Tourism industry report shows room for improvement in water conservation

Yet, Tourism Center director and Water Resources Science Graduate Program faculty member Ingrid Schneider is optimistic. “I see the results as an opportunity to educate,” she says “A portion of the industry might fail to see the economic savings in water conservation, but the bottom line is still the bottom line.”

Along with other educational and research efforts, the Tourism Center leverages University and other resources to tourism-dependent communities to help tourism owners and operators improve their bottom line in long-term, sustainable ways. The statewide survey targeted five categories of tourism-related operations that included lodging and camping owners, convention and visitor organizations, and event and festival managers on sustainable practices in areas of energy efficiency, waste minimization, environmental purchasing, air quality, landscaping for wildlife and water conservation.

The responses from the 2013 survey portion of the report show that, while some practices—like sweeping and vacuuming large areas, properly disposing of hazardous chemicals, and regularly testing and repairing water leaks—were practiced on an ongoing basis by more than 70 percent of the respondents, fewer than half of the respondents indicated any attempt to collect rainwater or install automatic run-off or reclaimed water systems.

Results were mixed on the perceived difficulty of adopting sustainable practices, with 80 percent of respondents agreeing that initial financial costs and investments of time and energy pose challenges to adoption practices. In 2013, regional differences stood out when it came to adopting practices, with respondents in Northwest Minnesota citing greater concern with financial costs, restrictions, lack of interest in the consumer base, lack of interest in the organization and even customer opposition than those in the Northeast.

Habitat conservation practices also ranged widely, with Northeast and Central Minnesota leading the pack in terms of choosing drought resistant or native groundcover. There were also differences in the practice of collecting rainwater and stormwater, although most lodging representatives had an irrigation plan designed to conserve water and reduce evaporation.

And while more than three-quarters of respondents reported repairing leaks as part of a preventative maintenance plan, fewer reported installing water-saving fixtures and devices. More than half the respondents pointed to a lack of information on and external restrictions on operations as barriers to adopting sustainable practices.

“The regional differences are an area for more research,” Schneider says. “In Northwest Minnesota, for example, there’s a perception of more financial costs for sustainability efforts than in the Northeast. As water and environmental policies can differ by county, so too can obstacles to implementation.”

As a next step, Schneider’s team is convening meetings of University and industry experts on each topic to strategize how to help tourism industry personnel adopt environmentally smart practices that will pay off in the long run. For example, practices and solutions for the lodging sector might include more guidance on composting services; for the retail sector, more technical expertise in for the installation of occupancy sensors and water-saving features.

“Most conservation practices involve behavioral change,” cautions Schneider, “which in this case points to more communication, rather than financial or labor investment.”

The Tourism Center is a collaboration between University of Minnesota Extension and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. For more information, visit http://www.tourism.umn.edu/

Summer Tourism ImagePhoto credit: Explore Minnesota Tourism