Reducing water consumption

Written in collaboration with Innovation Lighthouse and EnviroRental

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Fresh water will become increasingly scarce in the years and decades to come. By 2030, the demand for fresh water is expected to be 40% more than the available supply. Such devastating outcomes call for action now, with water scarcity also a key concern for consumers.

Laundry can account for up to 30% of your property’s total environmental impact in the hospitality industry. This figure takes into account water usage, electricity usage and the pollution from the detergents. That’s before factoring in the annual water consumption in guests’ rooms, which can vary from 18,000,000 litres in temperate climates to well over 121,000,000 litres in tropical environments. In holiday rental homes, the numbers could be even higher per unit due to the availability of kitchen facilities, often with a dishwasher and washing machine. In addition, guests may spend more time in the accommodation as it’s seen as a ‘home-from-home’.

If you run a hotel, asking guests to reuse towels or skip housekeeping is a popular, tried-and-tested method for reducing the impact of water usage. For example, a sticker or card in the room reminding guests of the environmental consequences of using a lot of water, but is the message really effective? And are there other techniques that work better? 

For holiday rentals, there are alternative ways to reduce water usage as a property owner or manager. Most of these actions don’t require guest involvement, which makes them even more effective.

This section covers different ways you can reduce your water consumption and the benefits this can bring for both your business and the environment. 

Four benefits of reducing your water consumption

1. It conserves water supply for the local community 

Water is a precious resource and – in many destinations around the world – a scarce one. In fact, almost 20% of the world’s population lives in water-scarce regions – this means that water resource development in the area is ‘approaching or has exceeded sustainable limits’. As an industry, we are responsible for ensuring local communities are not deprived of water by using no more than we really need. 

2. You’ll reduce your carbon footprint 

Water consumption isn’t just about the water itself. There can also be a wider environmental impact. Electricity is needed to power water being pumped around the pipes of a property. A 10kg laundry wash consumes at least 50 litres of water and 1.2 kilowatt-hours of electricity. Research has also shown that some detergents can have a carbon footprint of almost a kilogram of CO2 for every household wash load – multiply that by your property’s laundry load size, and the number is likely much higher.

3. Guests are on board 

Guests already show a lot of willingness to adapt their travel experience to reduce water consumption. According to our research, 60% of global travellers reused towels in 2023 and 40% skipped daily room cleaning to minimise their water usage when staying at a property. Keep your systems simple, make it clear to your guests that a towel hung up on a rail or hook means they’ll use it again, while a towel on the floor means they’d like it to be washed. 

4. It’ll reduce operational costs 

Water consumption is the second highest utility expense, accounting for 24.7% of hotels’ utility budget in the US alone. So, the financial incentive to reduce it is compelling. Studies have shown that offering guests the option to skip washing towels and sheets every day results in a 17% reduction in the number of laundry loads – also reducing related energy, labour and detergent costs.

Water in glass

How to reduce your water consumption effectively

Understand your current consumption

To track your progress, it’s important to start by measuring your current water consumption. This will give you insight into how much water you use and where you can start making reductions. Setting a baseline also lets you see how much progress you make over time.

To calculate the water used per guest per night for a hotel, divide the total monthly water used in your guest rooms by the number of guests for that month. If your utility bill is in cubic metres, you can compare your findings against your bill by multiplying the number of litres per guest by 0.0001. You’re likely to receive one water bill per property for a holiday rental. If that property includes rooms or units that are not metered separately, you’ll need to divide the bill by that number to get the litres per room or unit. 

For more information on how to start measuring your water usage and to learn about the methodology used by the International Tourism Partnership, visit the ‘Understanding your environmental performance’ section of this guide.

Identify how you can save water

Once you’ve set your baseline of water consumption to measure against, you can consider ways to reduce your water use. For hotels, towel reuse and skipping housekeeping are commonly practised and well-understood by guests. Other relevant methods for hotels and B&Bs, as well as holiday rentals, are installing water-efficient toilets or putting a toilet tank bank in the cistern, fitting flow-reducers on taps and shower heads, and installing a leak detection system. For holiday rentals, ensure new appliances have water-saving settings when replacing dishwashers and washing machines.

