After over 25 years of accrediting beaches, has Blue Flag contributed to sustainable management?

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This paper examines the qualitative, quantitative, and geographical evolution (1987 2012) of the Blue Flag campaign and accreditation process in Spain, a leading coastal tourism destination heading the list of awards. The standard Blue Flag criteria for crowded, developed beaches are now adapting to new demands for natural beaches, but they still fail to capture essential sustainable tourism features, such as limiting user numbers, or preserving and restoring sand ecosystems. Given these shortcomings, some destinations are moving to alternative awards with a higher environmental commitment, such as EMS, ISO14001, and Eco-Management and Audit Schemes (EMAS). A cluster analysis of Blue Flag data for 983 beaches in Spain over 26 years revealed different behaviour patterns: established tourist areas that have always opted for the Blue Flag programme; tourist areas that adopted the Blue Flag early on but replaced it with ISO14001 and EMAS; recently developed destinations applying for the award to boost their tourism promotion; and tourist areas with no well-defined policy that have opted intermittently for Blue Flag. These profiles illustrate the different policies of Spain's Autonomous Regions, and they are useful for tourism managers to verify whether their destination's behaviour pattern contributes to sustainable tourism and matches strategic policies they have designed for them ​
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