Every year, when summer approaches, the Foundation for Environmental Education publishes the international list of beaches that have the blue flag, a distinction that recognizes a series of quality requirements in four dimensions: educational activities and environmental awareness , water quality, environmental management and services.
Those localities that want to apply for this recognition, voluntarily submit their candidacy, but the development and implementation of systems that allow the recognition of the management of a beach with a blue flag involves a cost (purification facilities, collectors, cleaning systems, periodic controls of the quality of the sand and water, etc.) and in certain cases it stops the creation of elements that can be valued by those who go to the beach (car parks next to the sand, accesses in established areas, restrictions on hospitality establishments in the beach itself, the anchoring of boats …) or even some facilities typical of the tourism sector (for example, limitation to construction in certain areas). It seems then that there may be a certain balance between progress in sustainability in the management of beach areas and the development of the local tourism sector.
Fernando Merino, researcher at the ‘Financial System and Monetary Economy’ group at the University of Murcia, considers that “it is necessary to know if this is the case and, where appropriate, how to manage it.”
The recreational use of beaches is an important phenomenon that, in addition, generates an outstanding economic activity in its surroundings
And that is precisely what he has tried to find out with the project ‘Sustainable management of beaches and promotion of the local tourism industry: can the blue flags be a good driver of this balance?’, Carried out together with the also professor of the University of Murcia María Asunción Prats, and whose objective, he explains, is “to study whether advancing in the sustainable management of beaches (measured by the recognition of the blue flags that we all know) is an element that stimulates the local tourism sector ».
His work has focused on the case of the Valencian Community for being the Region with the most blue flags in Spain in its more than 500 kilometers of coastline spread over almost 60 municipalities. “We use a single autonomous community to prevent other types of effects (support policies, marketing, etc.) from interfering with the results.”
In Spain (and in many other countries of the world) the use of beaches in a recreational way is an important phenomenon that, in addition, generates an outstanding economic activity around it. The environmental pressure suffered by the beaches has led to the development and implementation of eco-certification systems regarding their management, the best known being precisely the blue flag awarded by the non-profit foundation based on Denmark to beaches in fifty countries around the planet.
The work has been published in ‘Ocean and Coastal Management’, one of the main international magazines in the area
“To date, the existing studies have focused on conducting surveys, mostly in Canada and South Africa, so that those who go to the beach indicate their degree of knowledge of these systems and their assessment. However, no work had assessed the impact on a homogeneous set of localities of the improvement / stability / setback in the recognition of beach management, ”says the UMU researcher.
His work was based on the hypothesis that a more sustainable management of the beaches attracts tourists and bathers because citizens want cleaner beaches, where the environment is respected and we value not only the beach understood as sand plus water, but this environment. In his opinion, “if this hypothesis is true, more people go to towns that increase the part of their coast managed in this way, which can boost the development of hotels and hospitality (sectors clearly linked to tourism). However, if certain restrictions are imposed, this greater desire to go to the localities with more bathing areas recognized with a blue flag may not translate to the development of the local economy.
In fact, the results of the research have found that those localities in which the number of their beaches recognized with a blue flag have increased more hotels, hotel beds and employment in the tourism sector than those places that do not. have increased or decreased. That is to say, that greater demand for going to the coastal towns that improve the management of their bathing areas has resulted in a stimulus to the tourist sector of the town.
The work developed by researchers from the University of Murcia was presented and discussed at the ‘VIII International Conference on Economic Development and Social Sustainability’ congress, in Castellón de la Plana, and at the Amenet International Congress, ‘Sustainable tourism in the Mediterranean. An analysis of the current situation, potential and economic consequences’, in Tangier.
After submitting it to the corresponding anonymous peer review process, it has been published in ‘Ocean and Coastal Management’, one of the leading international journals in the area.