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Tourism water literacy during Cape Town's Day Zero drought

Authors: Meghan McCarroll*, University of Denver, Michael Kerwin, University of Denver, G. Thomas LaVanchy, Oklahoma State University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Africa, Tourism Geography
Keywords: tourism, drought, water literacy, conservation, Cape Town
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Many of the world’s global cities increasingly rely on tourism for economic development. However, tourism also creates large water demand, both directly for tourist consumption and indirectly to support goods and services that tourists require. Particularly in water-stressed regions, tourism competes with local water needs by drawing from public municipal supplies. A prime example of this exists in Cape Town (South Africa) where the city’s reliance on tourism (accounting for ~10% of total GDP for Western Cape) was recently overshadowed by the Day Zero drought. Hotels and agencies targeted tourists through numerous conservation campaigns aimed at increasing drought awareness and encouraging conservation at all levels. Our research analyzes these ad hoc efforts at water literacy through semi-structured interviews with members of Cape Town’s tourism industry in order to understand what was communicated, how, and to what end. Results suggest a dichotomy between encouraging a thriving tourism economy and sustainably managing water resources, particularly when extreme drought conditions place the need for conservation on everyone’s shoulders. Additionally, our research showed that rapid adoption of conservation behaviors among tourists in Cape Town was largely unknown to local citizens who perceived visitors to the city to be rampant wasters of water. Although international tourists may not experience water stress or drought within their home geographies, Cape Town demonstrates that increasing tourist water literacy levels can create empathetic behaviors and conservation for those on vacation. Thus, by unpacking these dichotomies within Cape Town’s tourism industry, we can improve drought management techniques within tourism hotspots.

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