You make reservations at restaurants, sure. But how about booking in advance just to get a spot on the sand at the beach?
That’s exactly what some beachgoers will have to do in Spain this summer, thanks to the coronavirus crisis.
Canet d’en Berenguer, a Mediterranean town located just north of Valencia, will only allow 5,000 daily sunbathers on its local beach, around half the usual number, in order to maintain social distancing.
These spaces will need to be reserved in advance via a mobile phone app.
“This summer will be very different,” Pere Joan Antoni Chordá, the town’s mayor, tells CNN. “There’ll be more space between your neighbor. Like a ‘business-class’ beach.”
Canet will use a grid pattern to divide its broad, flat beach into square sections, each separated by two meters (six feet).
The sections are to be delineated by laying a series of nets on the sand that look like huge soccer goalpost nets to accommodate bigger groups of sunbathers.
Beachgoers will be allowed to book a sunbathing session for either the morning or afternoon, but not all day.
According to the mayor, sunbathers can reserve any available area, much like selecting seats online at a movie theater, and arrival times will be staggered to avoid crowds.
Beach crowd control
Access points to the beach are also to be reduced.
Once they arrive and confirm their reservation with staff, beachgoers will be led to their allocated section.
Antoni considers the advance reservations and staggered arrival times an essential measure.
“I wouldn’t be able to control the flow of people [without the new measures]. They would be all together, contaminating each other,” he explains.
Canet d’en Berenguer isn’t the only Spanish town opting to limit beach access this summer.
Over in Galicia, on the Atlantic Ocean, Sanxenxo will only allow sunbathers entry on a “first come, first served” basis.
However, Mayor Telmo Martin says he isn’t worried about crowds forming at the beach access points.
“Tourism is 80% of our economy,” Martin tells CNN. “We have to come up with solutions so that our people feel safe, from a health standpoint. I ask for responsibility from all.”
Sanxenxo, situated just an hour’s drive north of the Portuguese border, aims to allow a maximum of 75% of its normal beachgoers.
The town, one of northern Spain’s top tourist destinations, is also opting for grid patterns of sections for sunbathers with at least 1.5 meters (five feet) between them, on its main beach.
In addition, wooden posts with cords attached to form small squares for just a few sunbathers, or larger ones for a bigger group, will be added, according to Martin.
City workers are to control access to the beach, accompanying bathers to each section.
However, beachgoers here will no longer be able to occupy a spot all day simply by leaving their towels on it.
If they leave for lunch, they lose their spot to others, says Martin.
Assigned sunbathing areas
Both towns are planning to clean the beaches more often than in previous summers, with Canet lifting the thick nets off the sand each morning to let cleaning machines through.
Over in Sanxenxo, the cleaning machines will simply drive through the rows of wooden posts, like a tractor through vineyards. The public bathrooms and shower areas will also be disinfected regularly.
While both towns hope to open their beaches in June, any confirmed dates will ultimately depend on the deescalation from Spain’s state of emergency, which has been in effect since March 14.
The Spanish government has just started to slowly lift the strict home confinement restrictions, but any further changes are dependent on low infection rates in specific territories that officials say must have hospitals equipped and ready to handle a potential second wave of coronavirus.
“It’s new for all of us,” says Martin, a member of the conservative Popular Party, who’s been mayor of Sanxenxo for a total of eight years across two terms.
“People are already telling me they want even more space on the beach,” says Canet’s Antoni Chordá, a Socialist Party member who was elected as mayor just eight months ago.
Canet has budgeted 500,000 euros ($542,000) for its special beach plan this summer, while Sanxenxo will include its special plan within its 3.5 million euro ($3.8 million) budget for summer activities, say the mayors.
Both towns have smaller permanent populations that quadruple in the summer, when part-time residents flock to their vacation homes, and tourists who are either passing through or staying in hotels in town hit the beaches.
Reservations or not, the summer in these two towns will be a test of whether beachgoers can stay in their assigned areas, and largely stay apart from others, say both mayors.