue flags in Spain, which makes it the ideal object for this type of analysis. The Valencian tourism sector linked to beaches has a great weight in its economic activity as a result of the flows of both national and international tourists. This makes the sustainable management of its coastal areas more complex. Given the high level of demand to obtain the recognition of a blue flag, it is not surprising that throughout the decade 2003-2013 there have been cases of beaches that cease to have said recognition and that some municipalities end this decade with less distinctive than at the start. On the other hand, other municipalities have made the necessary investments and effort to improve their beaches, thereby increasing the number of enclaves that receive this recognition. Impact on the local tourism sector For a town, aspiring to have its beaches recognized with Blue Flags involves an investment of resources – installation of demanding water purification systems, periodic beach cleaning, showers, toilets, etc. – as well as the restriction to certain activities that could be a source of contamination. Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate the impact of a management in accordance with these sustainability parameters. This need is perceived not only in Spain, but also in other countries with high tourist pressure on their coastal areas. Within the tourism sector linked to beaches, many activities are included, from hotels to restaurants, but also service companies, nautical sports or commercial activities. Focusing specifically on hotels, we observe that in those coastal municipalities that obtained the most blue flags throughout the period 2003-2013, the number of hotels and hotel beds increased more even considering a period six years later. In the same way, the study of the evolution of employment in accommodation and catering activities shows that this sector grows more in those municipalities that manage to improve the recognition of the environmental quality of their beaches. These conclusions indicate that sustainable management is not justified only by the obligation we have with future generations or by the moral commitment to natural resources or the damaging impact on people’s health that contamination of waters and seas may entail. . The local economy benefits from the sustainable management of bathing areas. Therefore, it is necessary to convey to all interest groups in the local tourism sector that the effort and limitations imposed by a more sustainable management of bathing areas has a positive impact on the tourism sector of the municipality. Additionally, as they are factors valued by tourists, they can serve as an orientation to promotional campaigns of both municipalities and local companies. This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original. The signatories are not salaried, or consultants, nor do they own shares, nor do they receive financing from any company or organization that can obtain benefit from this article, and they have declared that they lack relevant links beyond the academic position mentioned above.