Ms. Popely

Eco-Friendly Practices

How will Hotels Respond to the Looming Water Crisis?

By Deborah Popely, Assistant Professor, School of Hospitality Management , Kendall College

The World Economic Forum identified water scarcity as among the top five global business risks in the next ten years. Global demand for water is expected to exceed available supply by 2040, driven by population growth, economic development, and over-exploitation of groundwater reservoirs.(1) Water is a critical resource for the tourism industry and water conservation is considered a key management issue for the tourism industry.(2) At present, tourism accounts for less than one percent of total global water consumption; however, at the regional level tourism can place significant stress on water supplies and even compete with local demand, particularly at peak season.(3)

Tourism can also place stress on wastewater treatment capacity, potentially affecting local water quality. Water challenges are increasing in tourism destinations in the United States, Australia, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, and China. According to the World Tourism Organization, By 2020, tourism's contribution to water use is likely to increase with 1) increased numbers of tourists, 2) higher hotel standards, and 3) and increased water-intensity of tourism activities. This could produce economic and social tensions that could sour the relationship between hotels and other community stakeholders in some locations.(4) It is imperative that hotels and other tourism businesses monitor water use and incorporate efficiency and conservation practices to address this crisis.

Water and Hotels

Adequate water supplies are especially important to hotels due to the water-intensity of the services they offer and their customers' patterns of water use. Guests used water when washing or using the toilet, using spas or swimming pools, or using restaurants and bars. Numerous studies have shown that people use an estimated two to three times the amount of water in hotels as they do at home. It is estimated that hotel guests use between 84 and 2000 liters of water per day and up to 3423 liters per guest room. Researchers have identified five key factors affecting total water use in hotels: 1) climate, 2) category of hotel (e.g., star level), 3) number of rooms, 4) occupancy levels, and 5) visitor services within the hotel.(5) They estimated that the half the water consumed in the hotel was used in public areas (e.g., reception, restaurant, kitchen, lounges, pools, gyms, etc.)(6) . Nearly one-third of the water consumed in guest rooms was hot water for bathing. The presence of a golf course can increase water consumption by 87%. In addition, water use is linked to increased energy use in hotels, particularly those that depend on desalinated water.(7)

Water shortages disproportionately affect hotels because many of the most popular tourism destinations are located in water-stressed coastal regions, on islands, and in arid climates. In these regions, water scarcity can drive up utility costs and create other challenges for hotel managers. Some accommodation providers can spend up to 20% of total utility expenses on water.(8) High water costs are particularly prevalent in water scarce environments such as small islands that may rely on desalinization or water transported by ship. Water costs are likely to rise in the future as destinations invest in water systems to ensure continuity of supply.

Water Conservation Strategies

There are a variety of approaches hotels can take to reduce their dependency on fresh water and make more efficient use of existing water supplies. Many of these are low cost and possible to incorporate in the course of regular operations. Research indicates that hotels that invest in water efficiency usually achieve measurable cost savings and operating efficiencies. Sustainable Tourism Online (, ITP's Green Hotelier ( provide hotels with helpful guidance. Certifications such as Green Globe, GreenLeader and GreenKey also help hotels achieve high standards of water efficiency, along with energy and waste reduction.

