Beach passes and good manners: Belgian beach towns prepare for summer amid lockdown

Beach passes and good manners: Belgian beach towns prepare for summer amid lockdown
Illustration picture shows people enjoying the beach at the Belgian coast. Credit: Belga/Nicolas Maeterlinck

As the summer approaches, Belgian beach towns are considering ways to relieve their tourism-driven economies while keeping in check with coronavirus regulations.

In Ostend, Mayor Bart Tommelein said in a TV interview on Thursday that he was considering rolling out "beach passes" to regulate access to the beach.

Tommelein's proposal will aim to counter expectations that Belgian beaches will be swamped this summer as countries keep their borders sealed to curb the pandemic.

The passes would be given with priority to locals as well as those who have a second residency in the city, whose tax contributions Tommelein said entitled them to the beach ahead of others.

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But the initiative by Ostend appears to have so far aroused little enthusiasm from neighbouring town mayors, whose solutions range from a laxer laissez-faire approach to the imposition of regulations from above.

In neighbouring Middelkerke, Mayor Jean-Marie Dedecker said that beaches will remain open to anyone who uses "their manners and common sense."

"Everyone is welcome on the coast, as my father always said, when you come, keep your manners, use your common sense," Dedecker said, adding: "[People] need hope now, they want to be able to play in the water, and enjoy the iodine in the sea air. And we want to give them that."

Other mayors are instead looking to the federal level for a top-down solution in order to avoid a hotchpotch of regulations that could create confusion between bordering municipalities.

Ostend's beach pass proposal will work better in one municipality than in the other, the mayor of De Panne, Bram Degrieck said, adding: "I hope that the decisions will be made by the federal government, and not by individual mayors."

"People go for a walk in Knokke-Heist in the morning and come for dinner in Blankenberge in the afternoon and, in the evening, they may want to go for De Haan — will we work with three different systems (...)? that also means a lot of red tape for us and tourists," Blankenberge Mayor Daphné Duméry told VRT.

Concerns about the capacity of local police zones to enforce regulations among beach dwellers have prompted other mayors to back-up calls for clear rules from above.

Nieuwpoort Mayor Geert Van den Broucke said that clarity was needed from "a higher hand" in order to make sure people didn't "forget the rules," while Bredene Mayor Steve Vandenberghe advocated for the cancellation of events to facilitate police officers' tasks.

The coastal mayors are set to hold a meeting via conference call to discuss this subject on Friday, according to Bruges mayor Dirk de fauw, who said mayors still hoped for some tourists in order to help their ailing local businesses.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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