Water: an issue for the tourism industry?

water is a basic human right. Tourism must be sure not to remove communities' resources

2013 is the United Nation’s International Year of Water Cooperation, water is a basic human need, we cannot survive for long without it and polluted water is a major cause of infant mortality. Water is essential to maintaining our environment, achieving socio-economic development and reducing poverty. We raised the issue of water and tourism at WTM back in 2007 when we published No Water No Future – Tourism Drinking Destinations Dry

This year we are returning to the issue. On the afternoon of World Responsible Tourism Day we are debating whether the industry is doing enough to tackle the issue. There are parts of the world where water is not in short supply and where clean, safe water is freely available. But by 2030 it is expected that the demand for water will exceed supply by 40% and that half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress. The International Tourism Partnership, on behalf of the world’s leading hotel companies, is working on a risk assessment of availability and quality www.tourismpartnership.org/what-we-do/key-issues/water and seeking to identify those areas where water shortages pose a risk. Many of the hotels being built now will be operating in conditions of greater water scarcity – the time to engineer them to reduce consumption and recycle is now.

Water accounts for 10% of utility bills in many hotels, there are bottom-line advantages in reducing consumption when water is metred and paid for. Where water is pumped from the ground, the cost rises as the water table drops as the water has to be pumped from deeper underground. In our research in 2007 we were told by one hotelier that he had to dig his hotel well deeper at the rate of one metre per year. That is expensive; the water is being consumed faster than it is being replenished. The hotel is consuming water that has been collecting underground for many years; fossil water is being consumed. This is expensive for the hotel but for local communities, unable to afford to dig their well deeper, it may be disastrous. If the trend is not reversed or new sources of supply found it will be disastrous for everyone. The water will run out and drought will make the sustenance of life very difficult.

Accor reports that water use in their hotels from 2006 to 2010 decreased by 12%. Their Planet 21 sustainability programme includes a target for a 15% reduction in water consumption between 2011 and 2015. Accor worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers to look at its lifecycle environmental impact – this research found that only 13% of the water used by Accor occurs on-site. Direct consumption in bathrooms, kitchens, laundries, housekeeping, landscaping and swimming pools, along with water leaks, account for about 11% of the hotelier’s water use. Another 2% is consumed by air conditioning. A staggering 86% is consumed in the food supply chain, mostly on farms.

Hotels are well placed to provide potable piped water to their neighbours. Serena Hotels’ lodges in Lake Manyara and Amboseli provide  safe, clean drinking water to local communities. These examples of good neighbourliness are sadly rare.

As we have seen this year in central Europe the risk of flooding is also an issue – we need water for our survival and for a thriving industry – we need to learn to manage it better and to ensure that water does not become an issue between the industry and the local communities dependent upon it for their well-being and that of their environment.

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Harold is Professor of Responsible Tourism at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he teaches and researches in the Centre for Responsible Tourism. Harold researches on tourism, local economic development and poverty reduction, conservation and responsible tourism and teaches Masters and PhD students. as well as the industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists. Harold also undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism which he founded in 2002 and which promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration.

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