This essay looks at how various forms of residential tourism or lifestyle migration, produced by people arriving from the cities and territories of the so-called Global North, have triggered complex processes of social-spatial modification in the landscapes and rural environments of Vilcabamba, Ecuador, a small Andean village of approximately 5,000 inhabitants in the southern part of the canton of Loja. The paper aims to discuss this issue.
Residential tourism in rural areas is a phenomenon that can be investigated by combining socio-economic studies with spatial analyses to define the specific characteristics of territories and environments affected by this phenomenon. In the case of Vilcabamba, the relationships and conflicts between imaginations, spaces, ecologies and desires have taken the form of a complex “implicit project”, a “palimpsest-project” intended as a set of territorial descriptions, interpretations and transformation actions triggered by a plot featuring migrant tourists, activists, eco-institutions, schools, artisans, intellectuals and artists. Though weakly connected to one another, these subjects nonetheless produce substantially coherent actions.
Two main hypotheses are given as: the first is that in particular rural contexts, such as the Andean area around Vilcabamba, dwelling practices and economies related to residential tourism have triggered processes through which these areas have progressively become peripheries to distant metropolitan territories and are reconfigured as sets of specialised places. The second hypothesis is that Vilcabamba and its rural surroundings can be viewed as a particular “contact zone” in which different types of residential tourists and local dwellers interact, together with different economies of tourism. In this case the reference is, on the one hand, to the logics and discourses of the so-called extractive tourism, a concept that describes the processes of “extracting” and converting local cultural characteristics, and “indigenousness”. To support these hypotheses, the result is the construction of a spatial representation of the ways in which specific practices of residential tourism are territorialised, and how they modify the meaning and functioning of rural spaces.
What is new in the paper is the attempt to define a spatial representation of transnational spaces trying to highlight relationships between extractive tourism and remittance urbanism.
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