Tourism and water use – time for some fresh thinking

tourism-water-useI’ve been looking into hotel water sustainability innovations over the last few days, trying to find some stories for a blog to mark World Water Day, which happened last Sunday. I’ve been reading how water accounts for 10% of utility bills in many hotels. And how globally demand for water is projected to exceed supply by 40% by 2030.

I’ve also read many of the efforts the industry is making. Of the impact of low flow showerheads and toilets, or simply washing smaller loads in smaller machines. I’ve seen statistics claiming some hotels have reduced the amount of water consumed per guest per night by up to 50%. Or of others donating a portions of profits – and encouraging their guests to donate – to charities working in water stressed regions of the world.

Of itself, much of this makes for encouraging reading. Many in tourism outperform other industries in the reductions they are making. But such an approach isn’t setting out to make tourism part of the solution. It is simply making it a lesser part of the problem.

It's time for our targets to move beyond this sort of thinking....
It’s time for our targets to move beyond this sort of thinking….

If tourism really wants to lead, however, then hotels need to stop just setting goals to reduce their water use as much as possible. Of course they should do this – just as we all should turn the tap off when brushing our teeth. But this should be what they aim for. It should just be what they do on the way.

Instead, tourism needs to aim not just to reduce its demands, but to increase the benefits it creates. Why can’t hotels look to improve the water supply in the regions where they work? Build desalination plants that supply not just their water, but also those of the community around them. Recycle bottles to contain their own fresh water, which they then not only serve to guests, but also distribute to local schools. Capture and treat enough of their wastewater so that they can use it to irrigate not just their own gardens, but those of the people that live nearby. Or pledge to guests that every time they chose not to have their linen laundered, that the water use they save is donated somewhere else?

All it takes is a change of approach. Last week I was on Waiheke island off the North Island of New Zealand. When the council there puts a new tree or plant into a public space, it plants something that bears food – such as fruit trees or tomato plants. Where before the plants just demanded water, now they provide food. They changed their goal, from simply beautifying the flowerbeds and pavements, into making them something that sustains.

 

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Jeremy Smith is a writer, speaker and sustainable tourism consultant. He is co-founder of Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, an initiative that supports tourism organisations in declaring a climate emergency and working together to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the Science Based Targets. He is the author of Transforming Travel - realising the potential of sustainable tourism (2018), and co-founder of Travindy.com, the travel industry sustainable tourism website news site. He consults widely on sustainable tourism strategy and communication, with recent clients including Bruges Ommeland, GSTC, English National Parks, Tripadvisor, the Travel Foundation, and the European Travel Commission. He is a member of Travalyst’s Independent Advisory Board and was a member of Rotterdam’s International Advisory Board in 2019, helping develop a new vision for the city’s tourism.

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