ITP is currently running a working group on water. Phase 1 of the working group activity had the objective: To produce a risk analysis of key water issues – present and forecast – of water availability and quality, along with an assessment of any cost and regulatory implications, in selected geographic regions, in order to increase awareness and understanding of how and where water issues present a significant risk to the industry’s future. 

Phase 2 of the water working group’s activity is now underway with the objective “to build a strong business case to developers and owners to develop and implement future-proofed water strategies” through the provision of a body of information and resources specific to our focus area, China. If you are interested in getting involved or would like to input to this group, please email ITP’s Head of Programmes, Fran Hughes.

Water and the hotel industry

Water scarcity is a recognised global problem, with demand for water projected to exceed supply by 40 percent by 2030. By the same year, half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress.

The hotel industry is part of a rapidly growing tourism sector. According to the UNWTO, growth in international tourism will reach 1.6 billion trips in 2020. There is disproportionate hotel growth in coastal and island destinations, where arguably water scarcity and water equity issues are most pressing. An increased demand for high-end tourism accelerates water demand of new hotels and resorts.

Why hotels should conserve water

Hotel companies have both a strong commercial and moral imperative for addressing water use. Cost is a clear factor: water accounts for 10% of utility bills in many hotels. Most hotels pay for the water they consume twice – first by purchasing fresh water and then by disposing of it as waste water. According to the UK’s Environment Agency, depending on their water efficiency, hotels can reduce the amount of water consumed per guest per night by up to 50% compared with establishments with poor performance in water consumption. The moral reasons are equally compelling: water is a scare resource in many resorts around the world so hotels have a responsibility not to use more than necessary; in rural or remote areas it ensures that local residents are not deprived of their essential supply; and by reducing the amount of wastewater that needs to be treated, this lessens the risk of water pollution.

Current challenges for the industry

Evidently, hotels want to conserve water and save money while not sacrificing guest satisfaction. It is recognised that water consumption is closely related to occupancy rates but hotels want to maximise these. The industry is resource-intensive and often inefficient. In certain areas, such as the Indonesian island of Bali, other factors driving water scarcity include poor governance and lack of infrastructure. In addition, guests have differing views and behaviour regarding use of resources. A study in 2006 showed that the level of environmental awareness among hotel managers was too low to catalyse change (Bohdanowicz, 2006).

Key areas of water consumption

The hotel industry relies on water for food preparation, cleaning and hygiene, guest comfort and recreation. Hotels also depend on their supply industries, such as agriculture and the food & drink industries, none of which would function without enough water. A number of variables affect the amount of water used, such as:

• Number of guest nights sold

• Total hotel floor area

• Presence of spa / pool facilities

• Climate zone (i.e. temperate, Mediterranean or tropical).

Landscaping and golf courses can dramatically alter the figures for a resort. In a large hotel, a swimming pool can increase freshwater consumption by 10%. Plus, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature, on average, a golf course uses around 1 million cubic metres per year (or the equivalent of the water consumption of a city of 12,000 inhabitants). A joint IBLF and WWF-UK report, ‘Why Environmental Benchmarking will help your hotel’, established the following recommended benchmarks:

Benchmarks for water use in guest rooms in litres per guest night:

Good Fair Poor
Temperate 250 250-300 >300
Mediterranean 270 270-320 >320
Tropical 300 300-350 >350


What the hotel industry is doing to conserve water

The industry is reducing water use through setting realistic goals & continuously monitoring results. ITP’s online magazine Green Hotelier offers practical guidance on water management and highlights examples of best practice from international hotel companies. Companies such as Hilton Worldwide and InterContinental Hotels Group use LightStay and Green Engage for resource use monitoring and reporting which includes water. Responsible water management, together with installing new water-saving technology, is yielding positive results:

– Grand Hyatt Singapore uses 30% less water for laundry after installing a water recycling feature. Waterless urinals can save up to nearly 230,000 litres annually per urinal (60,000 US gallons).

– Other measures include using alternative water sources for irrigation (such as river or canal water) and rainwater or treated waste water for toilet flushing. Low flow showerheads and other water-saving fittings such as fittings are widespread.

– Training staff to use water carefully and efficiently is critical. Staff at the Hilton in Vienna saved around 9,500 litres of water per day by reducing toilet flushes during cleaning.

– In 2008, Wyndham Vacation Resorts in Asia Pacific on Seven Mile Beach, Tasmania, Australia, addressed severe water issues by building a wastewater treatment as part of the new resort. The treated water is used for irrigation and the facility is shared by the  local community as well.

Opportunities for the hotel industry

The hotel industry recognises that changes in technology, management and behaviour require investment but this is both profitable in the short-term and also guarantees the industry remains sustainable in the long-term. Another incentive is consumer demand for more sustainable hotels, as spending on eco-travel and transport has grown by 23% in the last two years, from £2.2bn to £2.7bn (Ethical Consumerism report, Co-Operative Bank, 2010).