ROME – Hotels at an Italian seaside resort are eager to act on the town's decision to authorize the creation of all-female beach sections for Muslim women, with at least one hotel owner saying Friday that plans are already under way to open the first of such secluded areas next month.
The city council of Riccione, a popular resort on Italy's Adriatic coast about 90 miles east of Florence, has said it is prepared to authorize requests to set up partitions on parts of the shoreline to satisfy requests from the town's growing numbers of Arab and Muslim tourists.
"They can have anything they want, but they can't go to the beach, at least not without all those heavy clothes," Attilio Cenni, owner of the upscale Grand Hotel des Bains, said of his female Muslim guests.
Cenni said he plans to open the first secluded section starting in September on a stretch of shoreline of about 10,000 square feet and to expand further next season across the more isolated beaches on Riccione's outskirts.
He also plans a TV advertising campaigns in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Cenni told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Popular with German and French tourists, Riccione's mass-tourism venues have recently started to attract thousands of Arab and Muslim visitors each year, mostly from the conservative Arabian peninsula, city officials say.
Supporters of the idea say that the separate beaches would allow observant Muslim women to shed their headscarves and long robes and enjoy the sun in privacy; religious restrictions otherwise oblige them to cover up if men are present.
"I can only be in favor of such a proposal," said Tomas Corazza, manager of the Hotel Mediterraneo. "It allows them to use the beach while respecting their traditions and their religion."
Corazza didn't have immediate plans to open a beach for Muslims this season but said he would advertise this new feature in a mailing list he sends to some 3,000 Arabs who are frequent guests at the hotel.
Cenni said he was already discussing with authorities the only snag in the proposal — the fact that the partitions won't reach into the sea but will have to stop short of the waterline to allow public passage.
While Riccione's municipality would consider authorizing the construction of reserved seaside swimming pools, Cenni said he hopes he will be allowed to close-off the entire beach with covered partitions and have female lifeguards patrol the sea in water scooters to keep men away. In Italy, all shorelines must be accessible to the public.
"That sounds a little bit like a fantasy," said Andrea Cicchetti, a spokesman for Riccione's mayor.
But Cenni insists that if the partitions are mounted on isolated beaches the inconvenience to passers-by and swimmers will be minimal, allowing his guests to swim without having to don headscarves and robes again.
"These are areas where there is little passage and any problem could be solved with common sense and sensitivity," he said. "We want to make a beach where these ladies will be free."