Ecotourism is already a very lucrative industry and is often mentioned as an activity which can help save rainforests (see below), but this is not always the case. In Kenya, national parks generate $40 per hectare per year from tourism (as opposed to $0.80 per hectare for agriculture). Each lion is worth about $20,000 annually (Dobson, 1995)! Yet, ecotourism can be problematic, since the profits from it often go to a few wealthy individuals and not to local people; thus the incentive to the latter to preserve the park or resource is absent. The incursion of agriculture and pastures and illegal logging, fishing and hunting are often the result. In addition, ecotourism is not an unmixed blessing, as a large number of tourists is not entirely benign. Overuse of roads and waterways, disturbance of animals, disruption of migration patterns, littering, and pollution coincident upon the use of motorized vehicles (including boats) are frequent. Moreover, ecotourism can have unexpected consequences. In Nepal, rapid growth in the tourist industry has promoted deforestation. Since tourists arrived in large numbers, there has been an increased demand for dairy products. The result – forests cut to provide cattle pasture to meet this demand. Tourists also require a great deal of water, which can stress local supplies. About 15,000 m3 of water are required to irrigate one hectare of high-yield rice for a year, or to supply 100 nomads and 450 cattle for three years, and 100 urban families for two years, but this amount of water will supply 100 guests at a luxury hotel for only 55 days (Dobson, 1995)! Food supply – type of food and quantity – can be another problem. And the capriciousness of tourism creates “boom and bust” cycles for local inhabitants.

In general, park entry fees (if any) are too low to cover the costs of damages tourists do and to provide incentives for local inhabitants to preserve rainforests (or other ecosystems). Often, the revenues from ecotourism are not reflected back to the resource. A non-forest example of this is in Kenya, which receives $40 million annually from tourism, but gives only $13 million to the wildlife service. Only $20 of the thousands of dollars spent by a tourist on a “safari” goes for conservation (Dobson, 1995).