The simple, direct and clear answer is: NO.
ECO-Tourism does not serve nature at all.
It serves our need for excitement, our need to tell impressive stories once home. At best it improves our understanding of nature.
However, lions prefer antelope to Toyota Landcruisers. Mantas get bored of all those bubbly fish, flashing their lights. Corals feel up rooted on a mantelpiece. They have done without us for millions of years and they remain better off without us.
So, let’s stay home and watch them on our TV and monitors. King Lion and all his subjects will be grateful.
Humans want to explore and travel to faraway places. Travel-agents benefit from safaris, expeditions and thrill-seeking tourists. These world travelers have wonderful stories to tell once home again, although their tales may be exaggerated anyhow. They can also tell a full fantasy and be as impressive. That saves nature from the side-effects.
There is one group of humans who can benefit: The local population.
They are the only ones who have a real interest in tourism. That is to say: In the short term. But Long-term?
Once Bali was a pristine and idyllic island where privileged people enjoyed the serene nature. Nowadays tourism to Bali can hardly be called ECO. The overflow of outsiders has changed the character of the island, the nature and its indigenous people. And the same goes for places like Boracay, Koh Phi Phi and so on.
Nature can absorb outward agents, but only to some extent. And if regulated well, a region can absorb some more tourists but always in a limited number. But who is going to define the limit? And stipulate and enforce the rules. A national Government? The regional Government? The local community? Tourist organizations? Travel agencies? With so many conflicting interests, each party will guard its own at the cost of some others. And probably always at the cost of the long-term interest of environment and the local population.
“Greed” can be reasoned but it still is “Greed”. Nature will perish.
When all stakeholders are willing to join efforts and agree on rules and regulations, something workable can come out.
Raja Ampat is such a region, still relative pristine but heavily promoted in the media. An ever increasing influx of tourists can be expected. Here interest groups are working together in order to agree on a system of mooring buoys for Liveaboards, Yachts and Dive excursion boats. Government organizations are to be part as well and need to provide the legal support to guarantee the use of these buoys. When all these boats no longer need to drop anchor on the reefs, the destruction of coral can be reduced or even stopped.
Everybody who enters the Raja Ampat Marine Protected Areas can first attend a Behavior Induction on all do’s and don’ts in this nature. After being shown an induction video the Entry Pass can be issued at a fee which is used for the protection of that Nature Reserve. Tourists are then better aware of their behavior. In Offshore and refineries this safety induction is a normal practice and has contributed well to the safety on the workplace.
Local communities can benefit from tourism when they are included in the whole supply chain. Jobs have to be given first of all to local people and as little as possible to outsiders. Be it from other regions or countries.
Supplies should be produced locally as much as possible. Hotels, resorts and companies should commit to a set of standards.
The revenues of tourism should first of all be invested in local infrastructure and not flow only into the coffers of faraway investors, leaving the local communities with the down side and a dole. Environmental damages will not only be restricted to nature. The social environment will also take a hit. When local communities can have a meaning full income and a good social life, the need to move to the overcrowded urban areas will decrease. Thus making the livability of urban and rural areas better. Without either we cannot survive.