The Role of Blue Flag in the Destination Communication: Empirical Evidence on Italian Awarded Beaches

by Tonino Pencarelli, Simone Splendiani and Claudia Fraboni

Marketing Places and Spaces. Shifting Tourist Flows, 5th Advances in Tourism Marketing Conference, Vilamoura (Portugal), October 2-4, 2013.


Sustainable tourism development is, today, a central issue for both academics and policy makers. The first ones are committed to verify the validity of models and approaches according to the recent cross-cutting issues of sustainability (Franch, 2010) as developed by the local destination managers; the others are asked to apply those models and to take political action to adequately meet the sustainability needs of both demand and destination sides. In other words, sustainable tourism is not just a new market segment directed to green (or reasonable) tourism consumption but is a real cross-sensitivity which involves multiple market segments and is more and more influencing the tourists’ choice of a destination (Pencarelli & Splendiani, 2010).

Many Italian destinations, especially the classic ones, seem to feel the need to become more sustainable (managing their territories according to sustainable development principles) and/or to help consumers identify their area as a sound sustainable tourism destination (meeting or maintaining long-term environmental and social sustainability standards) (Presenza, 2008). Environmental certification programs can play a useful role in this context (Pencarelli & Gregori, 2009). If managed in conjunction with the spontaneous approaches taken by the local authorities in the field of environmental protection, certification schemes may serve to encourage managers to constantly enhance the environmental quality of their destination, to promote it as a brand and to enhance its competitiveness (Morgan & Pritchard, 2004; Cantone et. al, 2006; Hankinson, 2007). In fact, certification systems can bring two main benefits to both governments and tourism operators: on one hand they enhance the effects of the external communication policies, so destinations are enabled to market their offer more effectively and to improve their public image both among tourists and host communities; on the other hand, certification programs help generating increased environmental awareness and should result in more caring attitudes with respect to the natural and built environments (Blichefeldt, 2003). The main purpose of this work is to illustrate the role and potential of environmental certification programs in the communication policies of tourist-oriented territories (Cf. Iannario, 2008). After a first theoretical part, the study focuses on the analysis of one of the most known and widespread tourism-related environmental awards, the Blue Flag, with regard to Italy (Cf. Creo & Fraboni, 2011). The Blue Flag Programme is a voluntary certification scheme owned and run by the independent, non-profit organisation Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). The programme works towards sustainable development at beaches/marinas through strict criteria dealing with water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, and safety and other services. The main objectives of the Blue Flag scheme are to improve understanding of the coastal environment and to promote the incorporation of environmental issues in the decision-making processes of local authorities and their partners through awareness and education. The Award is given for only one season at a time and during the season the site is monitored to assure it is in compliance with the strict Blue Flag criteria.



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