This article reviews direct freshwater consumption in tourism from both quantitative and qualitative viewpoints to assess the current water demand of the tourism sector and to identify current and future management challenges. The article concludes that even though tourism increases global water consumption, direct tourism-related water use is considerably less than 1% of global consumption, and will not become significant even if the sector continues to grow at anticipated rates of around 4% per year (international tourist arrivals). The situation differs at the regional level because tourism concentrates traveller flows in time and space, and often-in dry destinations where water resources are limited. Furthermore, the understanding of tourism’s indirect water requirements, including the production of food, building materials and energy, remains inadequately understood, but is likely to be more substantial than direct water use. The article concludes that with expected changes in global precipitation patterns due to climate change, it is advisable in particular for already water scarce destinations to engage in proactive water management. Recommendations for managing tourism’s water footprint are made.