Say goodbye to your favorite Italian beach break

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(CNN) — It’s the Italian dream: to spread out on one of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean, a glass in hand, only moving to eat freshly caught fish or have another glass of local wine.

But your summer vita maybe a little less sweet from 2024, when new rules are set to come into force and some in the know warn, they could change the fabric of Italy’s coastline.

From December 31, 2023, beach-side concessions – whether a beach club renting out sunbeds, a bar or a restaurant – will be put up for auction, in a move that “ put it on sweet life risky lifestyle,” say those working in the industry.

The change is in a law that is gradually advancing in Italy’s parliament, with another vote scheduled for Monday, before parliament is dissolved following the collapse of Mario Draghi’s government.

With 4,600 miles of coastline on the mainland alone, Italy is one of Europe’s greatest beach destinations.

There are around 30,000 seaside businesses in the country, 98% of which are family-owned, according to the Federazione Italiana Imprese Balneari (FIBA), or Italian Federation of Waterside Businesses, which represents them.

But the new law will mean that instead of families automatically renewing their licenses, they will have to compete with other interested parties from across the EU – which could include big business.

Although the concessions are not auctioned, anyone wishing to bid must produce a plan for the site – and those who have owned bars and restaurants for generations fear that, inevitably, deep-pocketed investors will win – and the prices for vacationers could increase accordingly.

“He sells the Italian coastline [to the highest bidder]“, told CNN Luciano Montechiaro, owner of Lido Jamaica in Trentova Bay, in the southern region of Campania.

“When the malls arrived in Italy, the small shops all closed. We small businesses will not be able to compete.”

Every day in the summer, Montechiaro is on the beach at 8 a.m., sweeping the sand, preparing deckchairs and preparing cappuccinos for the first arrivals in the cabin built 40 years ago by his late grandfather, whose family photo hangs above the restaurant.

Visitors can either rent lounge chairs and umbrellas or head to the bar, where Montechiaro prepares a traditional lunch, including pasta dishes and regional salads. After closing, it picks up litter around the beach.

Now 35, Montechiaro moved to Australia when he was younger, but returned every summer to work for the family business.

“This bay is my life – I was born here,” he said.

“There was almost nothing here when my no no come. He asked for this piece of land, he got it, he built the cabin, and he started this business. Now they might say, ‘Well done, now go ahead.’

“If I had known they would take him away from us, I wouldn’t have come back from Australia.”

“I would dismantle my restaurant”

Marino Veri says he would dismantle his trabocco rather than leave it to someone else.

e55evu/Adobe Stock

Marino Veri, owner of Sasso della Cajana, a waterfront restaurant in the Abruzzo region on the Adriatic coast, said the new law was “not fair”.

Its restaurant is located on a trabocco — a wooden fishing platform cantilevered over the sea, accessible by a rickety walkway, typical of the region. The tradition dates back centuries, and most trabocchi are still owned by the same fishing families who have owned them for almost as long.

Veri’s grandfather, a fisherman, built the trabocco, before his grandson saved it from destruction by turning it into a restaurant in 2010 and changing the family’s financial fortunes. Dwindling stocks mean that it has become much more difficult to make a living from fishing on the Abruzzo coast in recent decades.

“I can understand that people who are unlucky [to open their own] may be a little jealous, but we have to save the traboccante [people who make and work in them]“, he told CNN.

“There’s no company making them – it’s an art. We know what wood to use – we cut it on a waning moon in January, so it’s strong for years to come. Whatever it is in any case, I would disassemble the trabocco if someone else [won the space]then they would buy a square of sea.”

“Hastily Done”

There are 30,000 beach concessions in Italy, 98% of which are family owned.

There are 30,000 beach concessions in Italy, 98% of which are family owned.

Oleg Zhukov/Adobe Stock

The law – which has been approved by the Italian Senate and now goes to the Camera dei Deputati, which will vote on June 25 – aims to bring Italy up to EU competition rules. The bloc had introduced a rule in 2006, but Italy – along with other countries with a high concentration of beaches – had repeatedly postponed its implementation.

