“Touristification” of Heritage areas in Latin America The historic centre of Cuenca as a case study

PhD Student: Natasha Cabrera Jara

Tutor: Prof. Margarita Greene


Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile



The insertion of tourism in urban heritage areas in recent decades has led to the implementation of public policies designed to make these spaces more attractive to tourists. Examples are regeneration projects of public spaces, rehabilitation/restoration of buildings, public space management strategies, and urban marketing campaigns to promote tourist attractions. This process, known as “touristification” of urban heritage (Navarrete, 2017, p. 64), has generated material and immaterial urban reconfigurations, which have affected not only popular practices and uses, but also the residents and users.

We hypothesize that the material and immaterial reconfiguration derived from “touristification” has negative effects, such as gentrification, dispossession and displacement (Janoschka, 2016), which have been underestimated (despite their magnitude), while its positive effects have been overestimated and widely spread. The minimization of the negative effects has helped to validate the tourism-related process implemented, making it difficult to monitor its development considering aspects that are not evident at first sight, especially when these have negative connotations. To address this hypothesis, we study the “touristification” process of the historic centre of Cuenca, Ecuador, since it was appointed Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1999.

Cuenca appears as an emblematic case due to its success as a tourist destination in the last decade. For example, it was ranked as one of the best two cities for foreign retirees, it made the list of 50 best historical cities in the world of National Geographic magazine (Zibell, 2012), and obtained the Oscar for Tourism, as best destination in South America for short stays, between 2017 and 2019 (World Travel Awards, 2019). This was partly due to an effective advertising campaign, under the logic of competitiveness and marketing, but mainly due to the implementation of a series of urban regeneration projects in the heritage area and its environment, with the clear objective of making it more attractive to tourists. However, these have sometimes influenced its morphology, and promoted displacement and dispossession processes.

The methodology of our research study considers four stages:

1) Analysis of policies, plans and programs promoted by governmental agencies for the protection of Cuenca’s urban heritage and for the implementation of tourism there;

2) Analysis of projects considering: (a) characterization, (b) material reconfiguration, (c) immaterial reconfiguration, and (d) identification of their effects;

3) Analysis of the positive and negative effects of the material and immaterial reconfigurations;

4) Discussion and validation of results.