On December 4, 2023, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) unveiled a groundbreaking report titled ‘Water Roadmap for Travel & Tourism,’ revealing a notable decrease in the total water intensity within the global Travel & Tourism industry, even as the sector continues to expand. This report signifies a significant step toward water resilience and sustainability.

Despite being one of the fastest-growing sectors globally, employing one in ten individuals and contributing 10.4% to the global GDP in 2019, Travel and tourism’s water usage ranged between 3.5% and 5.8% of globally available freshwater in 2021 and 2019, respectively. While this share is lower than key sectors like agriculture and food, which constitute 70% of global water usage, the growing concern about water scarcity underscores the need for ongoing efforts toward sustainable development.

With over 2.2 billion people lacking access to safe drinking water and 4.2 billion lacking safe sanitation services, the report emphasizes the critical importance of water as a vital natural resource. The sector’s water usage, although comparatively lower, must be addressed to contribute to sustainable development.

The report suggests that significant progress can be achieved through concerted efforts by Travel & Tourism stakeholders, urging the implementation of sustainable water practices on a global scale. In collaboration with Accenture and Oxford Economics, WTTC has developed a framework to help the sector set water targets, reduce water footprints, and enhance water resilience.

The data from a partnership between WTTC and the Saudi-based Sustainable Tourism Global Center reveals that from 2010 to 2019, Asia Pacific, the Americas, and the Middle East observed increased water usage in Travel & Tourism amid substantial growth in international arrivals. In contrast, despite experiencing annual increases of 5% and 4% in international arrivals, Europe and Africa demonstrated a 1% decline in water usage over the same period.

WTTC President & CEO, Julia Simpson, remarked, “Water scarcity is a pressing global issue that requires collective action. Travel & Tourism, with its unique influence and global reach, is perfectly positioned to play a pivotal role in fostering sustainable water practices.” She emphasized the report’s aim to inspire a transformative journey towards responsible water use and a regenerative future, aligning with Sustainable Development Goal 6.

Jesko-Philipp Neuenburg, Global Travel and Aviation Sustainability lead at Accenture, emphasized the transformative power of data and technology in driving collaboration, informing decision-making, and implementing water reduction and resilience action plans. He highlighted the role of technology and data as enablers of sustainability, emphasizing the need for travel and tourism organizations to reinvent their efforts for actionable and impactful water strategies.

As climate change intensifies, the report underscores the vital importance of building resilience for the long-term survival of the sector. Recognizing interdependencies and assigning a monetary value to water risks are crucial steps to navigating risks, meeting stakeholder expectations, and championing global water stewardship. The report introduces the Water Management Action Framework, rejecting a one-size-fits-all solution and emphasizing water footprint reduction and resilience building across supply chains. WTTC calls for collective action to safeguard water ecosystems, issuing a framework that guides stakeholders on the path to sustainability, emphasizing science-based targets, internal prioritization, appropriate funding, and collaborative measures for a resilient future.

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