After months of hoping and praying for good winter rainfall over the Western Cape - and warnings to residents of Cape Town that the water situation was not improving, the City has finally introduced Level 5 restrictions and finally acted against the commercial sector in the city. The 'rain' season has ended and there has been no significant rain this year, and the future looks extremely dry for city residents and visitors alike.
But almost as soon as the announcement was made, hoteliers and members of the hospitality sector started howling indignation at measures that will become punitive for those that continue to act as though there is no problem. And as could be expected, guests in Hotels and lodges, B&B's and Guest Houses have been blamed for not 'playing the game' and supporting measures that management of these establishments have supposedly implemented.
In March of this year, we called for a commitment by every hospitality provider to cut their consumption by 20% but in the usual fashion by the mandarins of hospitality, this and many other similar calls were brushed-off and largely ignored. This week, a well-known hotel group commented on the fact that some of their hotels had managed to reduce consumption by 14% - a notable effort but not good enough, and bemoaned the measures as being not-so-tourist-friendly. But the fact remains, not enough has been done to minimise or manage consumption by the hospitality sector - in spite of some remarkable efforts and examples. It is estimated that less than 15% of the available establishments in the greater Cape Town area are actually reflecting reductions - so the question needs to be asked: "what were you thinking..?"
Experience shows that as much as 60% of water consumption in hotels takes place behind the scenes - in areas that management have direct control over. Simple in-room measures aimed at encouraging and enforcing reduced consumption in guest rooms (including restricted flow shower-heads) need to be supported by awareness and communication strategies to ensure guests are made aware of the problem and encouraged to support the hotels' efforts. But often, management forget that this is a crisis and that new and unusual measures are necessary. Some hotels have stopped rotating linen and towels unless requested by guests in an effort to reduce water consumption, but others still believe the guest cannot be inconvenienced and they merrily change every item daily - sending them to outside laundries and pretending that they have no impact. I have been to hotels in the city over the past few months, that continue to irrigate their gardens and wash pathways and car-parks with borehole water - believing that they have an inalienable right to that water.
For the first time that I can remember, the official Cape Town marketing organisation has started a campaign to discourage visitors to the city during the drought - referring them to outlying and alternate destinations in the greater region that are not in the same dire situation. This is a self-inflicted injury and one that will have significant impacts for a long time to come, and notwithstanding our feelings for those that have played the game, the arrogance of hoteliers and property owners in general regarding water consumption and their responsibility to the greater community has a price - and this is it.
With the potential for extreme fines and penalties- and even the 'throttling of water services' by the City looming, perhaps now some serious thought will be given to water consumption and the unsustainable practices of this industry. People are going to be hurt by these measures - but perhaps that how we tend to learn in South Africa - financial ad operational pain.
This crisis will pass and we will get back to a new 'normal', but the saddest thing is that after all of this, the industry will simply fall back into their bad habits and the crisis will be forgotten - until the next time!