Hotels: Giant Leaps For Water Scarcity

By Fran Hughes 15 December, 2015

The hotel industry has it's work cut out. ITP's Hughes on the start of a new tool to standardise water measurement

Engagement with >200 industry stakeholders shows water as the #2 most important issue - so more work needed
Standard measurement tool for all sources of water consumption being designed; Launch expected in 3Q16
30,000 hotels will take part in trial - such a scale is an achievement. Engagement focus turns to APAC in 2016

I’ve often wondered why the hotel and wider tourism sector is not represented at global water forums. Indeed, at the Financial Times Water Summit in London October 2015 where I facilitated a discussion table, one delegate said he had wondered who I was; the inference being that we were not one of the ‘usual suspects’. As one of the world’s biggest and fastest growing industries, should we not be more on the radar? It can be comfortable to sit in the background and not be challenged on your water strategy, but at the end of the day, someone is going to challenge you. And if you’re not ready to respond, sitting back suddenly seems less appealing.

“The hotel sector actually has no reason to sit back…
…we know there is more to do and we need to see the bigger picture”

The hotel sector actually has no reason to sit back. Aside the ambitious water efficiency strategies and many other initiatives of our member companies, International Tourism Partnership’s (ITP) water working group has been addressing water security, risk and conservation for the past three years.
Outcomes from this include the Know How Guide on Water Conservation, ITP’s stakeholder dialogue day on water and a Water Risk Assessment Report commissioned by ITP from the Stockholm International Water Institute. The group is now creating a standardised approach to measuring and communicating water consumption across the industry, for the benefit of the customer. But we know there is more to do and we need to see the bigger picture.

Sector ranked water as the #2 issue

In 2014 ITP ran a stakeholder engagement process which sought the views of over 200 internal and external stakeholders on the most pressing sustainability risks for the hotel sector. The objective was to test our assumptions of the most material issues to the sector, get a deeper understanding of the specific concerns of stakeholders, and identify ways ITP and its members could take action. Stakeholders including investor groups, corporate customers, academics and non-profits were asked to rank 28 issues in terms of their significance and relevance to the hotel sector. No surprise then that water was the number 2 issue, second only to health and safety.
But what about water? What were the problems for, and with, the sector when it comes to water consumption? Why were these happening? What did we need to do to unblock barriers to action? We interviewed stakeholders to get their views and ran a face to face discussion event to explore the issues further.

Tourism development is often in water scarce areas

Urban Waterscape

Not enough being done

In short, stakeholders told us that in many instances hotels were not doing the basics of operational efficiency and water measurement. One academic reported that a study had shown that 40% of hotels in the Asia-Pacific region were not measuring their water consumption.

Water risk is beyond use & targets; what are you going to do if future supply is reduced?
Yet, 40% of hotels in APAC aren’t even doing the basics – measuring water consumption

In a sector where tourism development is often in water scarce areas with peak demand at the driest times of the year, we were failing to factor water issues into development and operations, and companies’ water reduction targets and efficiency strategies, often set at corporate level, failed to take into account local issues.  A key factor behind these points was that water remained in the ‘sustainability’ box rather than a key business risk going forward. “Quit focusing on ‘this is a good thing’” we were told. What are you going to do if your supply is reduced in future?
The concept of water stewardship can seem a huge challenge when you have yet to take more basic steps but, as one stakeholder put it, “you just have to get in the boat and start paddling”. It’s not a problem to say you don’t know all the answers re risk. The key point is to engage with the issue. It was clear to us that we needed to start by ensuring we measure water consistently and comprehensively. If we were not doing this basic step, how could we move forward?

HWMI: Sector consistency in measuring water consumption

Following the stakeholder dialogue, ITP put together a working group and on the 31 March 2015 we held the first conference call of the Hotel Water Measurement Initiative (HWMI) with the aim of developing a consistent way for the hotel sector to measure and report on water consumption. The working group is supported by technical consultants KPMG and a stakeholder panel who are consulted at strategic points in the methodology development.
Since the launch of the initiative, 16 ITP member companies have been joined by non-members MGM Hotels and Resorts, Accor, Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. How we estimate non-metered sources, the allocation of water between guest rooms and meeting space, and how we account for outsourced laundry, as well as water scarcity, are all issues we have been discussing over the last few months.

