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In March I attended the Banyan Tree Foundation Distinguished Lecture on “Tourism and Water: From Challenges to Solutions in the Asia-Pacific Region” in Hong Kong. The lecture was held to celebrate World Water Day 2014, and on the panel – alongside myself – were Mr Stewart Moore - CEO, EarthCheck; Dr Raj Rajan - RD&E Vice President, Global Sustainability Technical Leader, Ecolab and Dr Wilco Chan - Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
I hoped to discuss and potentially find answers to key questions. Do we need more and better technology to further reduce the energy, carbon and water footprints in tourism? Or is it more about habits and behaviours - or both?
The presentations on the day made it very clear: water and energy use will become the most contested resources of the future. Even more, they are highly inter-linked. Every litre of water that is pumped or heated requires energy. And every kilowatt-hour produced requires some input of water.
Regions such as Asia Pacific are a real hotspot for the water challenge. Tourism in this region is growing at five percent per annum. But at the same time, more than 75% of countries there are experiencing water stress at least during some critical period throughout the year.
The water use of tourism operations is huge compared with that of locals; up to eight times higher in some countries.
But it is not only hotels (which can sometimes operate at between 600 and 800 litres per guest night), but also the wider hospitality sector. Dr Wilco Chan discussed in detail water use in the thousands of dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong. It is very high mainly due to a very energy intensive method of cold thawing with running water.
Solutions are ready at hand: more efficient chiller systems; low-flow shower heads; dual flush toilets; different swimming pool pumps; more water and energy efficient appliances; a so-called ‘bubble machine’ for more efficient cold thawing; the use of smart meters for detailed measurement and monitoring… The list goes on.
The discussion at this lecture following the presentations however, pointed to another aspect of tourism operations: people. We often talk about tourist behaviour. Do tourists want to change their towels? Do they need a bath in their room? Which types of tourists are more resource intensive than others? What are the temperature expectations in guest rooms? These are important questions and relate to the ‘soft’ side of water and energy management.
Hotels need to think now, not only what measures can they take to reduce their own use of water, but how can they best engage guests? How can they ensure guests experience the comfort and sense of luxury they often expect on an exotic stay, but still help them behave responsibly? Is it possible to show guests why water-saving is important, without making them feel guilty?
Participants in the lecture pointed to all the people involved in the delivery of tourism; management, staff, housekeeping... It became evident, based on the feedback from Environmental Managers working in different hotels that it is not the lack of good technology that is the problem, but the insufficient training of staff who use it. Things are often made worse by high staff turnovers which are common in many parts of the tourism industry.
Reducing footprints in tourism is not as simple as it looks. It involves many more departments than just operations management or engineering. It needs to include all levels of a tourism enterprise – including the wider community in which the business operates.
What are your experiences? If your hotel operates in a water-stressed region, how do you manage this precious resource? How do you engage guests to save water? What simple measures have you taken to reduce water use? We want to hear your tips and ideas. Please share them.
The International Tourism Partnership has a Water Working Party which is raising the agenda of water conservation in the hospitality industry. Last year it published the results of its Water Risk Assessment. You can read the report here.