Southern Africa has been gripped by a devastating drought for the past three years, and there are some areas that face the almost unthinkable - no water at all. Did you know that the human body can last almost two weeks without food before the body and it's organs fail and die, but it only lasts five days without water before irreparable damage - and death, is inevitable?
Thankfully, good rains have fallen across large parts of the sub-continent over the past month and what seemed like the inevitable would happen, our dams are filling and the ground is well-soaked. All except the Western Cape of South Africa where the most visited city in Africa - and a bucket-list destination for international travelers, Cape Town, has less than 115 days of water left in its severely depleted dams and reservoirs.
And what has the tourism industry done about the situation? Well, true to form, they have continued to use water as though there is no problem - some gratefully, have imposed limits on their consumption, but in general nothing at all! The attitude of 'I can afford it therefore I will use it' seems to reign in this industry - whether it is water or energy, and rather than establish meaningful and sustainable practices to limit the use of non-renewable resources, our industry seems hell-bent on doing business as usual. They seem so concerned about limiting their guest's consumption that they prefer to do nothing, when in fact 80% of consumption in a hotel takes place behind the scenes.
In fairness, there are some hotels that really try - and they have been recognised for their hard work, but in general, the commitment by industry to responsible practice is sorely lacking. There are over twelve thousand graded establishments in South Africa - each of which uses three times the daily consumption of resources of the average citizen, yet less than 100 of these have been certified as responsible by an independent body. Can we as an industry continue to 'take' without conscience, or is it time for government to impose a degree of control?
I believe the time has long-passed for government to lead a campaign that will see this industry becoming more responsible. It seems, however, more concerned about ownership targets and in making doing business as difficult as possible for this industry than it is about protecting the very reason why visitors travel to South Africa. Recently, the City of Cape Town released a list of the top 100 water wasters in the City based on their monthly consumption patterns, yet none of these were commercial properties - let alone hotels or tourist facilities. They seem oblivious to the fact that while there are undoubtedly home owners that are ripping 'the ring' out of the situation, hotels and other tourist facilities are by-far the worst offenders in the city.
Impose a licencing requirement for an independent resource management system and requiring every hotel or accommodation establishment to reflect and demonstrate meaningful consumption reductions before issuing a trading licence should be considered NOW. In that way, perhaps we can make a difference and stretch that little we all share further in the interests of everyone.
And for the rest of us? Well, those tourist facilities in less dry areas of the country need to remember that while the rains have brought relief to an unhappy situation, this is an extremely dry region and this grace that we have been granted will not last unless we respect the value of water and do something about saving it. Change your habits before nature makes you change your business!