Tourism is often associated with the positive impacts it brings to local communities and destinations. The Sustainable Tourism movement is now several decades old, and the aspiration is that all tourism eventually contributes to sustainable development.

But how do we know what is sustainable and where are we at on this journey? The seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals provide a comprehensive guideline for addressing the key issues. Several goals speak directly to tourism, including poverty alleviation, gender equity, sustainable consumption and production, climate action, nature conservation (marine and terrestrial), and peaceful societies.

Measuring progress is best done by indicators. Indicators need to be meaningful, reliable and transparent. One important indicator to track tourism’s performance is carbon emissions. Travel is comparatively carbon intensive, and measuring, monitoring and reporting emissions is now increasingly becoming part of standard accounting, in particular amongst larger and multi-national companies. Good practice examples of carbon reporting have been presented and discussed in a report jointly authored by the Griffith Institute for Tourism and Amadeus.

The global tourism sector is already tracking international arrivals and global tourism expenditure. Both the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and the World Travel and Tourism Council provide vital statistics on the economic importance of tourism. Less information is available on some of the other sustainability dimensions, and compiling global data is a challenge.

To address this shortcoming, researchers from the Griffith Institute for Tourism teamed up with the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom to develop the Global Sustainable Tourism Dashboard. The Dashboard provides a high-level mechanism to monitor how tourism performs across selected indicators. Data is provided by key partners, such as the World Travel and Tourism Council, Amadeus, the International Tourism Partnership and EarthCheck. The Dashboard will be updated annually and an interactive website will be available to access more information.

On the carbon front, for example, the 2016 Dashboard revealed that aviation emissions from passenger travel amounted to 566 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, and those from the global hotel industry were estimated to total 150 million tonnes.

The Dashboard is useful to a range of organisations who seek to understand tourism’s contribution to global impacts. The data on which the Dashboard is based will grow over time. For example, the next step is to include other elements of the global Travel and Tourism sector, for example land transport, cruise ships, major attractions, airports, and convention centres.

The consultation meeting on “Recommended Key Environmental Indicators (KEIs)” for the tourism private sector held as part of the “Advancing Sustainable Tourism in a Changing Climate” official Tourism Side Event at the COP22 in Marrakech will be an important next step to advance the role of measurement for sustainable tourism. The Griffith Institute for Tourism will participate at this meeting and provide expertise that links the Global Dashboard to similar initiatives at the destination level.

This article was written by Griffith Institute for Tourism director Professor Susanne Becken.