Several years ago, I had to remove the tub because the bathroom floor needed repair. In order to remove the tub, I first had to remove the tub surround. Initially, I thought I could just remove the panels by using a putty knife on the adhesive, and later on, re-glue the same surround to the walls. I soon found that was not going to happen. The surround was very hard to remove and no matter how careful I tried, it broke apart, leaving a huge mess of adhesive to remove, as well as sheetrock with much of it's surface paper gone.
In the end, I ended up removing the sheetrock and replacing it, which lead to pretty much redoing the entire bathroom, because the sheet rock extended beyond the tub area.
After that ordeal, I decided to never install another tub surround. Not only are they over priced, and you need to buy the more expensive models to get something worth looking at, but, as I found out, they make it impossible to remove a tub without nearly gutting the bathroom.
Since that time, I replaced the sheetrock, and the tub, and just painted the walls. Since I rarely use the shower, and prefer baths, this is not a big problem. However, I have been looking for something to put on those walls which not only looks nicer, but there's a good chance a relative will be moving in here, and they like showers.
Ceramic tile seems to be the next most used wall covering, and I think it's a lot nicer looking than tub surrounds, and if the tub ever needs to be removed, only the bottom row of the tile needs to be removed, and they can be removed without destroying the whole wall. However, I recall my father having to constantly re-do the grout in his bathroom when I was younger, and how that grout gets real ugly from mildew, and it just seems like a high maintenance thing I'd rather not have to deal with.
The only other alternnative I have seen, is some paneling made from masonite with a finished surface, which does not seem to hold up after a few years. And since this material is sold in 4x8' sheets, there is a seam where water will get in.
I'm now looking for other alternatives. So far, the only thing I've found is someone who used ribbed galvanized steel sheets, which is made for siding on barns. That is something I'm considering. That's easy to install, using neoprene washer screws, and some silicone caulk in the seams. However this is not conventional, and most people would probably not like it. But I found it on a website and was used in what they referred to as a "cowboy bathroom". Personally, I like the looks of it, and the ease to install it. I am seriously considering this.
But I'm sure there are other non-conventional materials which can be used. I even thought about using vinyl siding, and that probably would work, but I dont much care for the looks of it.
Another thing I have considered was to just put vinyl sheet flooring (linoleum) on the walls. I think that would hold up a lot better than that masonite paneling, and would look nice too, (and has a lot of colors and patterns available).
So, what else is there? Does anyone have any ideas? Have you ever seen other alternative materials used that you found desirable.