Free access to Italy’s beaches has been diminishing over the years. After repeated requests by the European Commission to boost competition, PM Draghi gave in and Italy plans to boost competition for contracts to manage bars, beach clubs and other facilities on its beaches from 2024.
If you have ever had a beach holiday in Italy you’ll recognize the neat rows of umbrellas and loungers that spread along the country’s coastline. In 2021, Legambiente’s Beaches Report showed that over 50% of the sandy coastal areas are unavailable for free use.
The reason for that is the beach clubs are big business. According to Banca d’Italia, the lucrative concessions which typically remain in the hands of the same families for generations, rake in an estimated €32billion a year.
However, the future is not looking so sunny for the owners of the stabilimenti balneary. In February, Mario Draghi’s government finally gave in after years of pressure from the European Union. It agreed that from 2024, the concessions will have to be put out to public tender. That means they are awarded to the highest bidder.
Italy plans to boost competition for contracts to manage bars and other facilities on its beaches from 2024. The licences to rent out sun loungers and beach umbrellas are traditionally family-controlled, passing from generation to generation. This despite rival entrepreneurs saying they have been shut out unfairly from a major business.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity government ruled tenders will be open as of January 1st 2024.
The decision had been held up due to an internal dispute among centre-right parties. They staunchly defended the rights of existing license-holders anxious to protect their money-making enterprises. The proprietors’ argument is that keeping it in the family maintains low costs for beachgoers. It also prevents Italy’s 7,500 kilometres of coastline from falling into the hands of big chains who might not respect local traditions.
The licences are officially state owned but rarely come up for public bidding. In 2019, the government raised just €115 million from the sale of beach licences.
The licence system’s reform is part of a bill Italy approved in November. The idea is to increase competition in product and services markets to spend over €200 billion from a European Union post-COVID recovery fund.