In support of the United Nation’s International Year of Water 2013, the World Responsible Tourism Awards sponsored by the Sultanate of Oman Ministry of Oman introduce a new category valid for one year only: “Best for Water Conservation”. Water conservation is one of this year’s WTM 3 responsible themes, which has long advocated for access to clean and safe water by supporting the charity Just a Drop.
According to the UN, 783 million people still do not have access to clean water and 2.5 bn do not have access to adequate sanitation. Yet, tourism puts a lot of pressure on water resources, especially in destinations that receive high volumes of tourists and where water is scarce. In fact, tourists consume excessive volumes of water. In the Mediterranean, holidaymakers can use up to 440 litres a day, double the consumption of any Spanish town dweller (UNESCO). Academic studies conservatively estimate that an international tourist consumes 222 litres of water daily (Gossling et al., 2012).
The International Tourism Partnership explains: “Water scarcity is a recognized global problem, with demand for water projected to exceed supply by 40% by 2030. By the same year, half of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress”.
For example, during the tourist season, Majorca needs to import water transferred by tankers from the mainland to meet demand from its 2 million visitors. Santorini and other Greek islands also supplement their water resources by importing from nearby islands (University of Twente, Netherlands). The Travel Foundation explains that scarcity can be due to natural water shortage (e.g. in North Africa) but an increase in the occurrence of droughts is now putting added pressure on popular tourist destinations such as the Caribbean islands.
Tourism is highly reliant on water to supply recreational activities and accommodation to tourists. The industry has everything to gain from preserving water quality to ensure tourists can enjoy activities such as swimming, kayaking, fishing or diving but also golfing (because of lawn maintenance) or skiing (to create artificial snow). Water conservations is also key to the preservation of marine life, or any wildlife. Furthermore, water features, such as lakes, rivers and waterfalls greatly contribute to the appeal of a destination and must be protected to maintain visitor arrivals and tourism income. In some places tourism contributes considerably to the local economy. For example, tourism receipts now account for nearly 50% of St Lucia’s, Antigua’s and Barbuda’s GDP, whilst in the Maldives, it reaches 90% (UNESCO).
Hotels are where water consumption is at its highest, and a surge in hotels due to the constant and global increase of tourism is adding pressure in destinations. Water is needed for laundry, swimming pools, toilets, food preparation or upkeep of landscaped garden. According to the International Tourism Partnership, hotel swimming pools can increase freshwater consumption by 10%. Tourism Concern states that in Goa, “one five-star hotel consumes as much water as an entire village over the course of a whole month”.
Such disparities can create conflict with the communities, especially in places where access to water for locals is erratic and limited whilst hotels benefit from a constant supply. Limiting water impacts also hugely on farming and on the ability of communities to earn a living by supplying local food and drinks to hotels.
Lately, the increase in popularity of golfing has added pressure on water resources. According to UNESCO, “Golf tourism has an enormous impact on water withdrawals: an eighteen hole golf course can consume more than 2.3 million litres a day, which is as much as that consumed by 60,000 rural villages in Thailand”.
However, the hotel industry is making progress in promoting water conservation. Saving water leads to substantial savings. In fact, compared with poorly equipped hotels, those that invest in water conservation can reduce the amount of water consumed per guest per night by up to 50% (ITP). Green Hoteliers cites many examples of good practice such as using alternative water sources for irrigation, using rainwater or treated water for toilet flushing, installing low flow showerheads and water-saving fittings, and training staff to use water more efficiently. The best initiatives are where water treated through waste water treatment plants built by hotels, is shared with local communities.
Nominate a tourism organisation committed to water conservation on: http://www.worldresponsibletourismawards.com/nominations