Water Scarcity and Stewardship: How can travellers be better stewards of the world’s fresh water supply?

“I pledge to limit myself to a 3 minute shower per day in areas where water is scarce.”

The global water crisis affects upwards of 2.5 billion people around the world according to the World Health Organization. This number represents those without consistent access to clean water or sanitation, and it’s a figure expected to worsen over the coming decade if the current consumption rates continue. Water scarcity is a defining issue for the world, and Travel & Tourism in particular.

According to WaterHub, right now “a quarter of the world’s population live in ecosystems under threat from water scarcity.” And while this may seem like an issue unrelated to tourism, the facts attest to the strong link. A 2016 UN Environmental Programme report noted that the “demand for fresh water is likely to outstrip supply by 40% by 2030 and a third of the world’s population will be living in areas of severe water stress by this time. In most countries, water consumption per guest in hotels vastly exceeds that of the local population.”

Both travellers and the industry clearly have roles to play in making T&T a force for good in the world. Only by raising awareness of the very real and devastating impact of global water scarcity can we take part in an industry ready to meet the coming challenges. There is no single panacea. Innovative emerging technologies promise solutions for companies and travellers willing to partake — travellers need to expect more from hotels and hotels need to deliver comprehensive water saving solutions. And even more, it’s up to travellers to take personal responsibility for water consumption while on vacation.

Let’s look at where the industry stands today, the opportunities for the future, and how individual travellers can show good water stewardship on each and every trip, both at home and abroad.

Addressing Water Scarcity Through Technology

Many believe that big data is a game changer in hospitality. It’s a common refrain now for tourism companies to posit what they will do when psychometric guest profiles are commonplace and provide a perfectly customised guest experience. Big data within the water industry looks quite different than than that in the broader tourism industry. Within water, new technologies provide a chance to quickly identify water leakage — the World Bank estimates global water losses from leakage of 8.6 trillion gallons per year — or even use predictive algorithms to prevent water leaks.

And something interesting happens when data and technology merge within the water and tourism sectors: the gamified shower. Joining the Internet of Things is an intriguing solution for T&T. Based in Portugal, Optishower offers gamification strategies to hospitality and leisure aimed at increasing profit margins by reducing water and energy consumption. While the Optishower first and foremost encourages travellers to monitor personal water consumption, the smart technology also pairs with hotel rewards programmes, giving hotels an effective way to incentivise hotel guests to optimise water usage.

Tourism Companies Addressing Water Scarcity

The hotel industry takes a large onus of responsibility for positive water stewardship in T&T. Hotels around the world, particularly in vulnerable destinations, have a responsibility to find and use the best technology and solutions to help move the entire industry towards a more sustainable future. With the problem only continuing to worsen, hotels are implementing various water-saving strategies; some of the more standard steps include water-saving shower heads, faucet aerators, and ozone machines in the laundry facilities. That said, International Tourism Partnership notes that “it’s clear that towel and linen programmes are no longer enough when it comes to hotels playing their part in good water stewardship” — organizations need clear and effective water management plans.

One ecolodge has used the latest technology, along with traveller-focused awareness programmes, to change behaviors and water consumption habits. A 2014 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards finalist, Chepu Adventures Ecolodge created an innovative water management system to address the unique challenges of running a hotel in a remote region of Chile. Tourism primarily peaks during the region’s dry season, which is why the ecolodge collects rainwater throughout the year. Solely relying on that rainwater and filtration systems, Chepu installed panels in each room to show guests their personal water and energy consumption, providing guests with a recommended eco-limit for their stay. The lodge notes that guests embrace this level of care and environmental stewardship, and even “learn how to keep their savings at home and continue with their environmentally friendly practices, discuss and compare with friends and family, and spread awareness.”

Water Stewardship for World Travellers

While the hotels and technology provide innovative options for addressing water scarcity, travellers can also play a powerful role in water conservation and stewardship. At present, tourism accounts for an unsustainable percentage of local water supplies in many vulnerable locations around the world. Water disparity studies show that “tourists׳ water use in Fiji and Sri Lanka exceeds that of locals by a factor of 8.5 and 8.3.” And it’s not an isolated problem. From Thailand to Tanzania, tourists consumes inordinately more water than locals, raising very valid concerns about water inequities in developing nations (which is where the data indicates the highest water disparities exist between locals and tourists).

Here are ways to become a better steward of the world’s fresh water supply:

1.Take three-minute showers in water-scarce destinations. Research your destination beforehand and adjust your showering habits to fit the local situation. Some destinations have seasonal water shortages or short periods of drought, while other destinations require year-round care of the local supply. Taking a three-minute shower drastically lowers your daily consumption, and will have a real effect as travellers around the world adopt this habit.

2. Adjust your expectations. Although shorter showers are one part of the solution, some of the biggest uses of the freshwater supply in tourism come from water features on hotel properties, such as lush green lawns and large swimming pools. In water-scarce destinations, book accommodations that integrate innovative freshwater alternatives, like location-appropriate landscaping, filling fountains with cascades of succulents, or installing water-recycling programs where possible.

3. Support hotels and destinations investing in water conservation strategies. Hotels at every price-point have begun to take notice of this serious issue. From luxury resorts to budget lodges, use your tourism dollars to support industry practices centered on water conservation and preservation. By making conscious spending choices, your tourism dollars can motivate the industry to adopt strong sustainability standards.

There is no single solution to global water scarcity because change will only come through coordinated efforts and a true commitment from every facet of the industry — hotels, destinations, and tourists, too. Each facet has a role to play in mitigating the very real consequences coming from decades of over-consumption and unrestrained use of limited resources.


To learn more about what you can do to make your travels more sustainable, visit toomuchtoask.org


This post is part of a series about the various pledges that are part of the Is It Too Much To Ask campaign. You can view the campaign microsite here.

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