Cape Town calls for responsible and waterwise tourism

Shelley Bragg
Jul 23, 2023

Driving up the mountainside, I stare in awe as the Southern Hemisphere stars fill the sky, and the city lights, edged on the wide expanse of sea, fill the valley. I have just arrived in Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities in the world and rightfully a top tourist destination. I was born here but now when I visit from overseas, I am more of a tourist; one that is always grateful for the opportunity to enjoy everything this incredible city has to offer. However, in light of the current water crisis, I have become acutely aware of my impact as a visitor.

As many of us have been hearing, Cape Town is currently in a “critical status” in regard to their water availability. Although Day Zero - the day the taps are switched off – has been averted till 2019, the issue remains a concerning and real one. Cape Town residents are currently restricted to 50 liters of water per day. These limitations might seem incomprehensible to the many of us who live with access to as much water as we need and are willing to pay for, but that is a privilege we should not take for granted. Cape Town is an example of how ongoing climate change and population pressure can change things very quickly for all of us.

The benefits of tourism

Tourism is a large industry for Cape Town. Telegraph Travel readers chose it as the best city in the world to visit, 2 years in a row. In December 2017, which is the peak month for tourists, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) said Cape Town International Airport (CTIA) registered 127 309 international arrivals, an increase of 11.5% from December 2016. Domestic arrivals by air were 389 324 but it is believed that many additional local tourists visited Cape Town by land. When the city is battling with sufficient water for its own residents, an obvious question and debate is whether tourists should come to Cape Town at all.

We’re open for business

The City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Government want to make it clear, “We’re open for business.” Their new website developed in partnership, advocates for travelers to keep visiting but also for #waterwisetourism.

The website states that the tourism sector supports 300 000 jobs in the Western Cape and has been estimated to account for 7.5% of South Africa’s GDP ( This is a substantial income stream for the country and for communities, and a decline would be to South Africa’s economic detriment. Also, given the small percentage of tourists visiting each year relative to the total population, if tourists follow the daily water restrictions, tells us that their impact to the water issue will be negligible. The key caveat being: “if visitors follow the daily water restrictions.

So what does 50 litres a day look like?

This means 90 second showers, waterless sanitizers, one flush a day and some other somewhat uncomfortable choices. This might seem tough at first; we’re here for a holiday after all and would prefer long showers, relaxing salt baths, and to avoid the unattractive reality of “if it’s yellow, let it mellow.” However, this is the reality. Necessity begets comfort; Cape Town can’t afford these privileges and as visitors, it is our responsibility to adhere to their restrictions. also recommended 10 key ways tourists can help when they travel to Cape Town. One particularly helpful tool is the water calculator that you can use to measure your use and stay within the daily limit. Siemens also introduced an AirWater drop system, where you can help to take 5 liters of water from Johannesburg to Cape town when you fly.

In our recent GOOD Travel Trip to South Africa, we also selected proactive accommodation providers, such as Ocean View House, who have a grey water recycling and management system. Another accommodation we chose was Oudewerf who have a number of highly effective water saving measures in place. Choosing GOOD providers like these can reduce your daily use considerably. There are some easy DIY measures too, like collecting your shower water and using it in the toilet cistern to flush the toilet.

What does this teach us about being a responsible tourist?

Cape Town has provided us with a very stark example of why being a responsible tourist is so important. As travelers, passers-through, it is often easy for us not to take cognisance of the impact we have, because we’re gone so quickly. Cape Town, however, is giving us a very loud and immediate call to action. Our right-of-passage into the city is tied to us making responsible and conscious choices. Although vital that we do this now in Cape Town, it should be something we do in every country, with every trip and in our daily lives. Had we been as aware and responsible earlier, perhaps we could have helped Cape Town to avoid this situation altogether.

There is also a piece of GOOD news, even when making these small yet important, responsible choices, you can still have an incredible holiday.

So let’s embrace those 90 second showers. They are well worth it!

July 23, 2023
5 min read