Italian government soothes sunbathers burnt by high prices

Official watchdog comes to aid of beach users fed up with €1,200-a-month cost of hiring sun loungers

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Amid criticism about the extortionate prices sun-worshippers in Italy pay to hire a couple of sunbeds and a parasol on the beach, groups representing thousands of private bathing stations last week struck a pact with a government watchdog to cut charges.

In Italy, most of the best stretches of sand are handed over to private concessions, which usually own the beach bar and pedalos as well. Many middle-class Italians will pay an average of €1,200 a month for the same spot every year.

But now, in a scheme called "Discount Afternoons", the standard beach package – entrance fees, two sunbeds and an umbrella and the use of showers and toilets – will cost an average of just €15 after 2pm, compared with €30 for the whole day. Some resorts will even throw in a free ice-cream too, it was announced.

The agreement was struck between Antonio Lirosi, the government-appointed price tsar, and the concession owners, reportedly under the insistence of the Italian Industry Minister, Claudio Scajola.

"We have been struggling with cut-price competition from abroad for years," said Vincenzo Lardinelli, president of the Italian federation of beach companies. "[From] Egypt, Tunisia, Costa Brava and Croatia."

With inflation reaching a 12-year high of 4.1 per cent in July, an estimated 43 per cent of the population, according to a recent poll, are not taking any holidays at all this year. That, however, doesn't mean they won't be going to the beach.

The new scheme is not obligatory. Many of the concessions will not be taking part, with some accusing the government of orchestrating a stunt. "It is just a cheap publicity shot" said the administrator of the "Mamma Licia" concern in Porto Ercole, southern Tuscany. "We don't belong to any consortium and our prices are the same as they have been since 2003 – €21 a day, which is good value for beautiful sand and clean water."

And La Stampa newspaper pointed out that "this epoque-making revolution" looks a little shallow given that most concessions offer their own discount deals and that many Italians save money by using the public beaches that local authorities, to whom the concession taxes are paid, are duty-bound to provide.