Recommended Practices

  • Measurement - The ability to measure water use is critical. Many hotels are not set up to monitor water use in high-use areas such as guest rooms, kitchens, and laundry. Monitoring via metering and sub-metering helps identify leaks and misuse, reducing potential cost exposure and pinpointing opportunities for savings. It is important to follow up by checking water data against targeted levels on a regular basis and by holding managers accountable at the department and property level.
  • Bathrooms - Showers are a major source of water consumption in hotel rooms. A suggested shower water flow is nine liters per minute - some hotels go as high as 20 liters per minutes. Aerators can be used to reduce flow while maintaining guest comfort. Reducing the flow can also save on water heating, a significant factor in energy costs. Aerators can also be installed on bathroom taps. The suggested flow is six minutes per liter in private baths and four liters per minute in public restrooms. Low-flow toilets are mandated in many areas, yet many hotels use high quality drinking water in toilets. Switching to greywater can save up to 50% of hotels' drinking water use.
  • Laundry - In-house laundries can economize on water use by ensuring full loads, minimizing the length of the rinse cycle, and installing a temporary holding tank to allow reuse of water from previous rinse cycles. When outsourcing laundry services, be sure to choose large laundries that demonstrate high levels of environmental performance. When upgrading laundry equipment, select water-efficient models or investigate smart technologies such as Ozone Laundry systems. Reducing the amount of chemicals used in laundry and other cleaning tasks can prevent pollution and help maintain the quality of municipal water.
  • Kitchens/Restaurants - Restaurant kitchens use water in a wide variety of equipment and processes. Kitchen taps can be fitted with flow restrictors or aerators. Dishwashers should be used only with full loads and staff should avoid thawing frozen foods under running water. Coffee makers and ice machines are large users of water and should be monitored to make sure that water isn't wasted.
  • Swimming Pools - Pools can be a large source of water waste. Backwashing of filters, showers, amenities, replacing evaporative losses, and leakage account for most of the water use. Reducing the frequency of backwashing, repairing leaks promptly and using swimming pool blankets to reduce evaporation can cut the amount of waste in half.(9)
  • Irrigation - Landscaping can be one of the biggest water users in a hotel. Techniques for reducing water use in gardens include planting water tolerant, native plants, using drip irrigation, collecting rainwater or implementing greywater recycling for irrigation use, and scheduling watering for cooler evenings and nights to reduce evaporation.
  • Building Processes - Hotel cooling towers can account for up to 20 - 30% of water consumption and many other building systems are reliant on water. Have these systems checked for efficiency and consider whether non-potable water can be substituted for some functions.
  • Guest and Staff Participation - Linen and towel reuse is probably the most widespread hotel water saving technique. Successful implementation hinges on the awareness and cooperation of both guests and staff. Opt-in programs are generally more successful than opt-out programs because they are less reliant on guest cooperation. At the same time staff also need to be educated about the importance of following these and other protocols to ensure that the water conservation and efficiency plan produces the desired result.

A recent study estimated that application of best practices such as these could save European hotels 376 million cubic meters per year of potable water. The same study found that payback periods for most of these steps took less than three years, well within the short payback horizon typical for the hospitality industry.(10) Despite this, many hotel managers don't place a very high priority on water efficiency and conservation. Those in water-rich areas may not see an immediate need to make changes. Other may be concerned about guest dissatisfaction with facilities and services. Others may be deterred by the lack of metering systems or the inability to make the business case to fiscal authorities. It is important to remember that water efficiency can increase the competitiveness of the hospitality industry by reducing operating costs. And although guests have proven reluctant to pay a "green premium," numerous studies have found that environmental and social responsibility increases guest satisfaction and retention.(11)


(1) World Economic Forum, 2015 World Economic Forum. (2015). Global Risks 2015 (10th ed.; REF: 090115). Retrieved from
(2) Gössling, S. (2015). New performance indicators for water management in tourism. Tourism Management, 46, 233-244.doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2014.06.018
(3) Gössling, S., Peeters, P., Hall, C. M., Ceron, J. P., Dubois, G., & Scott, D. (2012). Tourism and water use: Supply, demand, and security: An international review. Tourism Management, 33(1), 1-15. doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2011.03.015
(4) Styles, D., Schoenberger, H., & Galvez-Martos, J. L. (2015). Water management in the European hospitality sector: Best practice, performance benchmarks, and improvement potential. Tourism Management, 46, 187-202. doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2014.07.005
(5) Barberán, R., Egea, P., Gracia-de-Rentería, P., & Salvador, M. (2013). Evaluation of water saving measures in hotels: a Spanish case study. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 34, 181-191. doi:10.1016/j.ijhm.2013.02.005
(6) Gossling, et al. 2012
(7) Becken, S., Rajan, R., Moore, S., Watt, M., & McLennan, C. L. (2013). White paper on tourism and water. Queensland, Australia:Griffith Institute for Tourism Research. Retrieved from
(8) Becken, et al. 2014
(9) Styles, Schoenberg, & Galvez-Martos, J. L. (2015)
(10) Styles, D., Schoenberger, H., & Galvez-Martos, J. L. (2015)
(11) Bruns-Smith, A., Choy, V., Chong, H., & Verma, R. (2015). Environmental sustainability in the hospitality industry: Best practices, guest participation, and customer satisfaction. Cornell Hospitality Reports, 15(3), 6-16. Retrieved from

Deborah Popely has more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality field and more than 12 years’ experience as a sustainability consultant and educator. She is currently Associate Professor at Kendall College’s School of Hospitality Management, where she leads the curriculum for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) and conducts research on global MICE industry issues. She recently traveled to China to participate in an international MICE conference and has written about the experience for academic and popular journals. Ms. Popely has significant experience in hospitality education and training, having developed workshops, conferences and courses for colleges and universities, associations, government agencies and foundations. She is in the process of earning a doctorate in business (DBA) with a focus on sustainability in hospitality and tourism from Walden University. Ms. Popely can be contacted at 312-752-2216 or Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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