Italy’s private beaches to face public tender in tax fraud crackdown

Following years of pressure from the EU, Italy has finally agreed to put its private beach concessions up for public tender for the first time since 1992.

Italy's private beaches will soon be put up for public tender for the first time in two decades.
Italy's private beaches will soon be put up for public tender for the first time in two decades. Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP.

Italy has some spectacular beaches but the majority are private, run in an opaque and sometimes shady manner that the government has finally decided to bring into the light with new rules that come into effect from 2024.

Up and down Italy’s 7,500-kilometre (4,660-mile) coastline, rows of parasols and matching sunbeds fill the sand, with only a few spiagge libere (or ‘free beaches’) dotted between them.

They provide comfort and shade from the blazing heat, but are also money-making operations, with a set of two loungers and a parasol costing up to 100 euros ($108) a day at peak periods.

Yet the concessions for the beaches have since 1992 been automatically renewed, with the result that they often pay a pittance and are subject to very little oversight – opening the door to tax fraud, mismanagement and even criminal elements.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

Last month, the Italian agency that manages assets seized from organised crime groups launched a public call for tenders for a concession in Calabria, home of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia group.

And there is also the matter of undeclared revenues. Despite their number – there were just over 12,000 concessions in May 2021, according to official figures – the state only takes in 100 million euros a year from such establishments.

Beaches are managed by local authorities, and there are vast regional differences.

In 2020, 59 concessions in Arzachena, on Sardinia’s exclusive Costa Smeralda, brought in just 19,000 euros – an average of 322 euros paid by each per year, according to daily Il Fatto Quotidiano.

People enjoy a private beach in Fregene, northwest of Rome, on May 13, 2022.

People enjoy a private beach in Fregene, northwest of Rome, on May 13, 2022. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

The government has already moved to regularise the system by introducing a minimum annual payment of 2,500 euros.

Even with this, many beach concessions are big business.

According to Il Fatto, almost 6,000 concessions monitored by the finance ministry declared average revenues of 180,000 euros a year – and two thirds failed to declare the full amount.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

With the new rules, everyone who owns a concession will have to reapply, but details of how to compensate the losers for past investments in parasols, shower units and restaurants are still being ironed out.

Maurizio Rustignoli, head of the Fiba-Confesercenti, a trade union that represents beach managers, says the uncertainty is “unacceptable”.

In Fregene, a popular beach resort north of Rome, Fabio Di Vilio is the third generation of his family to run the La Scialuppa restaurant and resort.

“I think it’s fair if it’s done seriously,” he said of the reform, as he prepared the tropical-style straw parasols for the start of the season last month.

He noted the need “to ensure – if we were to go to auction – that there were no irregularities”.

READ ALSO: Why Italian resorts are struggling to fill jobs this summer

But the 38-year-old is frustrated at the lack of thought for concession-holders like him.

“You have to give security to those who have a whole history behind them, it’s not only an economic investment, it’s also a sentimental question,” he told AFP.

Although the idea of paying to sit by the sea is an unwelcome surprise for many tourists, most Italians are used to the idea, as long as the facilities and the beach are kept clean.

“It would certainly be a good thing if there were more free beaches, provided they do not become, as we often see, a dump,” noted Luca Siciliano, 71, sunbathing on the Fregene beach.

He said it was a “good thing” to introduce more competition into the private establishments.

“Because as we know, and I’m sorry to say, behind all this sometimes there are things that are not always legal,” he said.

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Italy’s summer tourism boom driven by American arrivals

Tourist spending in Italy is set to return to pre-pandemic levels this summer, boosted largely by visitors from the US, says a new industry report.

Italy's summer tourism boom driven by American arrivals

Italy’s tourism earnings are predicted to total €17 billion this summer, restoring the industry to a state of health not seen since the start of the pandemic, according to a study released by the retailers’ association Comfcommercio on Monday.

Americans are the lead drivers of the recovery, the report shows, with 2.2 million US visitors expected to bring in €2.1 billion between July and September – 20 percent more than over the same period in 2019.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which parts of Italy will get the most tourism this summer?

Canadians, Australians and South Africans are also anticipated to make up a significant proportion of this year’s visitors.

The high value of the dollar against the euro is thought to be partly responsible for this year’s boom in US arrivals.

The euro slipped to parity with the dollar for the first time in nearly 20 years this month, as a cut in Russian gas supplies to Europe heightened fears of a recession in the eurozone.

It has since recovered a little, to around $1.02 per euro, but remains a huge bargain for visitors, giving tourists from dollar countries a spending power boost of well over 10 percent from six months ago.

The number of Spanish arrivals is also expected to return pre-pandemic levels this summer, with an estimated one million visitors due to arrive between July and September.

Domestic tourism is also up, with 35 million Italians travelling on holiday in their own country despite an ongoing cost of living crisis caused by soaring inflation and exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, according to a separate study by the agricultural association Coldiretti.

READ ALSO: Ferragosto: Why the long August holidays are untouchable for Italians

By contrast, the number of tourists coming to Italy from Asian countries is down; while EU sanctions introduced in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have seen Russian tourism drop to near zero.

Germany, a key source of tourism particularly in the Italian south, was down 27 percent in July compared to 2019 – a drop thought to be caused by air travel disruption.

In a typical year, the majority of Italy’s tourists (14.1 percent) come from Germany, figures from Italy’s National Statistics Agency Istat show. Around three percent come from the US, and another three percent from the UK.

“The return of foreign tourism after three years helps to consolidate our economic recovery. The outlook, however, is uncertain due to the decrease in consumption, the unrest in air transport and the unknown pandemic,” said Confcommercio president Carlo Sangalli in a televised statement.

“Support for the tourism sector must therefore be among the priorities of the next executive in terms of combating expensive energy and reducing the tax burden,” he added.

Italy will vote for a new government in late September after its ‘unity’ coalition government collapsed in July, triggering snap elections.