Griffith Business School researchers are playing a key role in Queensland climate change policy modelling with the creation of an updated tourism carbon baseline that will for the first time include aviation emissions in the inventory for an improved footprint.

Tourism contributed $12.3 billion to the Queensland economy in 2017-18 and Queensland’s tourism market is the second largest in Australia, accounting for 23.3% of the national tourism output and directly employing 151,100 persons. And its importance has been highlighted, with Australian tourism identified as a super growth industry with nine consecutive years of expenditure growth.


A/Prof Tien Pham, Prof. Susanne Becken, Dr Sam Meng

The project led by Associate Professor Tien Pham and assisted by Professor Susanne Becken and Dr. Sam Meng, all from the Griffith Institute for Tourism, has just been completed. Results were presented to, and well received by, the Queensland government in November.

The report is currently in the reviewing process by the Dept. of Environment and Science (DES), and Dept. of Innovation and Tourism Industry Development (DITID). It outlines a new Queensland tourism carbon inventory and forms the baseline for further development of policy measures to mitigate emissions of the sector.

“This is a substantial climate change project, using my experience in the tourism satellite accounts (TSA) area. We are combining TSA and carbon emission frameworks to estimate emissions for the tourism sector,” said Associate Professor Pham.

“In subsequence to this project, we are planning to build a tourism economic model to examine policy scenarios – and hopefully we can contribute more to the debates of climate change policy options.”

“I am quite lucky to work in a team with Professor Becken, she is a well-known expert in the field of tourism climate change. Her inspiration and wisdom made a huge difference to the project.”


Bhutanese Tourism Council Project, Image: BTC

Associate Professor Pham is a leading expert on Tourism Satellite Accounts (TSA) in Australia with over two decades experience and he has been called on to assist other countries to create better tourism statistics. He developed the State TSA model that has been used to produce the TSA data for all states and territories in Australia for more than a decade – which is hosted at Tourism Research Australia (TRA) of AusTrade.

He has previously authored a key tourism statistical report on Regional Economic Contribution of Tourism Destinations in Queensland, book chapters and journal papers in TSA and its application in tourism modelling. See related reading below.

“Australia is known for our quality of tourism statistics developed by Tourism Research Australia and the ABS. Overseas government departments, for example, the Bhutanese Tourism Council or recently a delegation from Indonesia, often come here for our experience,” said Associate Professor Pham.

“Last year, the Bhutanese Tourism Council (BTC) asked for my assistance regarding their TSA construction. DFAT sent me there for more than a week to provide training to the Bhutanese Tourism Council – the project is still going.”

“The BTC is doing a tourism visitor survey at the moment. Once they finish the survey, they will follow the backbone model that I built when I was there to produce the TSA data for Bhutan.”



National Tourism Satellite Account 2017-18, Summary Stats: TRA

Tourism Satellite Accounts are an internationally accepted framework for measuring the contribution of the tourism sector to the economy, and they operate in parallel to the national accounts. They measure components such as tourism gross value added, tourism gross domestic product, tourism employment and tourism trade.

“So basically the System of National Accounts (SNA) only recorded information for conventional industry, for example, agriculture, mining, manufacturing, education and other services. Tourism is not part of the core SNA – the TSA framework allows us to extract and measure contribution of tourism to the whole economy, just like many other conventional industries that we see in the core SNA,” said Associate Professor Pham.

“Tourism is a large sector in the economy, but it has never been recognised properly as a sector in the core national accounts, therefore it is very hard in order to assess the performance of the sector.”

“The World Tourism Organisation developed the so-called TSA back in the mid-90s. The idea was to expand some of the areas of the core national accounts while maintaining the same properties, principles and rules of the national accounts.”

“Through the satellite accounts, contribution of the interested sector, tourism in this case, can be captured more explicitly. Once it’s constructed, then we understand the contribution, the size of the sector, this opens up a whole lot more for policy development.”