For larger properties with grounds and outside space, consider rainwater harvesting and using grey water for flushing toilets. If there’s landscaping, choosing drought-tolerant plants and species native to the area will reduce the need for watering. If you have installed irrigation, consider controlling it with a timer.

Empower guests to consume consciously

When guests travel, they’re in a ‘holiday mindset’ and often act differently from how they would at home. For example, research shows guests use more than 2.5 times the amount of water when they stay at a hotel compared to their normal daily consumption. The easiest way to help guests consume less water is to implement water efficiencies and put water consumption in their hands by addressing the topic and bringing awareness to the amount of water they consume. This approach involves no effort on the part of the guest and doesn’t impact their comfort.

If you want to involve guests actively in reducing water consumption, you could encourage them to take shorter showers, for example. 

Glass bottles

Communicate what you are doing and why

We know that a growing number of guests are increasingly aware of sustainability practices. So, it makes sense to let them know the steps you’ve taken to save water; this could be a section in your guest information book or digital guide. Or you could have signage in the bathroom and kitchen (when provided).

Keep the language clear and simple, and remember to remind guests why you’re taking these actions, e.g. ensuring that the local community has sufficient water. Social justice is another consideration for travellers. They prefer to have a positive impact on the destinations they are visiting. By encouraging action that doesn’t require much effort from them, you’ll also be generating a feel-good factor. 

Keep information simple and specific

When communicating with your guests, use language that is easy to understand. Keep explanations and vocabulary simplified, and avoid technical terms. At the same time, it’s important to be specific. Vague messages can be frustrating, misunderstood and be interpreted as greenwashing. 

Try different ways to get your guests on board

What’s persuasive for one guest might not be for another. When writing information about your sustainability initiatives, try using various persuasion techniques that complement each other. Here are some of our suggestions: 
 

  • Reinforce habits from home Research suggests linking an action to what guests normally do at home can work better than environmental messaging. Some examples might be ‘Use your towel again, just like you do at home.’ Or ‘Make yourself at home and please reuse your towel.’
     
  • Use social norms - Studies have shown that information about how many other hotel guests reuse towels incentivises others to do it too. Think things like: ‘x% of weekend guests choose to skip housekeeping during their stay.’ or ‘x% of people {in this room} use their towels again.’
     
  • Make people feel good - Show your guests that by making more sustainable choices they can have a more positive impact. This means including information about positive outcomes and writing in a non-threatening way. Make them feel good – not guilty – about their travel decisions.


Consider an incentive scheme

Another way to encourage your guests to save water is to reward them. For example, consider offering points that guests can exchange for a free drink in the hotel bar or local pub, or make a charitable donation with the amount of money saved. 

If this doesn’t sound like something you could offer at your property, try getting your team or peers together to come up with solutions that would work for you.

Educate your housekeeping staff

Your housekeeping team (in-house or outsourced) will be vital to the success of your water reduction targets. Make sure they feel a part of your sustainability plan. Implement training that covers your new processes and all the other ways staff can help save water. These can include keeping toilet flushes to a minimum during cleaning, not leaving the taps running and using a mop to wash floors (instead of a hose).

Show travellers what you’re doing

Once you start implementing measures to reduce your water consumption – or if you’ve already got some in place – you can communicate this to travellers through our platform.

Tell us if you’ve implemented any of these practices to reduce water consumption:

Guests have the option of reusing towels
Guests can opt out of daily cleaning service
You only use water-efficient toilets, such as low-flow or dual flush toilets
You only use water-efficient showers, such as smart showers or low-flow showerheads

Want to learn more?

Take the next step on your sustainability journey with our free online course about water management. Developed in partnership with UN Tourism, the course is packed with expert insights and practical tips you can use to integrate more sustainability-related practices into your business. 

Sign up to the course

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