Tourism is an important aspect of conservation in Indian tiger reserves. In spite of a negative outlook from many critics there is a rationale in accepting tourism as necessary in our protected area. The visitors and subsequent publicity is certainly helping in highlighting the protected areas as well as the keystone species.
Tourism has been at the fore front of creating employment for the locals as well as in revenue generation for the Governments. Tourists on tiger safari do highlight the status of wildlife and the ecosystem as whole and hence act as a pressure group.
The parks have succeeded in creating and equity of their own. Hence success in highlighting the importance of these valuable ecosystems and resource banks has done good. These remaining but badly fragmented areas are our only defense against global warming.
Those who advocate ban on tourism in protected areas either have a privileged access or see this as elitist. There are some who suffer from myopia if nothing else. Contrary to the stance the tiger reserves have become robust ecosystems along with increase in populations of life forms in recent times. Since my visits to Central Indian reserves starting early seventies all these positive things have happened. Tourism has gradually peaked without any visible damage to the preserves.
Control over safaris is being gradually tightened by the park authorities. This has been instrumental in stress reduction and mitigating damage to the local environment. One odd incidence, aside a major damage causing incidence has not occurred due to tourism since the inception of protect area status. On the contrary many PAs with little or no presence are in a neglected state and perhaps perpetual decline. Their future is in dark. Tourist pressure - often critical - also acts as a support base for the management. The management is singly tackling the menace of uncontrolled resource utilization, poaching and wood logging - not forgetting political interference and apathy. The tourist actually create a comprehensive pressure group over the whole protection mechanism and the policy making.
The recent increase in entry fee (gate fee) has curbed tourism to an appreciable extant in the major protected areas of Central India. There is a danger that these destination will only affordable by the rich and other will be set aside. This also spells death knell for the many locals and hotels & resorts who are solely dependent upon income from tourism. With the paradigm change taking place in protected areas the hotel industry will have to change according and look towards upscale tourist or close down. The internal competition is a hindrance hence for many shutters are going to roll down.
Though creating a mad rush in our conservation unit is inadvisable there has to be a balance. Nature tourism should be affordable for average men keeping in mind the inherent benefits. A more balanced approach will be appreciated. Increasing the infrastructure in less popular PAs would certainly reduce pressure on popular National Parks in the country.