The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has called for action to safeguard water ecosystems, noting water resilience is “vital for the sector’s long-term survival” at the COP28 Climate Change Conference in Dubai.
The WTTC issued the call as it launched a report on the water use of travel and tourism at COP28, noting the intensity of use by the sector fell in the 10 years up to 2019 despite the growth in travel and tourism.
The report, a ‘Water Roadmap for Travel & Tourism’, complements studies already published by the WTTC on the energy use and intensity of the sector and its overall environmental footprint.
The WTTC calculates the sector’s total water use at 5.8% of available freshwater globally in 2019, when travel and tourism accounted for 10% of world GDP. Unsurprisingly, agriculture and food accounted for 70% of global water usage.
The sector’s global water use fell to 3.5% of available freshwater in 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, the WTTC argues increased effort on water management is required in the face of growing water scarcity.
It notes more 2.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water and 4.2 billion lack access to safe sanitation, and it warns climate change will increasingly amplify extreme weather events, making resilience “vital for the sector’s long-term survival”.
The report, produced in partnership with global business consultancy Accenture and the Saudi-based Sustainable Tourism Global Center, provides data on the sector’s water use and a framework for setting targets to reduce its water footprint and increase water resilience.
It suggests the water intensity – or water use per international arrival – fell globally by 2% a year between 2010 and 2019, despite the growth in traveller numbers.
Overall water use grew in the Asia Pacific, Americas and Middle East over the decade, but in Europe and Africa total water use by the sector declined by 1% despite Europe seeing an average annual increase in international arrivals of 5% a year and Africa an increase of 4% a year.
WTTC president and chief executive Julia Simpson said: “Water scarcity is a pressing global issue. With this report, we aim to inspire a journey toward responsible water use and a regenerative future.”
Jesko-Philipp Neuenburg, global travel and aviation sustainability lead at Accenture, said: “This publication highlights the power of data and technology to drive collaboration, inform decision-making, foster innovation and implement water reduction and resilience action plans.
“From artificial intelligence, generative AI and machine learning, smart sensors and IOT [internet of things], to blockchain and the metaverse, technology and data are enablers of sustainability and can play an important role in water stewardship efforts.”
He added: “With global travel demand booming, now is the time to build actionable, impactful and accountable water strategies.”
The WTTC suggests: “Recognising interdependencies and assigning a monetary value to water risks are pivotal, ensuring travel and tourism navigates risks and spearheads global water stewardship.”
The report sets out a Water Management Action Framework outlining four steps to water footprint reduction and building resilience across supply chains.