by Brian Collett —Thousands of hotels throughout the world are expected to combine in a drive to cut water consumption.
Along with conservation measures, they are adopting a calculation tool to ensure that hotels everywhere are judged by the same standards.
Heavy use of water in hotels was highlighted in a study by an independent member of the advisory group of the International Tourism Partnership, widely known as the ITP, a London-based organisation through which the hotel industry can share ideas, build relationships and collaborate.
The study, an analysis of tourism-related water use in 21 countries, showed that a typical hotel guest in the United Arab Emirates used 680 litres daily, compared with an average 300 for every individual in the local population. Already the UAE’s overall water consumption exceeds its natural supply.
In Fiji, tourists’ water consumption was found to be on average 8.5 times that of locals, and in Sri Lanka the figure was 8.3 times higher. In China, India, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, the water disparity was between 4.9 and seven.
Consumption in hotels was found to be greatest in developing countries, and industrialised nations were shown to be comparatively water-efficient.
For example, efficiency is high in New Zealand, which has substantial renewable fresh water resources, whereas India and Egypt, where water is scarce, experience high use by tourists.
The compiler of the report suspected that in developing countries the marked disparity was partly due to customary thrifty use by locals contrasting with holidaymakers’ less disciplined use.
Campaigners have noted that hotels have been irresponsibly located and developers have tapped into water tables to satisfy holidaymakers’ demands. Consequently, surrounding communities’ wells have run dry.
A frightening prediction raised by the study is that by 2030 demand globally for fresh water will outstrip supply by 40%, and a third of the world’s population, probably 8.5 billion by then, will suffer severe water shortages.
The ITP, faced with such statistics, decided on ethical grounds that hotels should play their part in reducing water consumption and responded with the Hotel Water Measurement Initiative.
The initiative, being known as the HWMI, is a collaboration of the ITP with 18 global hotel groups and the international business consultancy KPMG.
It is a water consumption assessment method enabling all hotels to measure the same factors in the same way. Hotels will be able to collect data and compare their performance with that of other establishments.
The ITP hopes this will set uniform standards that will bring about improvements.
The organisation has suggested various ways in which water can be saved in hotel rooms, including taps with low flow rates, showers with air-filled sprays, tap sensors and dual flush toilets.
Managements can help with economical linen and towel change regimes and staff training to reduce multiple toilet flushes during cleaning.
The ITP recommends that grey water – waste water from sinks, showers, baths and other sources – is used for flushing to reduce consumption. Similar use can be made of rainwater collected from surfaces such as roofs and tennis courts.
For laundries the ITP recommends reusable absorbent polymer beads to cut water use, and granule washing systems for cleaning dishes.
The HWMI tool has already been tested by several global hotel groups, including IHG, Starwood and Marriott.
Inge Huijbrechts, vice-president for responsible business at the Carlson Rezidor hotel group, said of the ITP project: “HWMI is a big and important step for the industry, it is free and easy to implement, and it will help us achieve a shared baseline for our hotels around the world.
“Water scarcity is a pressing global issue, which we are trying to address with water stewardship actions. HWMI will allow us to measure our water use in the same way as other hotel companies and will generate common awareness about the water footprint in tourism and travel.”
Paul Snyder, IHG’s corporate responsibility vice-president, said: “Water stewardship is a key environmental issue for IHG and for our industry, and
HWMI will allow us to measure water use across the industry with a standardised approach.
“As more and more customers demand this level of transparency, this methodology gives a level playing field for the whole industry. It’s a challenge we’re excited to take on.”
Jason Morrison, Head, UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate, said: “HWMI represents a significant collaborative effort among companies that are normally competitors. ITP and its members have demonstrated leadership by consulting the opinions of industry stakeholders regarding the water-related issues hotels should be addressing. They’ve taken an important first step in developing a consistent approach to hotel water-use measurement, which can lead to sector benchmarking and start hotels on their water stewardship journey.”
The system has been announced during World Water Week, running from 28 August to 2 September. The event consists of a gathering held in Sweden by the Stockholm International Water Institute, which was founded in 1991 to promote responsible water use. This year’s theme was water for sustainable growth. The main speaker was Jan Eliasson, the UN Deputy Secretary-General.