Chennai, one of the biggest and most-visited cities in southern India, is facing its worst water crisis, affecting the hospitality sector in a big way.

The capital of Tamil Nadu has been hit by a drought for the third year in a row. Chennai’s four reservoirs together had only 31 million cubic feet of water, against a capacity of 11.2 billion cubic feet.

There are many reasons that cause the crisis to be the worst this year: three years of poor monsoon, unbridled urbanization leading to destruction of water bodies, over-exploitation of groundwater, and the absence of perennial water bodies.

Chennai’s largest source of drinking water, Chembarambakkam Lake, is bone dry with only sludge and mire left in the middle.

More than 4.8 million foreign tourists visited Tamil Nadu in 2017, making the state one of the top three tourism destinations in the country, according to India’s Ministry of Tourism. The Approved Tour Guides’ Association, Chennai said most foreign tourists to Tamil Nadu are from the U.S., followed by UK and France. Germany and Spain are the other major contributors to Tamil Nadu tourism.

City hotels and restaurants have solicited customers’ assistance in saving water, urging them to use it prudently. The swanky Radisson Blue Hotel GRT Chennai has put up a poster requesting guests use water sparingly.

“We have been writing a welcome letter to every guest. But now we have also been writing something called a water crisis letter telling them about the problem Chennai has been facing,” said senior general manager, Shabin Sarvotham.

“There are many things that have been introduced in the hotel to save water during this time of crisis. People coming to our hotel are cooperating with us.”

Some hotels have resorted to rationing water. Among them are The Park, Ramada, Grand by GRT, and Grillz Multicuisine Restaurant. They have even put personalized meters for water consumption. Personalized letters also greet guests in the room detailing the crisis.

Arun Raj, general manager of Hotel Turyaa, said Turyaa has installed an aeration device on showers to reduce consumption. “This new technology has brought down the water consumption to a large extent,” said Arun Raj. Guests are given instructions about water at check-in.

R. Srinivasan, secretary of the Tamil Nadu Hotels Association, said some hotels have reduced working hours and stopped offering dishes which consume more water. He explained that south Indian dishes consume more water during cooking. Besides they are typically served in a couple of cups and plates. So more water is needed while washing.

“But we have to provide south Indian dishes. Foreign guests particularly prefer south Indian dishes like idli, sambhar, dosa, vada and appams,” he said.

Every Drop Counts

Other measures taken by hotels and restaurants include switching to banana leaves in place of plates and providing finger bowls to customers to wash hands. These measures are quite effective in saving as much precious liquid as possible at a time when every drop counts.

Ananda Hotel in the city’s Teynampet area has even stopped serving lunch, serving only tiffins.

“We were forced to stop providing lunch due to shortage of potable water. But we are giving tiffins to the guests. We know this impacts our customers, particularly international customers. But in the present situation we can’t do much about it,” said assistant manager at the hotel, Ganesh Ravi.

R. Rajkumar, secretary of the Chennai Hotels Association, said international tourists are likely to be affected if the water crisis persists as many hotels and restaurants are not able to provide the kind of hospitality they expect.

Almost all hotels in the city now depend on private tankers for water supply. But because of the huge demand for tankers, it is becoming impossible for them to fulfill the needs of the city.

Besides the quality of water is really bad, getting yellow with sediments. Hotels don’t use such water for cooking or drinking purposes and take every precaution to ensure the health of guests is not hit due to water quality. Poor quality water is used for cleaning and other purposes.

Almost 8,000 hotels in the category of small, medium and large hotels operate in Chennai and its suburbs. The total volume of water required by these hotels and restaurants is about 150 million liters a day. But supply is far from demand. Even if hotels are willing to pay a steep price to purchase water, the question is, where to source it from?

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, addressing the media at a recent event, said the government was taking several steps.

“I will write soon and explore if it would be possible to get water from the neighboring Kerala state on a daily basis,” Palaniswami said.

The state government has also announced a daily water train to bring water to Chennai. The trains will carry water from Jolarpettai, 220 kilometers away, daily at a cost of $9.4 million (Rs650 million).

Last year Shimla, capital of the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, faced a similar situation. During the summer of 2018, hotel owners in the tourist town were forced to keep their rooms vacant because of water shortage, even when there was big demand.

“The situation is much better this year. Last year we were left with no option but to cancel bookings as there was no water for locals. Forget about the hospitality industry,” said Mohinder Seth, president of the Tourism Industry Stakeholders Association in Shimla.

Water shortage is becoming a part of life for the majority of 1.25 billion Indians, but this year people have to suffer because of heat waves that cross 45 degree Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in most of north and central India.

People believe it is going to get worse in the coming years.

Photo Credit: A blistering sunset in Chennai. S. Bhaskara Rao India / Visual Hunt