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Tourism and water use

15 September 2013

Tourism-related shifts in global water use. Photo credit: Gössling, 2005

Luis Santiago Cano and Sylvia Miclat

Tourism is not readily viewed and acknowledged relevant in global water use, accounting for 1% compared with the agriculture sector’s estimated 70% consumption. However, “tourism is often a major user of freshwater in areas where water is scarce or where renewal rates of aquifers are limited, and its contribution to water consumption can be nationally and regionally significant.”

These and other findings are presented in the paper Tourism and water: Interrelationships and management  by Professor Stefan Gössling from the School of Business and Economics at Linnaeus University in Kalmar, Sweden.

Recognizing tourism’s role in water access and its current actions to contribute to a more sustainable water future, the tourism sector’s annual celebration of World Tourism Day  on 27 September is in support of the UN International Year of Water Cooperation with the theme “Tourism and Water: Protecting our Common Future.”

Professor Gössling cites for instance that in Barbados, Cyprus, and Malta, tourism accounts for up to 7.3% of national water consumption, and in the Caribbean and Mediterranean coastal zones, tourism is generally the dominant sector that uses water. Tourism and leisure activities can also be a major factor in water consumption at the regional level. These figures refer to direct water use, including kitchens, laundry, toilets, showers, swimming pools, cooling, or the irrigation of gardens, as well as water use for various activities such as golf, diving, saunas, or spas. Water consumption rates as reported in the literature are in the range of 84-2,000 liters per tourist per day, and up to 3,423 liters per bedroom per day.

This concern was also tackled by the Vatican through the communication published on July 2013  to mark the occasion of the 2013 World Tourism Day:

“The Holy See also wishes to join in this commemoration, bringing its contribution from its own perspective, aware of the importance of the phenomenon of tourism at the present time and the challenges and opportunities it provides to our mission of evangelization. This is one of the economic sectors with the largest and fastest growth in the world. We must not forget that last year it has exceeded the milestone of one billion international tourists, to which we must add the even higher figures of local tourism.

“In the tourism sector, water is of crucial importance, an asset and a resource. It is an asset because people feel naturally drawn to it, and there are millions of tourists seeking to enjoy this natural element during their days off, by choosing as their holiday destination some ecosystems where water is the most specific element (wetlands, beaches, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, islands, glaciers or snowfields), or trying to grasp its many benefits (especially in seaside resorts or spas). At the same time, water is also a resource for the tourism industry and it is essential, among other things, to hotels, restaurants and leisure activities.

“Looking at the future, tourism will be a real benefit if it will be able to manage these resources according to the criteria of the ‘green economy,’ an economy whose environmental impact is kept within acceptable limits. We are invited, therefore, to promote ecotourism, environmentally friendly and sustainable, that can surely promote the creation of new jobs, support the local economy and reduce poverty.”

World Tourism Day is celebrated annually to foster awareness among the international community of the importance of tourism and its social, cultural, political and economic value. The event seeks to address the global challenges outlined in the UN Millennium Development Goals and highlight the tourism sector’s contribution in reaching these goals. Official celebrations will take place in Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, and will be deeply linked with water-related concerns. To celebrate the day, the UN World Tourism Organization invites everybody to take part in the upcoming photo competition, join the conversation on Twitter (#WTD2013), and also open the option to celebrate it in other different of ways.

For additional reading on this topic, the UK-based group Tourism Concern-Action for Ethical Tourism, released a report Water Equity in Tourism: A Human Right, a Global Responsibility, and “argues that tourism cannot fulfill its potential as a contributor to poverty alleviation and sustainable, equitable development while it so often causes the unsustainable depletion, and inequitable appropriation, of freshwater resources.” The report argues a rights-based approach in the management and development of the tourism sector, stating that “for tourism to be truly sustainable, its development and management must be premised upon a respect for human rights, including the right to water.”

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