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Capetown Water Crisis Deepens


Cape Town’s water crisis could spell doom for the hospitality market, with city officials warning Day Zero(when the city will turn off its taps) may come as early as April, is a reality that even the city’s finest hotels aren’t shielding their guests from. In fact, as a whole, five star and ultra luxury properties are responding to the crisis with an urgency that is somewhat surprising.

“It would be irresponsible for us to not fully partake in all the water savings that we can just because we’re in the ultra luxury segment,” says Richard Lyon, the general manager of the One&Only Cape Town, one of the city’s most upscale properties in a crowded field. Lyon says the hotel is currently aiming to reduce its water consumption by up to 50% compared to this time last year (it has already decreased it by more than 30%, which the municipality requires).

Many of the changes that One&Only and other high-end hotels have implemented are the kind of efficiency gains that make one wonder why they weren’t in place already. These include switching to low-flow shower heads and taps, washing cars less, converting fountains into rock gardens, topping up swimming pools with treated salt or recycled water, using native and/or succulent plants, collecting unused water from ice buckets and half-empty water bottles throughout back-of-house operations, and washing linens every few days or once per stay rather than daily.

Jeff Rosenberg is the head of the Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa—the country’s leading trade organization for the hospitality industry—which has launched a WaterWise Pledge to advise member hotels on tips for conservation. He said other than a small minority of travelers who complain, the reception has been overwhelmingly understanding.

Communication up front has helped too. Luxury properties including One&Only and Cape Grace are notifying guests at the time of reservation that the city is facing water shortages that could have a noticeable effect on their stay—and encouraging them to help out. They are then reminded of the crisis again when they check in, with welcome letters as well as sign postings throughout the properties. Some hotels, instead of removing bath plugs, have put notes on them asking guests to take a two minute shower instead. When it comes to swimming pools—something that could make or break a guest’s decision to book—Rosenberg said most hotels have found ways to adapt and keep them open, while “some have actually closed the pools where they don’t have any [sustainable] option.”

The Table Bay Hotel at the Waterfront has made progress in converting the flushing toilets in its staff and banquet areas to use non-potable water.

Luxury travel agent Abercrombie & Kent, which specializes in many Africa itineraries including Cape Town, has also been proactive in alerting travelers before they get on the plane.

“When traveling to a destination Abercrombie & Kent always advise our guests on how best to be responsible travelers, from observing cultural sensitivities to awareness of environmental impact,” Ross Pakes, Director of Product for Abercrombie & Kent said. “Our team on the ground is keeping a close eye on the situation and advising our guests and global teams on a regular basis.”

In this case, Cape Town’s luxury sector is certainly not hiding the challenges from their well-heeled guests. For the industry, as Rosenberg said, it’s an attitude of “we’re all in this together.”

Options hotels are implementing in Cape Town currently-

  • Informing guests of the drought in every way possible – right from the booking process through to their stay at the hotels.
  • Closing down their pools, while others, like the Radisson Blu Hotel at the Waterfront, have converted theirs to using salt water.
  • Removing plugs from baths to discourage guests from using them.
  • Many hotels have also switched to waterless hand sanitiser
  • Stopped washing their vehicle fleets or switched to washing with waterless car washes.
  • Installing a complete recycling pool backwash water system that will feed back into the pool to further optimise the use of water at the pool.
  • Replacing plants in the garden with water wise succulents and the garden beds have been replaced with a drip system which reduces water consumption by up to 60%.
  • Towels in public bathrooms have been replaced with disposable towels
  • The public bathroom taps have been aerated to reduce consumption by as much as 40% and these taps are being rolled out to guest bedrooms.
  • Fitting green leaf certified water fixtures, eco-flushes on all toilets, no baths, and showers that heat up in six seconds to prevent wastage.
  • Climate control system using seawater for heating and cooling processes.


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