Brisbane Industry Share of Direct Tourism GVA 2016-17, Graph: TRA

There are three levels that the TSA framework has been implemented in Australia, from the national, to state and regional level. The TSAs at the regional level are the key to the calculation of emissions of tourism destinations in Queensland.

“My research is in various aspects of tourism – the first part is how to represent tourism in the system, which is the TSAs. My first step ever in the TSA area was actually a development of TSA for regions in Queensland, and subsequently, I developed the state level TSA data based on the ABS’s national TSA,” said Associate Professor Pham.

“The second part is how to capture the interaction between tourism and the rest of the economy when there are changes to either tourism or other industries – this is the tourism impact analysis. I developed a region Tourism CGE model, which was used to assess the economic impacts of the Gold Coast 2018 the Commonwealth Games.”



Direct GHG Emissions 2003-04, Chart: STCRC Report, Hoque et al.

The main purpose of this research is to build the tourism carbon inventory in Queensland to form a baseline that will strengthen earlier research done by STCRC in 2010, with four data sources in the footprint; 1. Regional tourism expenditure of Queensland from TRA, 2. Emission data from Dept. of the Environment and Energy (AGEIS), 3. The regional input-output database from Victoria University, and, 4. Amadeus aviation emission information.

“Tourism emissions have been done before for Australia and Queensland only. This is the first time we are constructing it at the sub-state level, I mean regions of Queensland, using a lot of information together (4 sources) – we are lucky in a way, we have more data available now,” said Associate Professor Pham.

“An interesting part of this project is the task to estimate the international aviation emissions for all regions in Queensland. We adopted a direct approach – we use emission per passenger from Amadeus and the number of visitors by countries of origin from TRA to estimate total international aviation emissions.”

“Then we allocate the emissions to all the regions based on the share of visitor nights across the region of arrival and subsequent visited regions. This way, we avoid allocating the international aviation emissions to regions with an airport only, as not all inbound visitors want to spend their entire trip at just one region.”


National Tourism Satellite Account 2017-18, Stats: TRA

In the next step, Associate Professor Pham aims to extend the emission account to other states and territories and afterwards develop a Tourism and Climate Change Economic Model to explore more interesting discussion on policy options for tourism.

“As an initial aim of the project, we are required to establish the inventory of tourism emissions. But ultimately, beyond the requirement of this project, personally what I would like to do is to build an economic model that’s got carbon emissions attached to tourism and all other industries in the economy – this way, we can analyse carbon emission policy from the tourism perspective or other industries’ perspective,” said Associate Professor Pham.

“So our goal is a comprehensive tourism model for climate change, augmented from the tourism model I have built for the economic impacts of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.”

“If any economic policy or any climate change policy was implemented by the government, we can measure the impacts all of that in terms of economic performance by industry and how that is translated into the emissions by industry, including tourism. So that’s the ultimate target.”


GHE Traveller, Image: Global Himalayan Exhibition

Proactive tourism operators and accommodation providers are already introducing measures to decarbonise their operations due to changing consumer preferences and to protect themselves from the risk of future emissions regulations and taxes. For example, electric transport, solar-powered businesses and local food options are emerging in the Queensland tourism sector.

“I think the problem being solved here in terms of future-proofing, is about the sustainability of the tourism sector. Tourism is actually a very fast-growing industry at the moment and it needs to be managed sustainably,” said Associate Professor Pham.

“Tourism involves a lot of activities that are prone to generating emissions, specifically transportation and the long-haul aviation travel. Although the Department of the Environment and Energy has the record of emissions by many other industries, emissions of tourism are not clearly reflected.”

“In the absence of all such emissions (data), it is hard for the government to justify or to come up with a proper mix of policies, in order to weigh-up the economic growth of the (tourism) sector and also the target of emissions. With this project, we are trying to measure that.”

“Because the economy is very dynamic, industries are all linked together, any changes in any areas of the economy will permeate through the whole system and generate impacts on the others.”