Italian concessions had been automatically renewed since 1992, and in 2018 the government decided that renewals would be valid until 2033. However, holders – who may have taken out loans or mortgages on their businesses – will now be stripped of their licenses. a decade earlier, with the government saying it must revise competition laws to benefit from the EU’s pandemic recovery plan. A spokesperson for the Consiglio di Stato, which proposed the law, did not respond to a request for comment.

Maurizio Rustignoli, president of FIBA, told CNN the way the law was passed “isn’t fair” and warned that prices could rise if big companies move in.

“A business owner who was told he had until 2033, projected 10 years and made investments and life choices, now finds the state took 10 years away, and so far, there has been no guarantee of compensation,” he said.

“It was done in a hurry, but a measure of this magnitude required more discussion.”

If inbound companies have to pay compensation to outbound operators, “prices will undoubtedly increase,” he said.

And he warned that the move could open the door for organized crime to enter – partly because of the funds needed to craft a winning proposition, and partly because few legitimate businesses will want to invest in something that could be retired a few years down the line.

“Every entrepreneur needs certainty about the future, if they are working legally. Either the illegal world will settle down or we will have an impoverished system,” he said.

“Tourist-oriented businesses are very attractive to money launderers, so the risk is there. I fear an infiltration of illegal funds.”

Beaches “could go to multinationals”

Italy's historic beach concessions include Art Deco establishments in Tuscany.

Italy’s historic beach concessions include Art Deco establishments in Tuscany.

gionnixxx/iStock Unpublished/Getty Images

According to Alex Giuzio, author of ‘La Linea Fragile’, Italy’s seaside concessions are “unique in the world”, dating back to the 1700s.

Giuzio, editor of Mondo Balneare, which reports on the sector, told CNN the law as it stands is too vague to provide reassurance.

“It’s very generic – we know there will be a tendering process, but not much more,” he said, adding that fears the coast could end up being “sold” are “valid”.

“Italy has more private concessions than anywhere else in Europe, and if the government doesn’t limit them to one per person, or promote small family farms – and they haven’t yet – you risk the beaches go to the multinationals, and that’s kind of terrible,” he said.

Beaches as big business

In Bibione, Veneto, beaches are big business.

In Bibione, Veneto, beaches are big business.

GitoTrevisan/iStock Unpublished/Getty Images

Not everyone is devastated. Some point to the current low rents from dealerships and the suspiciously low tax returns they often submit.

And in the northern Veneto region, operators are already “mostly large”, said Alessandro Berton, president of Unionmare, which represents them. Only two operators work on the eight kilometers of Bibione beach, for example; in other parts of the country, homeowners have a matter of meters for them.

And the Veneto region already has its own similar law that “produces effective results”. Beaches are big business in Veneto – they contribute 50% of the region’s GDP, or $10.5 billion.

“Venetian law helped us understand that difficulty can become opportunity,” Berton said. “You can redevelop the area. We have land that 50 years ago was worthless…and we’ve built $10.5 billion in GDP.”

He said recognition of the investments made by previous owners would be crucial in deterring big companies from entering. “The minimum you should give me is to pay back what I spent,” he said.

The death of the dolce vita?

Luciano Montechiaro fears losing his concession in Trentova Bay.

Luciano Montechiaro fears losing his concession in Trentova Bay.

romanadr/Adobe Stock

For Maurizio Rustignoli, however, everyone is at risk.

“You may be tall, but there is always someone taller, and in five or ten years you will see the change,” he said.

“Our worry is that small businesses will be crushed because they won’t have the financial power they have in Veneto…and although they are great in Veneto, you can’t have one policy,” did he declare. said.

In fact, it’s all sweet life vacation style that’s at risk, says Rustignoli.

“We don’t just sell deck chairs; we are selling a lifestyle.

“Going to a hypermarket is different from going to a small store.

“Tourism is a matter of emotions, and the sweet life consists of many things: food and wine, human relations, well-being. If you do the same thing everywhere, you lose a lot.”

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