It suddenly occurred to me, as these things do, that we haven't yet been treated to the annual Blue Flags ritual. Isn't this normally in May? It is, and in 2019 we were informed at the end of the first week of May that there were 44 Blue Flag beaches in the Balearics.
According to the Blue Flag website, the international jury is still out, as in it's preparing to meet and to award the 2020 Northern Hemisphere beaches. It's unclear when this message was posted, but it was within the context of the crisis - "We must all stay strong and we must stand together to overcome this." So, it wouldn't be entirely beyond the bounds of possibility that at the same time as you are reading this, the annual ritual will be being observed.
The timing of the awards for this year is perhaps rather less pressing than in previous years, and I think we know why. Nevertheless, Phase 2 and all that will mean that Majorca's beaches are open again - properly open, that is. From Monday, assuming Majorca passes to Phase 2 (and it surely will), the new normal of beach life will commence with social distancing and environmentally friendly disinfection.
Ah yes, the disinfection. This could just make things somewhat tricky, and where Blue Flag is concerned, the post-Covid reality will no doubt add yet another criterion to what has been an ever-expanding set of criteria since the whole exercised started back in 1987. Blue Flag, in this regard, will have been caught well and truly on the hop, certainly for this year, a point being that the criteria have grown and grown from what was just basically water quality to include all manner of services.
The need for a Blue Flag has been increasingly questioned in recent years, and this once caused something of a spat between the then Balearics tourism minister, Biel Barceló, and the ADEAC (Asociación de Educación Ambiental y del Consumidor), which is the body that oversees the Blue Flags in Spain. Certain town halls don't bother with applying, partly because of the rigmarole and partly because they have other certifications of quality. One of these certifications is the Q Flag of Quality, the system operated by the Spanish Institute of Tourism Quality (ICTE) within the framework of its Q Mark, which is available for hotels and restaurants, among others.
The ICTE is the body that has been responsible for coming up with the Covid protocols for beaches, and one would think that right now beachgoers are as concerned about these as they are about the quality of the water and certain beach services - rather more concerned in fact.
Blue Flag did a power of good when the scheme was first introduced in the late '80s. There's no questioning that it did or that it continues to do good. But one questions how much attention the average beachgoer and tourist really pays to it. Or indeed to other certifications. The expectations are very different to what they once were, and Blue Flag has done tremendous work in raising the expectations of beachgoers. But because of these expectations, no town hall or any other authority can afford to let standards slip, certifications or no certifications. If they do, then they will soon hear about it.
There are town halls in Majorca which are assiduous in making available information about water quality. Muro is one of these, and Muro is an example of a town hall which has gone beyond expectations in different ways, e.g. through the provision of a highly advanced rescue and health attention service. Playa de Muro has all the certifications, but part of the beach's reputation lies not with these certifications but with the extra mile that the town hall has gone.
Under current circumstances, the ICTE has very much come into its own by setting out the protocols, something which Blue Flag can't do. While the Q Flag might not be paid much attention to by beachgoers, the knowledge that an organisation has established Covid standards will be.
The ICTE has established a "Safe Tourism Certified" mark for tourism businesses. This has caused something of a row because of the cost of being audited. The ICTE says that the cost is between 100 and 400 euros, depending on the size of the business, and is free to those businesses which already have the Q Mark, something else about which one wonders if it is paid a great deal of attention to.
But Safe Tourism Certified is important not just because of the message it sends out to customers and employees but also because it addresses a situation that few businesses would have fully comprehended. With other aspects of their business they know all about quality, or should do, and the same applies to beaches. Certifications, flags, what have you; they're nice to have but are they essential? Safe Tourism Certified is an example where a mark is essential.