Asia on Stream

As visitors flood into the fast-developing Asia Pacific region, good water management is a critical priority for hotel operators says writer Paul Clements-Hunt

Festival goers, floating their Loin Kratong offerings on the Chao Phraya River, which runs through the heart of Bangkok, believe the gesture will purify their souls. The malt whisky distillers of Scotland understand that pure water is the key to their magical art.

Each June, communities from the state of Maryland wade into the Patuxent, a river feeding Chesapeake Bay, in response to the politicians' challenge that when they 'look down and see their toes they will know the river is restored.'

Globally, water is rooted in the hearts, traditions, and social structures of all societies and the deteriorating condition of our waterways is the most tangible form of environmental degradation.

How clean is your water - before and after use?

Water quality is a world issue. As estimated 1,000 million people do not have a safe, accessible water supply. Some examples shock: In Shanghai, drinking water from the Haung Pu River is implicated in stomach and liver cancer deaths

Water under threat
Improved water resource management is clearly a critical priority for the 21st century. The urgency of the issue is highlighted by the projected increase in the world's population, rising by 3.7 billion between 1990 and 2030. In the early 1990s, the World Bank estimated that 170 million urban dwellers lacked a source of potable water near to home and more than 855 million people in rural areas did not have access to safe water.

Evidence of inland, coastal and marine water courses under threat are increasingly well-documented. Some examples are deeply shocking: drinking water from the Huang Pu River in Shanghai has been implicated as 'an important factor for male stomach and liver cancer deaths.' Water resources are increasingly politicised and are taking on a deeper geopolitical significance. In Southeast Asia, for example, water-based political tensions have been fuelled by the concerns of six nations over management of the powerful resources of the Mekong River.

Focusing attention on Asia Pacific, termed the region of the 21st century, many of the concerns exhibited in this dynamic area reflect well the wider global water debate and present a range of water management challenges for the hotel industry. The combined effects of rapid industrialisation, urbanisation and social restructuring are seen to impact negatively on the region's water resources.

For the hotel sector, the challenge of sound water management has special significance in Asia where many tourist attractions are water-related and the need to protect water has come to the fore as the tourist potential of the region is recognised.

Development surge
Significant hotel development is taking place as the industry adds rooms required for the influx of visitors. Between 1995 and 1998, annual tourist income for Thailand, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and South Korea, are projected to leap from US $22 billion to US $26 billion. Some newer destinations are experiencing similar comparative increases: in 1994 1.5 million people visited Vietnam and this number is expected to reach 3 million by the year 2000; Burma anticipates 100,000 tourists by the end of 1995, up almost 40,000 on 1994; and Cambodia and Laos welcomed almost 60,000 and 40,000 visitors, respectively, in 1994.

This surge in development, at the most basic water management level, brings with it the clear need for hotel operators to tackle sewage treatment and water supply. The sewage contamination of Pattaya Bay, as a notorious negative example, now being addressed through centralised municipal waste water treatment, proved that many hotel operators adopted the blinkered, short-term approach of pumping wastes directly into the sea in a way which has undermined the famous Thai resort's reputation. The practice is repeated in many resorts throughout Asia Pacific.

Hotel developers and operators need to tackle the basic issues of water supply and sewage treatment.

In Panaya Bay, Thailand, many hotel operators adopted the short-term approach of pumping wastes directly into the sea. The resulting sewage contamination damaged the resorts reputation as well as the environment, and is now being cleaned up through municipal waste water treatment. This cycle is being repeated in many locations worldwide. Prevention is an option if hoteliers work together, to develop local solutions and press for legislation. New technologies mean that local action can be quicker, cheaper and more cost-effective than large-scale treatment projects.

Success stories
Conversely, there are numerous examples throughout the region of hotels effectively addressing water management with a range of well-proven technical solutions-or simply improved housekeeping. The Mandarin Oriental, Jakarta, reports a 13.7% saving on water consumption, reducing usage from 219,583m3 a year to 189,712m3, with a six-step 'water saving programme' ranging from reduced-flow shower heads to reclamation of treated sewer water for use in cooling towers.

At the Taj InterContinental, Bombay, a policy of aggressive monitoring of pipes, fittings and installations has reduced wastage at all major water outlets. The result is an impressive 20-25% saving without any inconvenience to guests.

