Most beachgoers prefer beaches with pleasant views and clean water and sand. This is the conclusion reached by a sociological study carried out by UPC researchers Elisabet Roca and Miriam Villares during the summer of 2005. They were taking part, along with coastal engineers and geographers, in a broader scientific project analysing social perceptions of beach quality.
The research, published in the latest edition of Ocean & Coastal Management, compares differences in holidaymakers’ perceptions and beach preferences, and contains the responses of 700 beach users as well as in-depth interviews with local agents (tourism sector, environmental groups, companies and institutions, etc.) in four towns: Lloret de Mar, Blanes, Malgrat and Tossa de Mar.
Elisabet Roca and Miriam Villares suggest this information ‘from the horse’s mouth’ could be used to provide a better service for beach users and have an impact on public and environmental attitudes. “The idea isn’t to design beaches with only beach users in mind, but to take their opinions into account along with those of geomorphologists, ecologists, experts and managers,” the researchers told SINC.
The researchers chose six beaches (Malgrat Nord, S’abanell, Santa Cristina, Platja Llarga, Canyelles and Platja Gran) in the southern part of the Costa Brava, with their selection based on tourist density on urban and more natural beaches, where foreign tourists share the sand with local and Catalan holidaymakers. “This type of study aims to prevent the creation of identical beaches, and to avoid natural beaches being provided with the full range of services or to all have the same means of access. We need to promote an individual management model to suit each context,” explained Elisabet Roca, the study’s lead author.
The most popular beaches are long, with warm water
In physical terms, visitors to semi-natural beaches gave the most points (8 out of 10) to beach length, while water temperature scored highest for those using urban beaches, at 7.8 out of 10. With regard to environmental features, the most important element both on urban and semi-natural beaches was the scenery – the classic attraction of the Costa Brava coast.
One of the study’s main conclusions is that “beachgoers’ social class and opinions vary depending on the kind of beach in question”, according to Roca. However, water and sand quality, as well as scenery, are of greatest importance to all beach users, although urban beaches, which suffer more from pollution caused by human activity, receive worse scores in this respect.
On semi-natural beaches, frequented by local and Catalan visitors, peace and quiet is a highly-rated quality. Bathers on urban beaches, which attract many foreign tourists, prefer the convenience of having all facilities and services close at hand on the urban seafront.
The researchers also report a marked difference in the type of beach users, with 33% of tourists on urban beaches being foreigners, while 40% of those on semi-natural beaches are from the Barcelona metropolitan area. The study also shows that local beachgoers have a greater degree of beach loyalty, but also expect higher standards.
Foreign tourists express a greater degree of satisfaction with everything, despite mainly frequenting the urban beaches, which are extremely over-crowded. “This information could help to clarify or adapt the management model for beaches in each area, and to draw up priorities in terms of conservation or recreational use,” the researchers told SINC:
I don’t like it because it’s dirty and difficult to get to
The study also contains less favourable responses by beach users. “Urban beaches, for example, suffer from erosion, offer limited space, and the size of the beaches and number of people on them generally received poor marks,” explained the author. Negative features noted on semi-natural beaches were their difficult access routes or the lack of services.
Despite negative opinions relating to access routes or parking on semi-natural beaches, however, “this does not mean that access should be improved or that car parking facilities should be expanded, because this would lead to more people visiting the beaches, which would in turn lose some of the features that made them popular in the first place: their peace and natural environment”. In general, it is clear that semi-natural beach users are happy on the beach “because no very low marks were given”, say the researchers.
The methodology used
The questionnaires, part of a project financed by the Ministry of Science and Innovation (MICINN), form part of Elisabet Roca’s thesis. The survey was translated into four languages (Catalan, Spanish, English and French) in order to ensure foreign tourists could also take part in the study.
The range of questions comprised one part relating to user profile (with socio-economic variables and demographic profiles based on age, gender, profession, place of residence, customs, information on local accommodation and frequency of beach visits) and an evaluation of beach quality based on 46 parameters (giving a score from 1 to 10 for each depending on the level of satisfaction). The parameters were divided into four categories: physical, environmental, facilities and services, and lastly layout and convenience.
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