Are Tourists Impacting Cape Town's Drought?

Tourists should be wary of how much water they use when visiting Cape Town | © Dan Gold / Unsplash
Tourists should be wary of how much water they use when visiting Cape Town | © Dan Gold / Unsplash
Photo of Andrew Thompson
Freelance Writer - November 2017

Cape Town is currently in the grips of the most devastating drought in 100 years. With the rainy season all but over, and dam water supplies still sitting at dangerously low levels, the city is coming precariously close to running out of water altogether. And that’s before we’ve factored in the arrival of tourists during the region’s upcoming peak season.

December and January are the busiest times in the Cape’s tourist season. Anyone who’s headed down to the beach over this time, or tried to get a beer at the city’s most popular bars, will claim that the city is overflowing with visitors – and they’d be right. According to Alan Winde, Minister of Economic Opportunities, the province saw 450,000 tourists between October and December last year, and these numbers are set to rise for the upcoming season.

The natural deduction to make from this surge in visitors in the midst of the city’s severe drought is that it will further put a strain on Cape Town’s water supplies. According to research from auditing firm Grant Thornton, however, the latest numbers suggest that the influx won’t actually have a direct impact on Cape Town’s drought.

De Villiers Dam on Table Mountain at 40% full / | © Andrew Thompson

This is because, in practice, the city’s population only grows by approximately 4% during peak tourist months, thanks to international visitors. Though domestic tourism is on the rise, when you consider that approximately 290,000 residents will actually leave the city over the same time, experts suggest that the population numbers will in effect level out.

Still, it’s taken more than six months for the message to fully sink in for local residents to do everything they can to reduce water consumption. Widespread awareness campaigns have still failed to get water usage below prescribed targets, and uninformed visitors may have little understanding of the drought’s severity.

Officials say they are doing everything they can to alert visitors. Pilots have been urged to alert arriving visitors to the sight of the dams as fly over them, and officials have instructed airports, petrol stations, hotels, guest houses and other tourist attractions to not only implement water-saving measures, but educate visitors on the situation.

With the Western Cape heavily reliant on income generated from tourism, officials have urged visitors not to stay away, but rather to visit the region as they would normally, only paying critical attention to the amount of water they use while there. In this way, the city is confident that it can be another bumper tourist season without visitors actually worsening Cape Town‘s drought.

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