A basic tenet of ecotourism is to enhance conservation. However, few studies have assessed its effectiveness in meeting conservation goals and whether the type of tourism activity affects outcomes. This study examines whether working in ecotourism changes the perceptions of and attitudes and behaviours of local people towards the focal species and its habitat and, if so, if tourism type affects those outcomes. We interviewed 114 respondents at four whale shark Rhincodon typus tourism sites in the Philippines to compare changes in perceptions of and attitudes and behaviours towards whale sharks and the wider marine environment. We found that the smaller scale tourism sites had greater social conservation outcomes than the mass or failed tourism sites, including changes in conservation ethics and perceptions of and attitudes and behaviours towards whale sharks and the ocean. Furthermore, of the three active tourism sites, the smallest site, with the lowest economic returns and the highest negative impacts on whale sharks prior to tourism activities, had the largest proportion of respondents who reported a positive change in perceptions of and attitudes and behaviours towards whale sharks and the ocean. Our results suggest that tourism type, and the associated incentives, can have a significant effect on conservation outcomes and ultimately on the ecological status of an Endangered species and its habitat.