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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EXPLAINED: Why Venice has delayed its ‘tourist tax’ – again

After the city of Venice announced yet another delay to its long-discussed plan to impose an entry fee, we look at why the project has run aground and what this means for visitors in 2023.

EXPLAINED: Why Venice has delayed its ‘tourist tax’ - again

For an island surrounded by shoals and shallow waters, it seems oddly fitting that Venice’s long-discussed ‘tourist tax’ system remains hopelessly stranded. 

The idea to impose an entry fee on all day-trippers, intended to regulate the number of visitors and supposedly solve the city’s overcrowding problems, was first mooted in 2019.

OPINION: Why more of Italy’s top destinations must limit tourist numbers

It has been repeatedly delayed – first after historic floods, and then amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

All the pieces seemed to have finally fallen into place earlier this year, and Venice was expected to get its much-touted ‘tourist tax’ system up and running by January 16th, 2023. 

However, to the surprise of no-one who’s even remotely familiar with the project’s troubled history, the city has now announced another delay – meaning the entry-fee saga will now continue well into the new year.

Why all the delays?

While Venice’s comune (town hall) vaguely attributed the latest deferral to the need to “change and improve” the project, a number of specific longstanding issues seem to have bogged down the city’s plans once more.

Confusion still lingers over who exactly will be exempted from paying the entry fee (contributo d’accesso), which will range from three to ten euros based on the day and time of the year. 

A gondola right in front of Venice's Doge Palace

Under Venice’s new tourism regulation system, day-trippers will have to pay an entry fee of three to ten euros to access the city centre. Photo by Laurent EMMANUEL / AFP

While tourists staying in the city overnight, residents, second-home owners and those studying or working in Venice have long been identified as exempt categories, local authorities have never quite clarified what their plans were in relation to people living in other Veneto provinces. 

READ ALSO: How will Venice’s tourist tax affect second-home owners? 

And, according to the latest Italian media reports, a squabble between Venice’s administration and regional authorities over the status of Veneto residents – the region is reportedly pushing for a full exemption, which Venice seems to oppose for now – may have been the main reason behind the latest stand-off. 

But a clearer definition of exemptions isn’t the only outstanding item in the city’s to-do list, not by a long shot. 

The administration’s failure to reach an agreement with local transport operators and port authorities over the enforcement of the new rules has largely contributed to the latest delay, and so have issues related to the planned online booking platform.

In particular, the comune pledged earlier this year that the website allowing day-trippers to book and pay for their visit to the city would be ready by the end of 2022 – but with less than a month to go until the new year there’s no sign of it.

READ ALSO: Moving to Italy: How much does it really cost to live in Venice?

Tourist sitting in a cafè by Rialto Bridge in Venice

Due to a number of structural issues, the introduction of Venice’s entry fee system is now expected to happen over the course of next year’s summer. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

It is perhaps telling in this sense that the city is still in the process of asking residents for comments and suggestions on the entry fee plan: the website created to collect feedback on the project went live on Tuesday, December 6th and will remain available until January 7th.

So when might visitors have to pay an entry fee?

Any changes made to the project now will have to be approved by the city’s council (Consiglio Comunale), after which it’ll take months – perhaps as many as six – to get the system ready to go. 

This means that, even if the council somehow managed to approve the new plan by the end of the year, the project’s trial stages could only start next summer at the earliest, with the local Feast of the Redeemer (Festa del Redentore) on July 15th potentially being the first real test for the system. 

But, given the project’s history, we doubt many people will bank on it.