Tourism businesses must take increased responsibility for water use across the industry in the face of rising costs and a fast-depleting resource.

This was one of the key messages presented to the Singapore International Water Festival this week, where water consumption among tourism operators in the Asia-Pacific region came under the spotlight.

Griffith University Professor of Sustainable Tourism, Susanne Becken, outlined significant threats posed by further growth of an industry that brings more and more visitors to destinations like China, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and Malaysia each year.

“The average guest accounts for up to 1000 litres of water per hotel night in many of the Asian countries, compared with an average 250 litres per hotel night in Australia,” Professor Becken said.

“In a region where there is massive tourism growth, alongside major population growth and industrial development, water is an increasingly scarce resource and an increasingly polluted resource. The Asia Pacific region is facing major issues.”

Professor Becken joined Dr Raj Rajan, vice president of Global Sustainability for Eco-Lab, to present the findings of a white paper on tourism and water at the World Water Day Distinguished Lecture.

The international white paper has been developed by an industry-university research partnership during the past four months, supported by Brisbane-based EarthCheck Research Institute.

It presents a global context on water stress, availability and stewardship and discusses the implications for the tourism industry along the three dimensions of cost, availability and quality.

“The cost of water is likely to increase and legislation that will initiate some form of water footprint is conceivable if not inevitable,” Professor Becken said. “Water is the new carbon.

“Tourism businesses that are prepared to audit and manage their water consumption will have a competitive advantage when expected changes in water regulation and control come into play.

“Increasing water scarcity not only increases regional risk to climate change but also often leads to conflict.” According to the UN Documentation Centre on Water and Sanitation (2012), there were more than 120,000 water-related disputes in China alone since 1990.

The white paper findings place an onus on the Asia-Pacific tourism region to become more involved in understanding their role in water management. The Pacific Asia Travel Association predicts that international visitors to the region in 2014 could exceed half a billion.

“There is a growing realisation that tourism needs to take some responsibility to ensure that not only is water consumed efficiently and in the most sustainable way, but also to ensure that risk management procedures are in place that guarantee continuing water supply for the long-term viability of hospitality businesses, as well as the broader community,” Dr Rajan said.

The paper also outlines how water efficiency can be achieved and undertakes a benchmarking review of hotels in the Asia Pacific using EarthCheck data. Over 60 hotels in China alone were reviewed.