On this occasion, Marc Proksch, Investment and Enterprise Development Section, Trade, Investment and Innovation Division of ESCAP presided over the forum with Phuket Vice Governor Prakob Wongmaneerung and Kanokkittika Kritwutikon, Director of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Phuket Office also in attendance.
Other representatives present at the forum included senior officials responsible for water management and access issues in key island tourism destinations in South-East Asia, key Ministries at national level, resorts operating in island communities, companies offering innovative solutions for water management, civil society and universities based in Phuket.
The forum aimed to build on and broaden last year’s discussion to the South-East Asia regional level, focusing on island tourism destinations in South-East Asia and to share innovative and cost-efficient business practices and technologies for ensuring sustainable water use and re-use in large and small resorts for potential inclusion in a best practice guide.
The Background: Water crises present one of the most significant global risks over the coming decade, rated third by the World Economic Forum in terms of potential impact. However, despite being a critical resource for our survival, water remains undervalued and underpriced and thus overused. As a consequence, the world’s groundwater – the main source of freshwater – is used much more quickly than it is being replenished. With high economic and population growth coupled with impacts of climate change, it is predicted that large parts of Asia will suffer serious water shortages by 2050.
Tourism is a very important source of income and jobs in many Asia-Pacific economies. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, travel and tourism accounted for 9% of GDP and 8.7% of employment in the region if indirect impacts are included. The region attracted some 300 million international tourist arrivals in 2016, generating nearly 455 billion USD in visitor exports. By 2027 arrivals are expected to nearly double to reach 549mn tourist arrivals per year.
At the same time, tourism puts a heavy stress on water resources as tourists use a lot more water on holiday than at home. Resorts also use substantial amounts of water to operate restaurants, provide cleaning services, maintain gardens, pools, spas and other resort facilities.
Moreover, since tourism often concentrates traveller flows in time and space, (e.g. in dry regions or in areas where dry season is also peak tourist season, islands with limited water supplies, and where renewable water reserves are limited) water plays a determining part both in everyday operations and potential growth of hotels but also in the potential growth of tourism locations.
Sustainable supply and thus management of water is therefore critical both for the resort industry and for important tourism destinations in the region.
The need to invest in good water management is particularly evident in island communities. The considerable number of visitors has put a huge strain on water in many of the popular island locations in the region.
This does not only impact small tropical islands, but even large destinations such as Bali and Phuket have experienced serious water shortages with some Phuket resorts even reliant on water delivery by truck to meet resort needs with high resulting costs.
Moreover, some key tourism destinations have also experienced problems with sea water quality due to lack of wastewater treatment.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations member states in 2015, include 17 goals of which one dedicated to water and sanitation (SDG 6: “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”). The United Nations has also designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism.
The forum shared good practices in water and wastewater management and innovative technology solutions. Participants shared good practices of how to reduce water consumption in hotels, both at source and by ensuring better wastewater treatment.
The government of Phuket shared information on the water situation and wastewater management in Phuket and plans for the future.
Participants noted that clear and enforced building codes that integrate sustainability considerations could be useful for pushing better water and wastewater management on a broader scale.