In the four years since its inception, The Sanlam Top Destination Awards has set the benchmark for excellence in South Africa’s tourism industry. By celebrating key players in the travel sector, the Sanlam Top Destination Awards serve to promote local and in-bound tourism in South Africa.

Voters this year once again showed huge support for their preferred establishments across 10 categories, including a new Water Sustainability Award created in conjunction with Water 4 Cape Town and Cape Town Tourism to reward the most water-conscious establishment.

Water has aptly been dubbed the new liquid gold, so it’s pertinent that the use of this precious resource comes under scrutiny. Sanlam Top Destination Awards founder and Director of Discount Traveler, Jonathan Pepler, explains. “By introducing this award the aim is to put a spotlight on an establishment that has truly gone beyond the call of duty to conserve water. It serves as a beacon to other establishments to follow this outstanding example and further the efforts of all South African businesses to do their part.”

“Tourism is a powerful force in the economy. With an estimated 300,000 jobs in the Western Cape dependent on tourism, it is important the industry continues to thrive. Accommodation providers are rising to the challenges of maintaining current water restrictions, while simultaneously working to provide comfort for thousands of guests each year. Water 4 Cape Town in association with Cape Tourism presented an award in conjunction with the Sanlam Top Destination Awards to recognize Cape Town's top waterconscious leaders in the hospitality industry,” he adds.

What factors saw !Khwa ttu San Heritage Centre secure the new Water Sustainability Award? “!Khwa ttu achieved almost all objectives measured in our survey and outstripped all their counterparts in the effort they employed to conduct a water-efficient business. The entire business process had incorporated water-saving methods, from check in, during stay, housekeeping, external entertainment facilities, management and on-going training were all measured in terms of the depth of innovation and commitment to maintain water-efficient measures put in place. Water-efficiency criteria measured included: Check In, During Stay – Bathroom, During Stay – Kitchen, During Stay – Housekeeping, During Stay – Grounds, During Stay – Pool and Check Out.”

The water crisis requires a change in lifestyle. “Resilient cities all over the world are drafting plans to cope with resource crisis and building capacity to safeguard them, given the pressing reality of this scarce resource globally. Central to planning for such scenarios is the need to assist the public to become aware of the need to cultivate a ‘new normal’. To review their habits and become responsible and consume less, avoid pollution, recycle more, choose organic products and insist on brands that have adopted a circular economy.”

“There are several major metropolis around the world that are currently struggling with a water crisis, and Cape Town unfortunately found itself at the tip of the spear. By activating establishments through initiatives such as, we are able to set a precedent on how to deal with the problem, effectively transforming the industry into a case study to be used by other tourism industries to follow suit.”

The City of Cape Town has just scraped through the most severe water crisis seen in decades. In Jonathan’s view, “The city, residents and hospitality industry are still experiencing the shock waves of the past year. During this time of great ecological stress, we have come face-to-face with what the world and its available resources may have in store for our exponentially expanding population.”

Paulette van Heerden, Director of Water 4 Cape Town adds; “Our work in the hospitality industry aims to facilitate an integrated development towards long-term protection against the serious threat of reduced access to water. We now have a dynamic ecosystem of organisations with a vision of water security for our region planning for 2019 and beyond to bring to fruition projects we set in motion this year. We look forward to playing an active part in your business environments, and to be a change agent for sustainable living, to be realised in the way we utilize our natural resources - to create a city where citizens foster a new green living.”

On his travels, Jonathan has come across numerous novel water-saving initiatives. “There are innovations coming to light on a small scale and on large scale where the focus shifts from saving every drop of water to data mining models to provide a concise view of water consumption behaviour, and establish benchmarks to track the efficiency of introduction of new technology. For example, fog towers have been built all over the world, but you find the most novel versions of this solution in various parts of the world. Elegantly, these towers are based on a simple fact that we have more water in the atmosphere than in all the water sources in the world combined,” he notes.

“It is incumbent on us to promote the ‘New Water Economy’ innovation and have as a central tenant in our education and business world the need to innovate water usage products and services. Water is a constitutional right and life-giving force. It is a precious resource and we need to treat the solution building for the best use of our available resource as a strategic imperative and sensitise our youth accordingly.”

What are the most common far-reaching measures seen employed by the nominees of this year’s Sanlam Top Destination Awards? “Primarily reduction in usage. Metering usage to monitor use in each instance and ensure no leaks go undetected. Harvest rainwater. Grey water recycling. Waste water treatment for re-use. Using non-potable water for sanitation purposes. Also clear instructions to all target audiences on how to conduct a water-efficient environment. Focused employee training programmes. Dedicated management executive to manage water-efficacy. Implementing water-efficient mechanisms in all water systems at venues where every drop is counted. Using water-efficient equipment in cooking, cleaning, laundry and gardening management. Adoption of waterless products and eradication of alien vegetation.”

Highlighting water scarcity with this award is a win-win in terms of conservation. “We need to be concerned about the water/energy/food connection and consider how what we consume impacts on our environment. Brands are now calculating their climate change footprint and making sure they contribute to safeguarding our precious natural resources.” Does he expect a renewed vigour with next year’s efforts to win the SANLAM TOP DESTINATION AWARDS Water Sustainability Award? “We will secure the enthusiasm for this wider scope from within the sector and engage them on the framework. This will provide a new dynamic for the sector to put forward as a motivation to visit their establishment. We have the moral obligation to conduct this work as an urgent priority and water efficiency is a profitability driver. Optimisation provides funds to re-engineer more business process to enhance the visitor experience. If we fail to view this as a “must have” we will fail to keep pace with the environmental changes taking place around the globe.”

In his view, will travellers seek out water-savvy travel options going forward? “No question. And we will actively campaign for this reality. We will promote best solutions on a global level and lead the surge toward better environmental practice.”

“Early in 2019 we will launch a wider focused Water Sustainability Award and motivate our top destinations to be global leaders for green living.”

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Jade Allen