Tourism and Water Management: Is Sri Lanka Paying Enough Attention?

TODAY IS WORLD TOURISM DAY 2013. The theme this year is ‘Tourism and Water: Protecting Our Common Future’


Tourism has become one of the largest and fastest growing economic sectors in the world. It contributes to 9% of world’s GDP and 6% of world’s exports. According to the UNWTO Tourism Highlights 2013, it is forecasted that international tourist arrivals, which currently stands at 1.035 million, will increase up to 1.8 billion by 2030. Tourism is an industry which is heavily dependent on the natural environment and its resources, raising concerns regarding the impact that such growth will have on the environment – specifically on natural water resources.


Water consumption, per guest, in a hotel can be around three times that of the average consumption of a person staying at home.[1] In this scenario, the relationship between the tourism industry and water resources becomes a key area of concern for sustainable tourism development. Sri Lanka has witnessed a significant growth in the arrival of tourists from all around the world, with more investments taking place in the hotel sector to cater to this demand. Consequently, the demand for water resources has also increased in this process. It is, therefore, imperative that the hotel sector pays adequate attention to the importance of water conservation.



Environmental sustainability is a key factor which determines the success of the tourism industry. Therefore, in order to achieve sustainable water management, the tourism sector provides strong incentives for adopting green practices in water and other environmental management aspects. Further, there are a number of parameters that can be used to measure the level of adoption of water conservation/management practices by hotels. Maintenance of proper records on water consumption is an important indicator in this regard. Adoption of specific water conservation/management techniques, allocation of funds for water conservation activities, and the proper management of waste water, can also be considered tools of sustainable water management in the tourism sector.


Have Sri Lankan Hotels Paid Enough Attention?


An on-going IPS research study[2] on Environmental Management Practices in the Hotel Sector in the Western Province shows that most of the hotels do not maintain monthly records of their water consumption. In the cases where hotels obtain water from the Water Supply and Drainage Board, water bills can be used to monitor the water consumption patterns. However, the data is not properly recorded, as hotels have not assigned specific employees for the task. Further, many of the hotels do not maintain data in the event of ground water extraction for hotel usage.


Specific water conservation practices adopted by hotels include dual flush toilets, linen and towel reuse, low flow showers and taps etc. Data from 56 registered hotels in the Western Province shows that around 82% of the hotels have dual flush toilets and 57% of the hotels practice linen and towel re-use. Nearly 45% of hotels have established low flow showers and taps in order to conserve water. It is important to note that more than half of the hotels use treated waste water for gardening purposes. A very small proportion of the hotels (nearly 5%) are practicing rain water harvesting in order to meet some of their water demands. Around 23 hotels have allocated funds for water, as well as for other environmental management practices related to energy and waste.


Most of the hotels (nearly 82%) are encouraged to adopt above water management practices as a measure of cost reduction. In addition, gaining a marketing advantage through the adoption of sustainable water management practices has provided the motive for nearly 25% of the hotels. Only a few hotels are adopting water conservation practices, solely due to their concerns on the natural environment.


Responsible management of waste water is also an important factor in sustainable water use. Around 43% of hotels have established sewerage treatment plants. Also, 43% of the hotels use septic tanks to discharge their waste water. Only a few hotels (around 9%) have established bio-gas plants, which enabled them to contribute to energy mix of the hotels, while managing their water responsibly.


Crucial Gaps


The on-going IPS study shows that a lack of data on water consumption remains a barrier in assessing actual water consumption per guest night, which is important in taking necessary water management decisions. This situation is more prevalent in cases where the source of water is ground water. While there are issues with regard to the allocation of staff for maintaining water related data, hotels also do not have an incentive for maintaining data, as water can be obtained at a fairly low price (and in the case of ground water, it comes at a zero price, when extraction costs are excluded.)


In addition, data shows that not all hotels are adopting water conservation practices, which highlight the importance for raising awareness on this issue. However, it is noteworthy that a significant proportion of hotels are motivated to adopt water conservation practices as a measure of reducing cost and gaining a marketing advantage. As there have been new investments in the hospitality sector, it is important to make industry stakeholders aware of the win-win benefits of adopting water and other environmental management practices from the very beginning.


One of the significant shortcomings of the present star classification system of hotels is that proper recognition is not given to those that maintain better environmental management practices. It is important that the hotels that are adopting good water and other environmental management practices are acknowledged for their service. Introduction of a certification system would be vital in this regard. This will provide strong incentives for the hotel sector to be more environmentally oriented, creating opportunities for themselves to reap the economic benefits of being green.

[1] Barberán, R. P. Egea, P.Gracia-de-Rentería, M. Salvador (2013), Evaluation of water saving measures in hotels: A Spanish case study, International Journal of Hospitality Management, vol 34: 181 – 191


[2] Funded by the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE)