"Ecotourism" is a fashionable description given to excursions to relatively untouched lands, which for the tourist promise the chance to observe unusual wildlife and indigenous inhabitants. The travel industry, in an attempt to market adventure and authenticity to those travellers weary of "civilization", promote travel to environments free of modern technology. Ecotourism's inherent contradiction is the promotion of untouched lands, which immediately become touched by the hands of tourism. Consequent environmental deterioration assures the destruction of a given land's natural allure. Native cultural practices may also be at stake. To alleviate poverty, natives may market cultural practices and products to interested visitors. Eventually native economies shift in response to the demands of tourism, and cultural authenticity threatens disappearance.
Wildlife tourism and other types of nature-oriented tourism may have a number of direct impacts on natural resources. The severity of these impacts is variable and has rarely been quantified for any specific cases. Actual or potential impacts include: (a) damage caused by tourism activities and equipment; (b) increased risk of the spread of pathogens from humans or companion animals to wild species; (c) increased risk of introduction of alien species; (d) disturbance of wild species, thereby disrupting normal behaviour and conceivably affecting mortality and reproductive success; (e) alterations in habitats; and (f) unsustainable consumption of wildlife by tourists.
One of the direct effects on wildlife of unregulated tourism may be the depletion of local populations of certain species caused by unregulated hunting, shooting and fishing. Uneducated divers and tour operators can cause extensive damage to coral reefs through trampling and anchoring. Tourists and tourist transportation means can increase the risk of introducing alien species. In addition, the manner and frequency of human presence can cause disturbance to the behaviour of animals, in particular, noise caused by radios, motorboat engines and motor vehicles. Even without much noise, some waterfowl can be agitated by canoes and rowing boats. Construction activities related to tourism can cause enormous alteration to wildlife habitats and ecosystems. Furthermore, increased consumption of wildlife by tourists can affect local wildlife populations and local fisheries as well as the amount available for consumption by local people. Souvenir manufacturing using wildlife, in particular such endangered species as corals and turtle shells, can also seriously affect those populations.
Often governmental limitations on the influx of tourists are disobeyed. Recently the government of Ecuador imposed a limit of 10,000 visitors per year to the Galapagos Islands. As enforcement proved weak, an approximate 45,000 tourists visited those islands the following year. Costa Rica, whose natural inhabitants number 3 million, was visited by approximately 500,000 travellers in 1992. There are an estimated 9,000 adventure-travel outfitters in the USA alone. It is forecast that tourism will be the number one industry by the year 2000. It is claimed that World Bank and USAID-supported "megatourism" ventures have been destructive to habitats and human settlements.