Wastewater treatment plant in a city
Area of action

Water stewardship

Hospitality can play an important role in managing water consumption and contributing towards sustainable and secure water resources in their local communities

Our impact

Water scarcity and the hospitality industry

Water scarcity affects more than 40 per cent of the global population and is projected to rise.1 Water is now such a critical issue that it is ranked in the top five global risks.2 A quarter of the world’s population face “extremely high” levels of water stress, and this leaves them highly vulnerable to the impact of drought or increases in water use.3

A hotel can use an average of 1,500 litres per room per day which can vastly exceed that of local populations in water-scarce destinations.4 In some locations, tourism uses over eight times more water per person on average than the local population.5 Even hotels located in regions with plenty of water could be having an impact if they are sourcing products or services from water-scarce locations.

In recent years, we have seen major cities from Cape Town to Sao Paolo and Chennai needing to ration water to protect their scarce resources. This is not only having a dramatic effect on the local populations, but also on local economies and businesses – including the hotel industry. For example, the water crisis in Cape Town in 2018 led to up to a $65 million shortfall in the region’s hospitality industry.6

Water scarcity is a global issue and the industry has a role in managing its water consumption to protect the communities in which they operate and the future of their businesses.

We support the industry to embed water stewardship programmes to address water scarcity, improve water-use efficiency and reduce the number of people affected by lack of water.
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Hotel Water Measurement Initiative (HWMI)

This free tool was created to help the industry to understand and benchmark their water usage. Use the tool to calculate the water usage of hotel stays and meetings in your hotel properties. 
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Pathway to Net Positive Hospitality

Enabling every hotel to work towards a net positive impact, no matter their starting point.
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Destination Water Risk Index (DWRI)

Providing evidence and guidance for hotel companies, developers and their stakeholders to prioritise water stewardship in investment, development and renovation decisions, as well as hotel management in high-risk destinations.

Background to our work on water stewardship

We carried out research to highlight potential water-related risks faced by the tourism and hotel industry and suggested mitigation measures. This led to a greater understanding and commitment from the industry for collective action to measure, report on and reduce water consumption.

We followed this with the Destination Water Risk Index, comparing water stress with hotel growth. This research found that countries forecast with the highest water stress in the coming years are also among those with the greatest tourism growth, which highlighted the need for the industry to prioritise action in these regions.

What we are doing

Convening the industry
  • Our water working group brings our members together to share expertise and identify ways to address water scarcity.
Practical action
Building a movement
  • We engage with the wider industry to raise awareness of the risk of water scarcity and share practical actions to improve water consumption.
  • We are promoting the benefits of water efficiency as part of sustainable building design to hotel investors, owners and operators to increase collaboration among stakeholders during hotel construction and refurbishment.
Global partnerships for sustainable development
  • We are worked with IFC – part of the World Bank – on the business case for sustainable building design and the need for investment in sustainable hotel refurbishments.
  • The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) translated our HWMI tool into Georgian and Azerbaijani and are using it to train hotels in those countries as part of their water-saving training programme.
  • Together with Greenview, STR and Ecolab, we developed the Destination Water Risk Index, which now includes 379 destinations across 63 countries, and incorporates nine risk metrics.

Water stewardship resources

See our resources

View our resources index

We have free tools and resources to enable every hotel to implement effective water stewardship strategies.

View our guidance

Guide to our resources

Discover how to use our resources for support with awareness, implementation and best practice examples.

Partner with us

Become a partner

We work with hospitality companies, governmental institutions, non-profits and other industries to encourage water stewardship across the global hospitality sector.

  • Expand for detailed references
    1. United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 6, available from  www.un.org
    2. World Economic Forum (2020), The Global Risks Report 2020, available from  www.weforum.org
    3. World Resources Institute (2019), 17 Countries, Home to One-Quarter of the World’s Population, Face Extremely High Water Stress, available from  www.wri.org
    4. Sustainable Hospitality Alliance (2018), Water Stewardship for Hotel Companies, available from www.sustainablehosptalityalliance.org
    5. ibid.
    6. IOL (2018), Water crisis leaves R1bn hole in tourism coffers, available from  www.iol.co.za