Deep in the throes of a months-long drought, Cape Town, South Africa, this April will become the first major city to simply run out of water, city officials say.
Last week, Executive Mayor Patricia de Lille said Day Zero is likely to occur on Apr. 21. So, beginning Feb. 1, water will be restricted to 50 liters (about 6.6 gallons) per person, per day. And other emergency measures to try to extend the life of the water that remains are being considered.
It is midsummer now, and rationing is already in place in the second-largest city in South Africa, the capital of the Western Cape province. Citizens are restricted to 23 gallons a day; filling pools, washing cars and watering lawns is forbidden.
Travel agents say they are beginning to get concerned. Rose Gray, BDM at Fox World Travel, has had one customer in a group she is taking in September ask about the water situation. And fearing liability and complaints, said one industry insider, last week canceled flights for two customers she had already booked to Cape Town and rebooked two others elsewhere.
“They will shut off the water taps and people will have to stand in lines to get water; this is not anyone’s idea of a vacation,” she told TMR. “This has been a lesson in keeping updated with world events, a reminder of how fragile our world is.”
The airlines allowed her to cancel the tickets without paying a change fee, she said. She also has a client who is canceling, using her insurance to repay her.
In Rochester, New Hampshire, travel agent Dillon Guyer, with Travel international, also has a client who canceled, and got a refund from his travel insurance.
Some are not concerned
But other travel professionals feel there is no more need for concern.
“It’s being blown out of proportion,” said Robin John Mountain, Owner of Ntaba African Safaris in Kentucky. “And the cruelest thing anyone can do is to cancel a trip to Cape Town right now when they are suffering already. I guarantee you there is no hotel you will stay in or restaurant you will eat at that will not have water.”
Even if water levels continue to fall, Mountain said, Cape Town is on an ocean. And it will get rain when rainy season begins, in May or June. “I’m going back with a group in May and another in August; I’m cautiously optimistic that it will work out. It’s like anywhere in the world, the larger the population grows, the more we impact the natural environment around us.”
But tour operator Collette in Providence, Rhode Island, is taking the issue more seriously. Executive Vice President Paula Twidale told TMR the company is “committed to the health, safety and security of our guests as our number-one priority. We have been working closely with our partners on the ground in Cape Town throughout the water shortage to ensure that our guests have access to water for hydration and hygiene throughout their visit.”
Cape Town Tourism says there is “adequate water for tourists’ essential daily needs such as washing, using the toilet, and other daily hygiene. In the event Cape Town cuts its regular water supply, water will be severely rationed but sufficient for daily needs. At present, water restrictions are in place in the City of Cape Town, and residents and tourists are requested to adhere to them,” Twidale said.
“Collette will continue to monitor availability and act swiftly in conjunction with our partners on the ground to adjust tours as necessary. For the duration of the drought conditions, Collette will provide guests with three bottles of drinking water per day while in Cape Town. Additional water is available for purchase from stores. At this time, bottled water is readily available, as it is primarily sourced from natural springs outside of Cape Town.”