As Africa’s greenest hotel, Hotel Verde has focused on sustainable tourism since opening in 2013. This niche sector of the tourism industry has been in the spotlight over the past few months, not only because 2017 was declared the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations, but also due to the drought inflicting the Western Cape. With water restrictions reaching Level 5, it has been necessary for travel and hospitality businesses in the region to operate more sustainably.
Tourism is one of the key contributors to the South African economy, with the Western Cape – and Cape Town in particular – attracting a large number of visitors. With this in mind, it is understandable that water restrictions have raised a number of compelling questions for the local travel and hospitality industry, such as how to save water while maintaining high standards and top facilities for tourists.
In 2015 Hotel Verde became the first hotel in the world to receive double LEED Platinum certification from the United States Green Building Council, acknowledging the hotel’s commitment to the environment through construction, operation and maintenance. As a pioneer in the sustainable tourism industry, Hotel Verde is continuously embracing green innovation and places strong emphasis on environmental education. To this end, the hotel hosted a Twitter chat on 29 June 2017 to engage industry players on the topic of water wise tourism in Cape Town. The chat provided a platform to share ideas and find solutions to the challenges arising from the city’s water restrictions.
A key area of discussion was how tourism and hospitality businesses are saving water and encouraging their guests and visitors to participate. Tying in with this was the challenge facing 4- to 5-star tourism products – how to save water yet maintain a luxury offering.
As tweeted by Hotel Verde, ‘Everyone in the tourism chain is a key player – guests, employees, owners.’ The conversation revealed that many businesses are providing guests with water saving tips via signage or digital platforms, and have begun educating employees on water conservation. Similarly, the industry is realizing the importance of supporting water wise businesses when seeking partnerships.
Hotel Verde’s grey-water recycling systems were included in the hotel’s original design and save on average R484 431 a year, resulting in the initial cost being recouped within 4.2 years of operation. More importantly, this and other infrastructure such as water-efficient washing machine cycles and low-flow tap fittings, has allowed the hotel to provide guests with a consistent luxury product despite water restrictions. Additional measures have also been put into place, such as conferencing water bottles only being filled on request and thus avoiding potential wastage, but have not impacted the comfort or expectations of guests.
To conclude the discussion, Hotel Verde asked participants how the water crisis can become an opportunity. The hotel guarantees guests a sustainable stay, supplying them with a complimentary carbon-offset certificate, and offers an in-house rewards programme that encourages guests to make more eco-friendly choices; such as reusing towels to reduce water consumption in the laundry. With an increasing number of travellers choosing green accommodation, sustainable operations will surely benefit in years to come.
While the water shortage is indeed a crisis, the #WaterwiseTourismCT chat showed that it has inadvertently had a positive impact on sustainable tourism, creating a more thrivable industry than before. The conversation engaged with businesses of all sizes, from small lodges through to large tourist attractions; showing that the hospitality and travel sector as a whole, is moving towards a greener future, and adopting practices that will continue even after water restrictions are relaxed.