 20 hotel companies have committed with 30,000 hotels represented
APAC engagement due in 2016

Measuring water consumption may not appear to be ground-breaking at first glance. But I would challenge that view. 20 hotel companies have committed to engage in an 18 month process and put aside individual interests for the greater good of the sector. The scale of impact promises to be considerable. Once the initiative is launched publicly in September 2016, aside the 30,000 hotels represented by the working group, any kind of hotel anywhere in the world will be able to measure and report on water in a consistent way.
HWMI will account for all sources of water drawn into a hotel property, not just municipal water. And the planned facilitation of a water scarcity factor, local management assessment tool, and incorporation into the Hotel Footprinting tool will facilitate greater understanding of local benchmarks and mitigation strategies. This momentum will help us in our ambition to set sector-wide goals as well as local engagement.  Movement on such a scale is rarely seen in other sectors.
In 2016 ITP will carry out stakeholder engagement in Asia Pacific. We want to see what stakeholders feel are the most pressing issues here and how they manifest themselves. We look forward to sharing our learnings and gathering insights for the next developments of our work on water, championing the good work done but also challenging the hotel sector to deepen its commitment to sound, local and risk-based solutions in its water strategies.

Further Reading

  • Wishing For More Data In The 13FYP – More data is needed to reflect the real state of China’s environment. See why CWR’s Feng Hu on why this wish could come true in the 13th Five Year Plan (13FYP). But be warned, this could come with increasing power demand
  • Winter is Not Coming – Game of Thrones’ Ygritte might be right; Jon Snow, you know nothing. Tan mulls over the impact of findings from China’s Third National Assessment Report on Climate Change on the future of white Christmases, the Winter Olympics, skiing holidays and why find our inner-Yoda we must
  • Brands To Buy Over Christmas? – CWR’s McGregor reviews the top and laggard brands for green supply chains in China according to round two of the Corporate Information Transparency Index report. See which brands made which list
  • 8 Planet-Friendly Gifting Tips – Make this Christmas your best one yet for you but also the planet with China Water Risk’s McGregor & Thieriot’s 8 planet-friendly gift & lifestyle tips that Santa & Rudolph will approve of
  • Something Fishy This Christmas? – Some may opt for fish as a healthier option but not all is well in the oceans. With depleting stocks of some species close to 60%, Sophie le Clue explains why seafood needs to be sustainable. See which to pick & avoid

 Hotels & Water

  • Hotels: Moving Beyond Water Use – International Tourism Partnership’s Fran Hughes on why the hotel industry should move beyond water per guest night and address operational and reputational risks
  • Alleviating Water Scarcity in Cuba – UNESCO-IHE’s Dr. Vazquez on how Cuba is alleviating its water scarcity issues through wastewater reuse, use of seawater and pilots in Cuba’s growing tourism sector to ensure “Mas Agua Para Todos”
  • Corporate Water Reporting in China – CDP’s report shows potentially inadequate water risk assessment by Chinese companies & those with HQ’s in China. CDP’s Gillespy on their latest report and why it’s time to report on water risks
Fran Hughes
Author: Fran Hughes
Fran Hughes is Director of the International Tourism Partnership (ITP). ITP is a global industry organisation, bringing together the most powerful hotel companies in an alliance focused on a single ambition: to lead the industry through example with clear and quantifiable commitments to improved sustainability. ITP believes that the hotel industry can be a force for good and make a positive contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and to the COP21 climate agreements and that bigger impacts can be achieved faster through the industry working together at scale. ITP’s collaborative work focuses around four critical goals on carbon, water, youth employment and human rights. ITP works with its members to drive continual improvement through promoting and sharing best practice through its online magazine, offering a range of practical products and programmes, such as the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI) - developed in partnership with the World Travel & Tourism Council; and setting the agenda on sustainability through collaborative working groups and issues management. Fran has over 25 years’ experience in the tourism industry and holds a Master’s in Environmental Strategy.
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