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Tourism, water and gender: summary of a scientific article

Núria Abellan & Marta Salvador | Alba Sud

The trinomial tourism, water and gender has been scientifically explored through a review of literature by Cole, Cañada, Ma and Sandang, which presents the current state of knowledge and the possible lines of investigation of an underexplored nexus. 

Photography by: André Bazán’s mural, Playa Potrero,Costa Rica. Source: Ernest Cañada.

In the past month of April, the scientific journal WIREs Water published the article Tourism, water and gender - An international review of an unexplored nexus, by investigators Stroma Cole, Ernest Cañada, Yue Ma and Yesaya Sandang. This study has aimed to develop a review of the English, Spanish and Chinese literature regarding the nexus between tourism and water, proving the existing gaps, especially concerning gender. In order to achieve the review, 182 items have been included, among which there are academic papers, books and book chapters, doctoral thesis and reports by NGOs. The depth of this analysis is of great relevance, since it offers a broad view of this problematic, taking into account the three main languages of publication and combining scientific studies and grey literature. 

Tourism and water: what do we find in the scientific literature? 

The relationship between tourism and water is established through the touristic development of a region, and it may affect water supply both qualitatively and quantitatively. Thus, the use of water in touristic destinations can have negative aspects, since it has been demonstrated that the increase in the demand of this resource by tourists and tourism infrastructures (hotels, pools, spas, golf courts and ski stations) is usually at the expense of the water available for consumption of the local population. Apart from the conflicts derived from the increase of water consumption by tourism, climate change can also cause many of these regions, facilities and economic sectors, such as agriculture, to be notably affected in an increasing competition to obtain this good. 

Firstly, the authors focus on the English literature, which mainly studies Australia and the Mediterranean region, although it has broadened horizons with some Global South countries. Regarding the Spanish literature, it is namely located in two countries, Costa Rica and Spain, especially in the areas of Guanacaste and the Mediterranean coast respectively and, by a smaller account, it studies Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador. Lastly, Chinese literature is at a growth stage and, currently focuses exclusively on China. So, the authors identify that the state of the art in terms of tourism and water is limited to certain geographic areas and, for this reason, they suggest futures lines of investigation that are centered on touristic destinations that are subjected to fast unplanned development, with an important concentration of tourists and/or with water scarcity. 

Globally, scientific literature revolving around the topic of tourism and water studies the use of this resource at hotel establishments and the management that takes place when the supply of water is limited. This way, tackling this aspect from the local’s perspective has taken a second place, although problems, the unsustainability of tourism and its impacts on the quality and quantity of water are present everywhere. Finally, the authors highlight the gaps of knowledge regarding climate change, Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) about tourism and water sanitation. Despite this, the gender perspective applied to the nexus found between tourism and water is the most significant gap of knowledge.

Tourism, water and gender: how is this trinomial studied?

The link between water and gender is well documented and it is of great relevance, taking into account data such as that, nowadays, women are responsible for collecting and managing water in an 80% of homes (UN Women, 2018), them being the ones who suffer the most when this resource is not well managed. The negative consequences of the lack of quality water for women include greater risks in their health. Foreseeably, the ecologic changes derived from climatic processes will alter the availability, reliability, quality, quantity and accessibility to this resource. Thus, women will be forced to walk longer distances in order to obtain clean water, which will increment the indexes of waterborne diseases and the sanitation of said good. Another consequence is the increase in domestic violence when water is limited.

Women in the lake Nokoue, Benin. Source: Carsten ten Brink, under creative commons license. 

Despite this, the nexus between tourism, water and gender has not been studied, as mentioned above and, more specifically, the authors of this article have found that the Chinese literature does not have any investigation that tackles this link. On the other hand, the literary corpus in Spanish is focused in Guanacaste (Costa Rica) and outstands the role that women play by leading the communities of Sardinal and Potrero, in defense of water and facing the threat of tourism inversions that aim to exploit this resource. This leadership, which also takes place in Colombia and Mexico, is a consequence of the conception that water and environmental conservation are feminine issues, especially in rural contexts. Regarding global phenomenons such as climate change related to gender studies, there is no evidence of tourism being a factor taken into account or, in the cases where it has been considered, it has been so from an industry perspective. In fact, the World Tourism Organisation affirms that tourism has the capacity of playing a vital role in achieving safe access to water, as well as hygiene and sanitation for all. However, there are still no studies that aim to put this goal into practice. 

Once the state of knowledge is analysed, Cole, Cañada, Ma and Sandang detect the aspects that should be investigated in future studies, including a view on the SDG, the intersectionality of the diverse feminine experiences in this trinomial, the care-work and gender violence in special attention to tourism. Focusing on these aspects suggested by the authors would allow that, from the ecologic and economic politics, future investigations may shine some light on an issue that currently affects millions of people and that is predicted to increase due to the effects of climate change. At the same time, the tensions and the competition to obtain this scarce good will be intensified, which will generate a greater number of problems for the local communities and especially for women. 

In conclusion, amidst a global pandemic, new investigations appear, which prove how the scientific field offers the possibility to explore new areas in depth and display the desire of investigators to keep broadening their visions and perspectives, in a world that once again offers the possibility to rethink our actions and contribute, as is this case, with a grain of sand. 


This article is published in the framework of the project "Research Platform on Tourism, Human Rights and Gender Equity" developed by Alba Sud with the support of the Catalan Agency for Development Cooperation (ACCD) (call 2019).


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