This article was first published in the March 2017 China edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Long before sustainable development became a catchphrase, most of us, back when we were kids, would have heard Aesop’s fable about the goose that laid the golden eggs. Young as we were, we could grasp the lesson that short-sightedness, impatience and foolishness can ruin the very thing that has been keeping us going.

Now that sustainability is a key objective in the agenda of so many countries, organisations, businesses and individuals, we have all grown familiar with the global drive to protect the ‘geese’ that have been supporting our way of life, and tourism is among the industries most in need of sustainable practices. People venture outside their usual environment to experience the unique features of the places they visit. If these attractions are developed and commercialised without properly considering long-term consequences, there is a chance that growth will smother their appeal. It is the equivalent of slaughtering the goose for the sake of quick gains.

With most other industries, when resources are depleted or are no longer accessible or economical, there is usually the option of relocating or looking for new sources. But with tourism, the resources are the locations themselves – their people, history, culture and gifts from Mother Nature. Fortunately, there have been longstanding international efforts to promote responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism, for example through the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). For example, the UNWTO encourages the implementation of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism.

The code’s 10 principles provide guidance on how governments, the travel industry, communities and tourists can maximise the sector’s benefits while minimising the harm it can potentially inflict on the environment, cultural heritage and societies. But the push for sustainable tourism is not a self-contained pursuit. It has always been part of a larger picture, and hopefully that will become abundantly clear to everybody in 2017, which the UN has declared International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

According to the UNWTO, the aim is to raise awareness among decision-makers and the public on the contribution of sustainable tourism to development. At the same time, the hope is that stakeholders will be encouraged to work together to make tourism a catalyst for positive change. It is a recognition of the power of tourism as an engine of socioeconomic progress. As one of the fastest growing sectors, tourism stimulates economic growth and creates jobs and business opportunities. Particularly in developing countries, it helps lift people out of poverty.

In his message to mark the launch, UN secretary-general António Guterres said that almost 1.2 billion people travel abroad annually.

‘Tourism has become a pillar of economies, a passport to prosperity, and a transformative force for improving millions of lives,’ he said. ‘The world can and must harness the power of tourism as we strive to carry out the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.’

As travellers, we have a part to play in this initiative. And it can be as simple as behaving with thought and care when we visit another place. The UNWTO advises travellers to honour local traditions and customs, support the local economy, respect the environment, and to be informed and respectful travellers. If we ignore these tips, we are no wiser than the farmer who killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.

Errol Oh is executive editor of The Star