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A Dry Summer

November 2, 2015


As we start the penultimate month of 2015, we hear of growing drought conditions across much of southern Africa and the news that two of South Africa's nine Provinces have been declared disaster areas because of water shortages. Add to this, news that we can expect little respite from these conditions until at least March 2016 should be getting the attention of even the most ardent 'flat earth' society member still doubting climate change.


We are now warned of food price increases this year due to crop failures, and while many think this is limited to bread and maize, consider the knock-on effect of these staple shortages when it comes to stock feed for cattle, sheep and a host of other everyday consumables.  But, we have been here before and we can expect much more of these conditions into the future as temperatures continue to rise and mankind continues to ignore the warnings.


Having recently had the pleasure of an extended stay in Durban at one of the largest hotels in South Africa, I found it amazing that in spite of Kwa Zulu Natal having been declared a drought region, the hotel still hasn't got it right when it comes to replenishing towels and linen.  How many of you have seen those handy 'Hang it or Drop it' cards that hotels use to signal their commitment to water conservation?  And how many of you have actually seen it work when you make that conscious decision to reuse your towels?  Surprisingly few of us ever see the system work because it is another example of how the hotel industry pays lip-service to issues of conservation and sustainable consumption. In a country as dry as South Africa, the notion of reusing bed linen for extended stays remains a challenge for the grading authorities, and very few hotels actually encourage guests to reuse by offering incentives because it is far easier to go through the motions than to actually make a difference.


Look at it this way.  How many of us change our towels or linen daily in our own homes?  Very few - if any, would even consider doing this because of the costs associated with the washing, ironing and replacement of worn items. So why do we expect it at a hotel or when we travel? While fifty years back it may have been a sign of decadence and luxury, changing linen and towels daily has become a wasteful, unnecessary and irrelevant practice through changing times and situations.


Unless every business in tourism takes conservation of scarce resources more seriously, we are faced with growing input costs and declining guest numbers.  Nobody likes to go visit a place where water is in short supply - where hotels are rationed and where even a shower becomes a hit-and-miss affair.  Nor do we like to pay higher prices for food and beverages when shortages hit our suppliers and outlets.  But that is precisely what we face unless every hotel takes measures to reduce consumption across the board, and to make a difference in the way that they - and their guests, treat water and other limited resources.


So, if you are a hotelier making use of the 'Hang or Drop' system in your hotel, make sure you are doing what you claim to be doing - saving water, by ensuring that your staff understand and apply the system as it was intended.  And maybe, you won't need to tell your guests that you have no water for their shower!

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