Journey through San Pedro's transformation, where digital innovation meets traditional charm, shaping a resilient future.
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Unveiling San Pedro’s digital makeover

Journey through San Pedro's transformation, where digital innovation meets traditional charm, shaping a resilient future.

Ecuador, a country rich in natural and cultural heritage, has experienced a significant boom in community tourism since the 1980s. However, the COVID-19 pandemic left a profound mark on this industry, with an estimated $1.281 billion loss in the tourist GDP. This form of tourism largely relies on active participation from local communities for its socio-economic development, making it particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the health crisis.

In response to this challenging landscape, Ecuadorian communities, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) and the Decentralised Autonomous Governments (GADs), embarked on a joint effort to revive the tourism sector. In this context, the parish of San Pedro of Vilcabamba, located in the province of Loja in southern Ecuador, has stood out for its remarkable transformation in the tourism industry, implementing innovative digital strategies in the post-pandemic era.

The tourism revival in San Pedro of Vilcambamba

San Pedro de Vilcabamba, nestled in the Andean mountains of Ecuador, provides an unforgettable experience for adventure-seeking travellers. Located a mere 37 kilometres from Loja, its captivating charm lies in its stunning natural beauty and proximity to the vast Podocarpus National Park. Covering nearly 40% of the parish’s land, the park boasts numerous lagoons, including the Uchima River’s source, crucial for local agriculture.

However, the pandemic posed a challenge for San Pedro of Vilcabamba, threatening its thriving community tourism industry. In response, the local community came together to find innovative solutions and adapt to a new digital landscape.

The emergence of the “entrepreneurship route” was a pioneering initiative driven by the Rural Parish GAD in collaboration with local entrepreneurs. This route aimed not only to revitalise the local economy but also to highlight the cultural authenticity and tourism riches of the parish.

The diversity of tourist attractions and local ventures in San Pedro of Vilcabamba is a fundamental aspect of its appeal. From majestic waterfalls to scenic trails, the parish offers a wide range of outdoor activities for all tastes and ages. Ventures such as Sol de Venado and the Trucha de Salado Restaurant are prominent examples that offer unique culinary options and promote the rich gastronomic tradition of the area.

These ventures, along with other local establishments, are part of the initiative to provide authentic experiences that allow visitors to immerse themselves in nature and local culture. This collaboration between the public sector and local entrepreneurs not only drives responsible tourism but also contributes to the sustainable economic development of the parish.

How is community tourism in Ecuador leveraging social media to attract visitors and promote authentic experiences? Community tourism in Ecuador shares its cultural richness and natural landscapes on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, connecting with travellers seeking genuine experiences and supporting local communities.

Johanna Teresa Bermeo Ruilova

Digital communication strategies in tourism reactivation

A recent investigation into digital communication tactics in community tourism in San Pedro of Vilcabamba has unveiled pivotal insights driving tourism expansion in the area. Findings from a survey of 163 individuals indicate that social media platforms, notably Facebook and Instagram, serve as the primary channels for accessing information about attractions in San Pedro of Vilcabamba, reaching more than 77% of visitors. During that period, the Municipality of Loja played a crucial role in promoting visits to the parishes by creating audiovisual content that highlighted the natural beauty of the area and to implemented biosecurity measures. The entrepreneurship route was fundamental in attracting tourists, who appreciated the opportunity to explore nature while maintaining their safety.

Likewise, local entrepreneurs played an active role in promoting their services through social media and word of mouth. This collaboration between entrepreneurs and local authorities allowed for better optimization of promotional efforts, generating a positive impact on the tourism industry in the region.

Currently, user-generated content, especially on platforms like TikTok, has gained relevance as an effective tool to showcase emblematic places in San Pedro of Vilcabamba, such as its waterfalls and the glamping experiences that offer tourists a unique combination of comfort and outdoor luxury.

Despite the challenges faced, such as the shortage of trained personnel in the digital field, the San Pedro of Vilcabamba community has demonstrated remarkable resilience by working together to revitalise its tourism sector. Ventures like Sol de Venado are clear examples of the potential of digital tourism by expanding their clientele through an online store, thus diversifying their sources of income and contributing to local economic development.

Journey through San Pedro's transformation, where digital innovation meets traditional charm, shaping a resilient future.
Credit. Midjourney

Towards a resilient future

The study highlights San Pedro of Vilcabamba efforts to redefine itself as a vibrant tourist destination in the digital age following the pandemic. The community recognizes the urgent need to strengthen its online presence to boost tourism and revitalise the local economy. Through the implementation of digital strategies, the parish has demonstrated its ability to adapt and evolve in a changing environment.

Incorporating new technologies like augmented reality and interactive mobile apps is considered vital for improving visitor experiences and boosting the promotion of local attractions on a global scale. These tools enable virtual tours and deliver instant information about points of interest, enhancing tourists’ engagement with the destination. Furthermore, collaboration with digital influencers and the optimization of social media marketing strategies are key strategies to expand the reach of San Pedro of Vilcabamba and attract new segments of tourists interested in authentic and enriching experiences. This cooperation allows for the leveraging of popular digital platforms to promote the natural and cultural beauties of the destination, generating greater interest and participation.

San Pedro of Vilcabamba emerges as a tourist destination in constant evolution, ready to offer memorable experiences to travellers seeking to connect with nature and immerse themselves in local culture. With vast and diverse tourism potential, this Ecuadorian parish stands out as an emerging destination for community, ecological, and cultural tourism, promising enriching experiences for travellers of all ages.

In this regard, it is crucial to strengthen the online presence locally and internationally. This involves improving the visibility of San Pedro of Vilcabamba on digital platforms such as social media, websites, and mobile applications by creating compelling and relevant content such as videos, photos, and detailed descriptions of local attractions. Furthermore, enhancing digital training for the local community, especially entrepreneurs and tourism sector workers, is essential to enable effective use of digital tools, including social media management, digital content creation, and mobile applications for tourism management.

On an international level, it is essential to implement sustainable tourism policies that protect the environment and local culture while promoting tourism. This entails promoting ecotourism practices, conserving natural areas, and preserving historical and cultural sites to attract conscientious and responsible tourists from around the world. Additionally, forging strategic partnerships with international organisations and other global entities dedicated to sustainable development can provide resources and technical support for the implementation of these policies.

Moreover, creating cultural and educational exchange programmes at the international level can promote diversity and enrich tourism experiences. These programmes could include student exchanges, artistic residencies, and collaborative cultural events, allowing international visitors to immerse themselves in the life and local culture of San Pedro of Vilcabamba, thereby strengthening international ties and promoting intercultural understanding.

In conclusion, these local and international measures aim to position San Pedro of Vilcabamba as a sustainable, vibrant, and ever-evolving tourist destination capable of offering authentic and enriching experiences for travellers from around the world. Collaboration between the local community, government, and international organisations is essential to achieve this goal and ensure harmonious and respectful tourism development that preserves the natural and cultural environment.

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Journal reference

López-López, P. C., Barredo, D., Torres-Toukoumidis, Á., De-Santis, A., & Avilés, Ó. (2022). Communication and Applied Technologies Proceedings of ICOMTA 2022. Proceedings of ICOMTA, 1. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-6347-6

Johanna Teresa Bermeo Ruilova holds a Master's degree in Strategic Communication, with a specialization in Digital Communication. She collaborates with the Department of Communication Sciences at the Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja. Her interest lies in researching digital communication strategies and new technologies applied to communication, with the aim of contributing to the advancement of knowledge in these fields and applying them effectively in both academic and professional environments.