Buying into water
A major challenge for the hotel industry in Asia lies not in the technical aspects of implementing improved water management but rather in persuading the full range of international guests to 'buy into' the process. A straw poll of senior hotel executives around Asia Pacific clearly reveals that European and North American visitors are becoming increasingly pro-active in both their questioning and feedback on the way hotels manage water.

The increasing number of Asian business and leisure travellers, not as exposed to 'Green Thinking', are less so. In bustling Hong Kong and clean, green Singapore, hotel operators, spurred on by the tougher stance of government on water management issues, appear more confident in directly appealing to guests to participate in environmental programmes. "We see a great deal of positive feedback to water conservation initiatives particularly from western businessmen who travel extensively in the region. They frequently contrast the environmental situation here with that of other countries;' explained a senior executive at the Regent, Singapore.

Taking on the challenge: Chanin Donavanik and the Dusit Thani group

The importance of committed individuals catalysing water conservation programmes amongst the Asia Pacific hotel industry is highlighted by the example of one Thai group. The Dusit Thani Public Co, inspired by its executive director, Chanin Donavanik, took a committed stance on environment in 1989. The group's environment committee has initiated campaigns which include comprehensive water conservation programmes. The group's hotel on the island of Koh Samui allows a neighbouring hotel to use its waste water treatment system. The innovative example of the Dusit Thani group provides a blueprint relevant to many other parts of Asia Pacific where 'Green Thinking', and particularly water management, has only recently arrived.

The challenging pace of change

Rising tourism receipts across Asia Pacific coupled with the quest by international developers for ever more exotic locations will place remote areas under threat. Concerns have been raised already over ecologically-sensitive marine environments, from the islands of the Andaman Sea to the biologically-rich reels of the Philippines. The sheer pace of growth will challenge the best efforts of advocates for environmentally sustainable tourist development.

By contrast, in the newer industrialising countries, where environmental laws tend to be poorly enforced, the process of improved water management in hotels is more random, driven by in-house initiatives or committed executives rather than an industry-wide requirement driven by competitor and government pressures. The general manager of a 450-bedroom international chain hotel in Kuala Lumpur, for example, admits: "To be very frank we don't manage water at present. I believe Asia is way behind on this issue and we have not realised the need as yet." At the Sofitel Metropol Hotel, Hanoi, the message is more optimistic. "We do not yet have an active water conservation programme, but we will implement one in time. It is early days for such issues here:' To make a direct plea to guests for assistance on water conservation, most commonly through reuse of room towels, turning off running taps, and limiting the number of toilet flushes, remains a taboo for some elite hotels. "While some guests welcome an environmental message others simply see it as a cost-saving exercise. We see a real difference between the attitude of European and North American guests, who have been exposed to environmental thinking for longer, and Asian guests who are understandably less familiar with the ideas;' explained the General Manager of one of Hong Kong's five-star hotels."

This article was contributed to GREEN HOTELIER by Paul Clements-Hunt, Head of Research at the Environmental Information Unit (EIU) of SGS (Thailand) Ltd, an affiliate of the Geneva-based, Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS) Group, the world's largest organisation in the field of inspection and verification.


The IHEI Asia Pacific Council was spearheaded by Robert Riley in 1992 following a meeting of hoteliers and a visit to the region by HRH The Prince of Wales. Member companies promote IHEI activities in the region, distribute resource materials and assist with the development of internal environmental programmes.

Robert Riley Managing Director, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group

Kurt Rufli Managing Director, Amari Hotels & Resorts

Dario Regazzoni Vice President -Asia, Conrad International

Chanin Donavanik Executive Director, Dusit Hotels and Resorts

P R S Oberoi Vice Chairman, East India Hotels

Jose Panlilio Senior Executive Vice President, Grand Hotels and Resorts Group

David Paulon Senior Vice President-Asia Pacific, Holiday Inn Worldwide

Douglas Webster Director, Finance and Corporate Services, Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotels Ltd

Marcello Pigozzo President-Asia Pacific, Inter-Continental Hotels & Resorts

Ed Davie President, Asia, ITT Sheraton Corporation

Goro Yamazaki Managing Director, Okura Hotels International

Michael Kalyk President, Omni Hotels Asia Pacific

James Choi Vice Chairman and President, Renaissance Hotels International

David Hayden Managing Director, Shangri-La Hotels

Park Young Koo President, Shilla Hotel

Alfred Low Group General Manager, Singapore Mandarin International (SMI)

Ho Kwon Ping President, Wah Chang Group, Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts

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