QUITO, July 10 (Xinhua) -- China's Internet giant Tencent is offering users of its online services and social networks a chance to take a virtual tour of Ecuador's world-renowned Galapagos Islands.
The virtual reality (VR) tour of the remote islands, located 972 kilometers off the coast of Ecuador, was launched last week, after a team of Tencent executives traveled to the site for the company's "QQ X Project," which aims to bring farflung locales and exotic experiences closer to the Chinese.
The initiative was made possible with the help of Ecuador's Export and Investment Promotion Institute (Pro Ecuador), which was eager to peak the interest of China's growing outbound tourism.
Pristine Galapagos, which biologist Charles Darwin put on the map for having helped him formulate his theory of evolution and natural selection, became the first destination in Latin America to form part of Tencent's VR initiative.
Other destinations the QQ X Project has in its sights are the South Pacific and the Antarctic.
Millions of Chinese netizens have already taken the VR tour of the Galapagos.
"They explore the landscapes and the fauna of the Ecuadorian archipelago," Tencent's Xian Yecheng said.
The company aims to transform some of its high-tech capabilities, such as VR, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and live streaming, "into a new tool that can help the young, the active members of the interconnected world in which we live, to explore our wonderful planet," said Xian.
The project has an educational as well an entertainment aspect, with the company planning to compile information about the wildlife captured on film to create a virtual encyclopedia, he added.
That way, Chinese tourists inspired to visit the islands will also have a guide to the plants and animals they will encounter there.
The virtual encyclopedia is to be donated to the Charles Darwin Foundation, which does research into the preservation of the islands' ecosystem.
Fabricio Rodrigues, technical general coordinator for Pro Ecuador, said the project received backing from his agency's office in Beijing, the Ecuadorian embassy in China, and adventure travel tour operator SURTREK.
"Ecuador is now a destination for projects with global reach. Without a doubt, this opens a new gateway to foreign investment and tourism promotion for the country," especially among Chinese travelers, said Rodrigues.
In 2016, 24 percent more Chinese tourists visited Ecuador than the year before, according to Pro Ecuador.
The Galapagos Islands were declared a World Heritage Site in 1978 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
In 1985, Ecuador declared the islands a biosphere reserve, and in 2001 the designation was expanded to include the surrounding waters as a marine reserve.