Tourism Satellite Account

The Tourism Satellite Account (TSA) is a tool used to measure the economic impact of tourism.

Created to provide a more accurate understanding of the tourist economy

The TSA is not clearly defined or explained in the Memento du tourisme (2018). There is only a brief description stating: “the TSA uses all available statistical sources on the production and consumption of tourism products. The valuation rules are consistent with those used in the national accounts, thus making it possible to measure the percentage of tourism in the GDP.” Then the text switches to another expression: “domestic tourist consumption”.
The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) developed the TSA because they realised that the economic importance of tourism was not accurately evaluated. This is because the traditional method of measuring the economic impact of an industry is by breaking it down into different sectors. This method, known as nomenclature, often misclassifies tourist spending by allocating it to the wrong sector. For example, spending on transportation, cultural activities such as festivals and museum visits, and visits to heritage sites are often attributed to the transport and culture sectors respectively, and ski passes are attributed to the sports sector.
This means that tourist spending is often underestimated. The TSA aims to measure all spending by tourists, both residents and non-residents, in order to provide a more accurate picture of the economic impact of tourism. It should be noted that the UNWTO uses the notion of residence rather than nationality to define transnational mobility.

A rough estimate

To do this, the TSA first identifies the activities that are typically used by tourists and that no other branch takes into account, namely hotels, cafés, and restaurants (HCR). However, this method has its drawbacks, as it is not always clear which restaurants and cafés are mainly frequented by tourists and which are mostly visited by locals.

The same issue applies to accommodations. UNWTO and other institutions take a broad approach and include all types of usage, including business travel and pilgrimage, instead of a restrictive approach that focuses only on recreational tourism (Knafou and Stock, 2013).
In addition to the HCR activity, the TSA takes into account the effects of tourism on other sectors like transportation, culture, and sports. This approach leads to a branch-based method where the entire cultural sector is included, which may lead to an overestimation rather than an underestimation of the economic impact of tourism.

The TSA is based on the value chain model (Lanquar, 1994), which is a linear sequence of operators like tour operators, carriers, and accommodations, but it only represents a part of the reality, in which people use tour operators or travel agencies to help them arrange their travel plans. Economists tend to approach the tourism industry in this way, as demonstrated by the figure by Joël Raboteur (Ill. 1), and others often reference this model without explaining it (Caccomo, 2015).

Ill. 1. The tourism value chain, according to Joël Raboteur (2000)


An alternative approach, proposed by Laurent Botti, Nicolas Peypoch, and Bernardin Solonandrasana, is to use the concept of production technology and focus on destinations, or administrative regions as the authors call them. This approach excludes transportation and tour operators, and only includes commercial accommodations and leisure activities, with a focus on coastal areas, but, curiously, not the mountains. In the field of culture, only museums are mentioned, but not festivals or other events, or monuments.

In practice, tourists can arrange their travel in a number of other ways (Stock, 2020). Tour Operators (TO) and carriers are used when the destination carries a strong sense of otherness. On the other hand, when people are familiar with a place, even if it is far from their main residence, they may choose to make their own arrangements, especially if they use their own car to travel and stay in non-market accommodations, such as their own second home.
Most importantly, people can choose to make all their meals with products bought locally. This means that their purchases are not included in the TSA, which takes into account the value added, and the multiplier effect of tourism is not recognised.

Ill. 3. Model of relations within the tourism system (source: Stock et al., 2020, p. 180)

Alternative methods

A possible alternative method for evaluating the system could be a spatial approach, where places are characterised according to tourist types, which would result in a more reliable estimate. For example, productive businesses in tourist resorts could be considered as about 90% tourist-related (this needs to be refined), to account for the small number of permanent residents compared to tourists, as evidenced by the seasonality of activities.
However, it should be kept in mind that coastal areas are seeing more and more permanent residents move in. Additionally, the tourist appeal varies widely from city to city, and the same is true for rural areas. In the mountains, a distinction could also be based on the typology of places.

Philippe Violier