“The challenge is achieving balance between emissions and tourism growth, and beyond that, growth across many other sectors at the same time. So the model that I am trying to build will help the government make informed decisions – as without this kind of analysis, it’s very hard to know which way to go.”



Griffith Institute for Tourism Research Team

The study includes many components that contribute to the carbon emission baseline, including aviation, transportation, accommodation, electricity, food and more – and the researchers hope the findings will provide broad understanding in the nature of tourism consumption to enable options to minimise their carbon emissions.

“Emissions for international and domestic aviation, electricity, fuel and agriculture products consumed by visitors are all incorporated fully in this study. The process is to combine input and output emissions together to reflect true emission patterns of different types of visitors,” said Associate Professor Pham.

“This will allow us to encourage the right marketing strategy to effect a right mix of visitors for low emissions. This is a proactive and non market intervention approach to mitigate tourism emissions.”


One of the main tourist attractions in Queensland is the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), and due to its geographic size tourists travelling to the reef are contributing to transport emissions, that Associate Professor Pham is trying to measure.

“Queensland is divided into 13 tourism destinations and each of them has different characteristics depending on where it is located and what it can offer to the tourists. The GBR has a very long area covering quite a few regions (Bundaberg to Cape York),” said Associate Professor Pham.

“And because this is an iconic tourism destination in Queensland, it is quite interesting. If we can estimate the carbon footprint involved with GBR tourism, and the main source of emissions, we can then suggest ways to reduce emissions and protect it.”

“The barrier reef is quite far away from all the transportation gateway. For example, when people visit Queensland, they mainly hit Brisbane Airport first, if they want to visit GBR there is a long way for them to travel. So that is part of the emissions generated by the interest of the reef.”

“And secondly it’s kind of a paradox, people know that climate change has a great impact on the GBR so they might want to come and see it before it is gone. So the more they come and see it, the faster they actually push it to decline – so it’s kind of a dilemma for the Queensland government to deal with.”


For this study, the research team had to overcome tremendous challenges to reconcile data at the sub-state level across many sources of information in such a way that they align to each other, from the regional to state to the national level.

“With the tourism data to start with, we are dealing with the sub-state level, which is required to add back to the state and national level to satisfy the conditions of the national accounts – three layers of consistency is required. The strong support and advice from TRA and the ABS are greatly appreciated,” said Associate Professor Pham.

An interim report on the carbon baseline was presented to the Queensland Government in November. A second presentation to Queensland Tourism Industry Council will be on December 17.

This carbon inventory will be utilised by the Queensland government, tourism industry practitioners and academics to assess tourism emissions and assist with the development of adaptation strategies.

“Once the report is approved by DES and DITID, the data will be made available to a wide range of users and researchers. Data can be used for further analysis that can be used as inputs into the policy making process,” said Associate Professor Pham.

For further information about the Queensland tourism carbon emission baseline or to learn more about Queensland climate change policy modelling, please contact Associate Professor Tien Pham or Professor Susanne Becken.

Feature Image: Hamilton Island, North Queensland, Image: Tourism Whitsundays


Related Reading:

Tourism Research Australia: (download)
‘State Tourism Satellite Accounts 2011–12’

Ingenta Connect:
‘Constructing a Regional Tourism Satellite Account: The Case of Queensland’

Sage Journal of Travel Research:
‘Tourism Productivity Theory and Measurement for Policy Implications: The Case of Australia’

Handbook of Tourism Economics:
‘Tourism Satellite Accounts and their applications in CGE modelling’


Global Tourism Sustainability Dashboard
Professor Susanne Becken and researchers from Griffith Business School and the University of Surrey created the Global Tourism Sustainability Dashboard to identify what areas are important for tourism sustainability and to measure their impacts. The sustainability themes in the Dashboard are: Poverty Alleviation, Dispersion of Travel, Carbon Emissions, Sustainable Production, Protected Areas, Employment and Gender, and Security. It was informed by the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as well as other programs. They consulted with partners from, the World Travel and Tourism Council, Amadeus IT, EarthCheck and other international tourism stakeholders.