How can hotels help end the water and sanitation crisis? Six steps for hotels to integrate water, sanitation and hygiene into water stewardship

6 min read
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Hotel companies can play a vital role in reaching Sustainable Development Goal 6 – ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. WaterAid and the International Tourism Partnership team up to explain how.

In a new report, the International Tourism Partnership (ITP)[1] outlines some simple steps for hotel companies to follow to improve overall water stewardship practices[2] while considering access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for their staff and the communities where they live. Here’s how, and why, this is important.

The hospitality industry relies on sustainable access to water – it’s central to everyday operations (e.g. bathrooms, swimming pools) and potential growth. Research commissioned by ITP in 2018 highlights that projected areas of growth for the hotel sector overlap with destinations such as China, India, and Southeast Asia, which either currently or are projected to suffer from water stress. The research also shows that the highest risks of water cost increase are in regions with the highest water use in hotels.

Improved access to WASH has wide-ranging benefits for employees, their families and communities. Clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene are essential for people to stay healthy.

The productivity of a business is intrinsically linked to the communities in which it, and its suppliers, operate. Future threats to water access, sanitation and hygiene could cause disruption within hotels, for example if staff members (or their families), suppliers and local communities are affected by water-related illnesses caused by water scarcity, use of dirty water, poor sanitation and lack of hygiene.

Kamlesh in Uttar Pradesh, India, which has suffered from a lack of rainfall over the past decade.
Kamlesh in Uttar Pradesh, India. Here, drought has pushed millions of people in to a vicious cycle of hunger and poverty.
Image: WaterAid/Mansi Thapliyal

Companies who have invested in WASH have reported a range of business benefits including reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, and staff and supplier loyalty.[3] Responsible companies in the hotel sector should therefore be applying the principles of water stewardship across their operations, and, within those water stewardship principles, WASH elements should also be considered.

Nicolas Perin, Programme manager at ITP says:

Our members are multinational hotel companies such as Intercontinental Hotel Group, Hilton, Hyatt, Radisson Hotel Group, Taj and Deutsche Hospitality. They are aware of the importance of addressing water scarcity throughout their hotels, and our new report on water stewardship highlights examples on how they are working on this issue.

Doing so, hotel companies are supporting the ITP Goal on water to embed water stewardship programmes to reduce the number of people affected by water scarcity and identify ways to address water scarcity. A goal aligned with WaterAid’s work and vision.

The sector is ready to take action. But how to embed WASH?

What steps can hotel companies take to embed WASH considerations in their water stewardship strategy, and how can this help end the water and sanitation crisis?

The ITP report highlights six steps for any hotel group working on water issues, defining best practice on water stewardship and integrating WASH considerations:

  1. Understand your relationship with water. As part of your water risk assessment, WASH provision and potentially related risks should also be assessed within the workplace and in the communities where you operate. Tools such as WASHwatch can help you build an understanding of the country in which you are operating and the potential risks. You could also extend your assessment and understand your hotel supply chain to identify whether it is exposed to WASH-related risks. For example, IHG identified risks related to both water quantity and quality, and put in place tailored water stewardship action plans to apply best practice for each of their hotels, particularly those in water-stressed areas.
  2. Set targets and create a plan of action. If WASH is identified as an issue and a potential risk to your business, your water management programme will need to include WASH-relevant targets and plans. For example, you can broaden your employees’ understanding of WASH by giving them the International Labour Organization’s WASH@Work self-training handbook.
  3. Manage water sustainably in your operations. You can identify water efficiencies and reduce your pressure on freshwater by involving your customers and staff. Many hotels have started educating their guests about WASH-related issues through water-saving initiatives, such as suggesting customers to reuse towels rather than requesting daily replacements. You can also sign and implement the WBCSD WASH at the Workplace pledge, to ensure all employees in your direct operations have access to safe WASH while at work.
  4. Work with suppliers on water. Understand your supply chain and analyse how your suppliers are managing their water stewardship, including WASH. You can update your supplier codes and include the Ethical Trade Initiative’s criteria for optimal WASH provision in supply chains. You can also work with suppliers and develop WASH-supporting initiatives to create social impact. For example, Red Carnation Hotels in the UK serves Belu mineral water – Belu is a social enterprise that gives 100% of its profits to support water projects developed by WaterAid. Since 2012, Red Carnation’s purchases of Belu have transformed the lives of 1,779 people with access to clean water and sanitation.
  5. Build resilience to extreme events and water shortages. Hotel properties should manage their freshwater supply and protect local communities when disaster strikes. This includes considering the long-term sustainability of WASH services in the hotel’s surrounding environment. Think about how natural disasters such as floods or draughts would impact on your hotel’s relationship with water – inside and beyond the property line.
  6. Collaborate on sustainable water management. Collective action and partnerships across the hotel sector represent a significant opportunity to scale up action and deliver results on WASH. You can engage in sector-led initiatives, which could be facilitated by ITP, or collaborate with leading change-makers, such as WaterAid. We will help you deliver results for your business while accelerating progress, to ensure better WASH outcomes for all.

ITP and WaterAid encourage all hotel companies to improve their water stewardship practices and integrate WASH considerations, for the long-term benefit of businesses and communities. Think of your approach holistically and identify how you can ensure it respects access to WASH for your staff and the communities where you operate.

To learn more about how you can achieve these benefits and start managing your water responsibly, download the ITP guide on Water Stewardship for Hotel Companies. You can also get in touch with WaterAid’s Corporate Partnerships team.


Laurent Arnone is Corporate Insight Manager at WaterAid and tweets as @LaurentArnone. Ruth Romer is Private Sector Advisor at WaterAid and tweets as @RuthRomer4. Nicolas Perin is Programme Manager at ITP and tweets as @NicolasPerinITP.


[1] The International Tourism Partnership (ITP) is a global organisation bringing together the world’s most powerful hotel companies representing over 30,000 properties worldwide. The ITP recently set a goal for members to embed water stewardship programmes across their hotel portfolios to reduce the number of people affected by water scarcity.
[2] The Association for Water Stewardship (AWS) defines water stewardship as being the use of water that is socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial, achieved through a stakeholder-inclusive process that involves site and catchment-based actions.
[3] WaterAid, CEO Water Mandate and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (2017) Corporate engagement on water supply, sanitation and hygiene: Driving progress on Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) through supply-chains and voluntary standards. A high-level summary of research findings and recommendations. WaterAid, London. Available at: