Hotel Samba in Lloret de Mar celebrates its tenth anniversary as an ICRA test laboratory dedicated to evaluating innovative water-saving technologies.

- The aim of the research is to ensure that tourism activity requires less drinking water, a scarce commodity that is currently wasted.

- The Catalan Institute for Water Research (ICRA) has implemented four projects to improve water management with more efficient technologies.

- The Hotel Samba in Lloret de Mar, where the research projects are being carried out, was already a pioneer in Europe in sustainable practices.

In an increasingly touristy Mediterranean, improving water management is essential. Ten years ago, the Catalan Institute for Water Research (ICRA) started a pioneering initiative to help improve water management in the tourism sector, based on the idea that only if it is sustainable can tourism continue to be one of the country's main economic activities.


Saving water and saving tourism

According to ICRA, water consumption per tourist is up to four times higher than that of a permanent resident, since indirect consumption is also taken into account: swimming pools, gardens, golf courses, spas, etc. Undoubtedly, tourist activities in the Mediterranean are a stressor for water resources, especially in the summer months.

In order to ensure that tourism activities require less drinking water, a scarce resource, ICRA has carried out a series of research projects in the field over the last 10 years, in real facilities open to the public. The hotel that decided to collaborate in the project was the Samba, a resort with a swimming pool built in 1972 with 433 rooms, a restaurant and 7,252 m² of green areas. Located in Lloret de Mar, the three-star Hotel Samba had already been the first in Europe to obtain ISO 14001 (1997) and EMAS (1998) certificates for its good practices in water optimization, home automation in meters, LED lighting, recycling and waste management, among other sustainable habits.


A pioneering hotel in gray water separation

In fact, the hotel has had a gray water separation system in place since 1998. The water generated in bathtubs and toilets is collected in a tank to be treated and reused in toilet cisterns, and up to 15,000 m³ per year is reused. This is an ecologically sustainable practice (it reduces the demand for drinking water) and economically sustainable (it represents a significant saving on water bills). The Hotel Samba was an example of water management in tourist accommodations in the area. Even so, the projects carried out by the ICRA have shown that it is still possible to go further in the use of water.


The four ICRA projects at the Samba hotel

The first to be implemented at this tourist facility was the European project demEAUmed. Its aim was to create an optimal and safe closed water cycle through innovative integrated technologies. For this project, the vertECO system (from the Austrian company Alchemia-nova) was installed on the hotel's bar terrace.

This system, which is currently still installed in the hotel, is a wetland where different interactions occur between water, plants and the supporting medium. The vertECO wetland has the capacity to purify greywater and has shown a very good performance for its treatment, which can be reused to irrigate the hotel's green areas or for the laundry.

The three-year demEAUmed project, with 15 partners from seven countries, integrated eight leading technologies for the treatment and reuse of the different wastewater streams generated in the hotel (toilet water, laundry, showers, swimming pool, etc.), together with advanced monitoring of water quality and consumption parameters.

The next research program with Hotel Samba was CLEaN-TOUR, a four-year national project that sought to evaluate graywater treatment with a combination of membrane systems and constructed wetlands. In this case, in addition to including ornamental plants, edible plants were introduced. With this approach, in addition to treating graywater for reuse, vegetables are obtained that can be consumed within the hotel itself. A new step towards increasing circularity and sustainability in the hotel.

The third project in which the ICRA participated with pilot tests in the Lloret de Mar tourist facility was SUGGEREIX, promoted and financed mainly by the Catalan Water Agency (ACA) and led by the Eurecat technology center. Its purpose was to generate knowledge to improve reused water management strategies.

Finally, ICRA's most recent project with Hotel Samba as the setting was ReUseMP3, funded by the State Research Agency and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. The aim was to evaluate the feasibility of nature-based solutions for water treatment so that water can be directly reused. In this project, contaminants that may exist in water (pharmaceuticals, pesticides, microplastics, etc.) are analyzed. Gianluigi Buttiglieri, ICRA researcher working with circular economy issues and nature-based solutions, comments that "it is important to evaluate both the efficiency of the solutions used and the impact of this type of organic micropollutants, present in reused water, for the environment and human health."

The ICRA team involved in the different research projects of Hotel Samba is formed by Gianluigi Buttiglieri and Sara Rodriguez-Mozaz, ICRA researchers specialized respectively in treatment and reuse technologies and in Environmental Chemistry; Joaquim Comas, full professor at the University of Girona, member of the LEQUIA research group and senior researcher attached to the Evaluation and Technologies area of the ICRA, Esther Mendoza and Josephine Vosse, predoctoral researchers at the ICRA, and Lucas Alonso, postdoctoral researcher at the ICRA, among other researchers.


Improving decision making in water management

The results of the four ICRA research projects will be used to create decision support tools to promote water reuse in other tourism scenarios in the Mediterranean, which is essential to contribute to a more sustainable tourism, responsible and efficient water management that is consistent with the current context of climate change and water scarcity.

For Esther Mendoza, predoctoral researcher at ICRA, who has focused her doctoral thesis on graywater treatment with membrane systems and constructed wetlands: "there is still much work to be done, but thanks to research and the involvement of companies like the Hotel Samba we can contribute to a more sustainable tourism and promote practices that can be carried out in other tourist facilities in the Mediterranean area".


About the Catalan Institute for Water Research (ICRA)

The ICRA is a multidisciplinary water research center created on October 26, 2006, by the government of the Generalitat de Catalunya. It is also a CERCA center attached to the UdG and has the support of its patrons: the Department of Research and Universities, the Catalan Water Agency (ACA) and the University of Girona (UdG).

It is an international benchmark for research into the integral water cycle, water resources, water quality in the broadest sense of the word (chemical, microbiological, ecological, etc.) and treatment and evaluation technologies, and the transfer of this knowledge to society and to the business and industrial fabric.

The research it carries out concerns all aspects related to water, especially those that have to do with its rational use and the effects of human activity on water resources.

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