Global water footprint examined in travel and tourism sector

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For the first time in its history, the World Council for Sustainable Development (CCD) is making its first foray into the world. The Travel and Tourism Commission(WTTC) participated in the UN Water Conference 2023 in New York. The meeting, held on World Water Day, highlighted the key role water plays in a sustainable future. WTTC presented groundbreaking data describing the water footprint of the global travel and tourism sector. It amounts to just 0.6% of global water consumption. The research was conducted in cooperation with the Global Sustainable Tourism Center(GSTC), based in Saudi Arabia.

What is a water footprint?

The water footprint is a measure of the amount of water used by humans in everyday life, in its most basic aspect, but also in the production of various products or services. It includes both direct water use (e.g., drinking water) and indirect water use in the supply chain, related to the production of goods and services (e.g., crop cultivation, animal husbandry, industrial production, transportation, energy production).

The way water is used, or rather its color after this activity, prompted the establishment of a conventional division of the water footprint, into:

  • Green – refers to the amount of water absorbed by plants through photosynthesis for growth and biomass production. It can also be called rainwater because it is water provided to plants as a result of rainfall. This footprint is related to the use of water in biological processes, such as crop cultivation, forestry and animal grazing. It can be set at the level of individual plants, crop fields, ecosystems or regions.
  • Blue – refers to the amount of water used directly from water intakes – lakes, rivers, reservoirs, to realize various human needs: drinking water supply, crop irrigation, electricity generation or industry.
  • Gray – refers to the amount of water required in production processes, in industry. The water used is most often discharged to a wastewater treatment plant.

The water footprint is expressed in units of water volume, usually liters or cubic meters, and can be measured at various stages of an operation, from the production of raw materials through major manufacturing processes to the distribution and use of the final product. It can be used as a tool to assess human impact on water resources and the environment, both locally and globally.

WTTC research – tourism water footprint accounts for 0.6% of global water use

WTTC’s research on the global water footprint of the travel and tourism sector analyzes the sector’s impact on water resources around the world, taking into account both local and global considerations. The results of this first comprehensive study were announced for the first time at the 22nd World Tourism Summit in Riyadh.

The survey covered almost every country in the world, as many as 185 countries. This is one of the largest research projects of its kind. The databases will be updated annually.

“The data is the most in-depth analysis of water consumption in the sector, as is the world’s first climate footprint data, which we released at our global summit in Riyadh last year. We can also reveal each country’s water footprint in the travel and tourism sector. This will enable governments to work with the industry to further reduce water consumption,” said WTTC President and CEO Julia Simpson.

“This groundbreaking new data reveals for the first time the water consumption of our sector, showing that travel and tourism consumes less than 1% of the water used globally, with the overwhelming majority of that value coming from the supply chain.” – Julia Simpson – “The data also shows that while the sector has grown economically around the world, its direct water use has decreased.

Key findings:

  1. Only 0.6% of global water consumption accounted for the sector’s total water footprint in 2021.
  2. In 2019. the sector’s total water footprint was only 50% higher, but it is still only 0.9%.
  3. Water consumption in the tourism sector is mainly indirect, through the supply chain.
  4. Agriculture and food production are responsible for 2/3 of the total water footprint in the tourism sector.
  5. In Europe and Africa, the tourism industry has reduced direct water consumption between 2010 and 2019. The sector’s direct water consumption fell by 8% in Europe and by 6% in Africa.
  6. The water intensity of the travel and tourism sector, both in direct and indirect consumption, per unit of GDP, is declining. In 2010. The sector used 0.57 m³ of water for every $1 contributed to the global economy. In 2019. consumption fell by 19%, reaching 0.46 m³ of water for every $1 contributed to the global economy.

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