Many destinations face imminent water crises without action to reduce use by tourists and ensure supplies, says a leading expert.
Dr Stroma Cole, director of Equality in Tourism, warned yesterday: "Sustainability of water supplies will be what makes tourism viable or not in many parts of the world."
Speaking at German trade show ITB in Berlin, Cole outlined water supply and contamination problems in Bali, Goa and Zanzibar and said: "Bali will reach a critical situation by 2020.
"A water crisis will turn into a tourism crisis and economic crisis: 20% of Balinese people work in tourism and 55% supply the tourism sector; 3.5 million people will be affected."
Cole is a member of the environmental management department at the University of the West of England.
She said: "Tourism development in Bali has gone unchecked since the 1980s, causing the water table to fall. Wells run dry and people depend on buying water. We can't only blame tourism. There is a lack of regulation, a lack of monitoring."
To illustrate the problem, Cole said 1,500 cubic metres of water could sustain 100 rural families in a destination for five years and 100 urban families for two years. Yet the same amount was used by 100 tourists in 55 days.
She said: "In Goa, tourism has caused a decline in the quality and quantity of water but governance is a huge issue. There is a complete lack of monitoring. Most hotels don't know how much water they use."
Cole added: "Most governments have no idea how much water tourism takes. The lack of political will, combined with corruption, means water is not on the agenda."
She said: "There is plenty the tourism industry can do. There is a huge lack of understanding in the hotel sector. Five-star hotels talk the talk and say they only water gardens at dawn and dusk. But then you see garden sprinklers working at midday.
"There are plenty of techno fixes to cut water use, but the chief issue is human rights. It's not enough to have a corporate social responsibility programme."
Cole said the problem extended to Europe. "Malta has a huge scarcity problem but is increasing tourism. Cyprus has had to import water to one area yet is still building golf courses - the most intensive water users."
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