Concepts of Tourism

Latest release
Australian System of National Accounts: Concepts, Sources and Methods
Reference period
2020-21 financial year


23.17    An important conceptual distinction concerns the difference between travel and tourism, and consequently between a traveller and a visitor. The term 'tourism' in the international standards is not restricted to leisure activity. It also includes travel for business or other reasons, such as education, provided the destination is outside the person's usual environment. A person's 'usual environment' is defined by the 2008 International Recommendations for Tourism Statistics (IRTS) as:

    . . . the geographical area (though not necessarily a contiguous one) within which an individual conducts his/her regular life routines.¹⁰⁹

23.18    Travel is a broad concept which encompasses the activity of travellers and includes commuting to a place of work, migration and travel for business or leisure. A traveller is defined by the 2008 IRTS as:

    . . . someone who moves between different geographic locations, for any purpose and any duration.¹¹⁰ 


23.19    The central statistical entity in tourism statistics is the ''visitor''. The scope of tourism in the international standards comprises the activity of visitors. A visitor is defined in the 2008 IRTS as:

    . . . a traveller taking a trip to a main destination outside his/her usual environment, for less than a year, for any main purpose (business, leisure or other personal purpose) other than to be employed by a resident entity in the country or place visited.¹¹¹

23.20    If a person stays in the one place for longer than one year, their centre of economic and social interest is deemed to be in that place, so they no longer qualify as a visitor.

23.21    The following types of persons are not considered to be visitors:

  • persons for whom travel is an intrinsic part of their job (e.g., bus driver, air crew);
  • persons who travel for the purpose of being admitted to or detained in a residential facility such as a hospital, prison or long stay care;
  • persons who are travelling as part of a move to a new permanent residence;
  • persons who are undertaking military duties; and
  • persons who are travelling between two parts of their usual environment.

23.22    Visitors can be classified into national and international visitors. National or ''domestic'' visitors consist of Australian residents who travel outside their usual environment within Australia. They include both overnight visitors, people that travel more than 40kms from home (staying one or more nights at a location) and same day visitors, people who travel over 50kms in a round trip, outside of their usual environment. International visitors are those persons who travel to a country other than that in which they have their usual residence.

23.23    The one-year rule for length of stay for an international visitor is consistent with the principle applied in determining residency which requires the length of stay in an economic territory to be less than one year to qualify as a non-resident. The ATSA includes as visitors all international students undertaking short term courses with an actual length of stay of less than one year. If a student stays longer than one year (ignoring short-term interruptions to their stay, for example at vacation break), their usual environment is deemed to be the school or university, and they do not fit the definition of a visitor. They are considered a visitor if they travel outside their usual environment.

23.24    The consumption of Australian residents travelling overseas (outbound visitors) is excluded for the purposes of measuring direct tourism gross value added and direct tourism GDP in the ATSA, except to the extent they consume domestically produced products before or after their overseas trip. This is because their consumption overseas does not relate to the value of goods and services produced within the Australian economy.

Tourism expenditure

23.25    Tourism expenditure covers actual expenditure by the visitor, or on behalf of the visitor, and is defined in the 2008 IRTS as:

    ...the amount paid for the acquisition of consumption goods and services, as well as valuables, for own use or to give away, for and during tourism trips. It includes expenditures by visitors themselves, as well as expenses that are paid for or reimbursed by others.¹¹²

23.26    As per the above definition, tourism expenditure also includes expenditure by visitors whose main purpose is business, even if this is totally or partly paid for by their employer. It also accounts for expenditure before or after the trip that related to the trip e.g. purchase of luggage or printing of photographs.

23.27    Some expenditure by Australians travelling abroad is also included in tourism expenditure. The purchase of these goods and services must be before or after the trip in Australian domestic territory. With the exception of inbound services provided by Australian international air carriers, anything that is purchased by an Australian whilst overseas is considered an import of a good or service.

Tourism consumption

23.28    Tourism consumption includes consumption by both domestic and international visitors.

23.29    It also includes imputations for consumption by visitors of certain services for which they do not make a payment. Imputed consumption in the ATSA includes:

  • services provided by one household to the visiting members of another household free of charge, including the value of goods such as food and purchased services provided by host family/friends;
  • housing services provided by vacation homes on own account (imputed services of holiday homes deemed to be consumed by their visitor owners); and
  • imputed values of non-market services provided directly to visitors such as public museums even though these may be provided free or at a price which is not economically significant.

Direct tourism GVA and direct tourism GDP

23.30    Direct tourism GVA and direct tourism GDP are the major economic aggregates derived in the ATSA.

23.31    Direct tourism GVA is measured as the value of the output of tourism products by industries in a direct relationship with visitors less the value of the inputs used in producing those tourism products. Output is measured at basic prices; that is, before any taxes on tourism products are added (or any subsidies on tourism products are deducted). Taxes on tourism products include the GST, wholesale sales taxes and excise duties on goods supplied to visitors. Direct tourism gross value added is directly comparable with estimates of the gross value added of ''conventional'' industries such as mining and manufacturing that are presented in the national accounts.

23.32    Direct tourism GDP measures the value added of the tourism industry at purchasers' prices. It therefore includes taxes paid less subsidies associated with the productive activity attributable to tourism and will generally have a higher value than direct tourism value added. Direct tourism GDP is a satellite account construct to enable a direct comparison with the most widely recognised national accounting aggregate, GDP.

23.33    While direct tourism GDP is useful in this context, the direct tourism GVA measure should be used when making comparisons with other industries or between countries.


  1. UNSC (2008) 2008 International Recommendations on Tourism Statistics. New York: United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC), paras.2.21–2.25.

  2. Ibid., para.2.4.

  3. Ibid., para.2.9.

  4. UNSC, 2008, para.4.2.

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