The Heart of the Mayan World
A candid chat with INGUAT’s Walter Fischer
Imagine a place with volcanoes and mountains, jungles and deserts, white sands and black beaches … but while you and I have already discovered the beauty of Guatemala, the majority of the world remains oblivious.
INGUAT, the country’s tourism board, has embarked on a 10-year campaign to increase tourism in the country at both a national and international level.
“Guatemala has a lot of unique products on offer like its selva (jungle) and Mayan archaeology,” says Walter Fischer, senior advisor at INGUAT. “It’s cultural tourism that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, and we want to put it at everyone’s fingertips.”
The organization’s latest strategy promotes Guatemala as El Corazon del Mundo Maya (The Heart of the Mayan World) and, coupled with increased advertising of the nation’s attractions, aims to help the country achieve its potential in the travel industry by 2020.
“Costa Rica has 25% of what Guatemala has,” says Fischer. However, since it has promoted itself better, Costa Rica remains a more obvious holiday destination for vacationing foreigners.
INGUAT’s emphasis is on increasing tourism but with customer satisfaction over customer sales–so that visitors leave planning their return trip. It also wants to capitalize on upcoming events to draw in tourists, such as the year of the Mayan Prophecy in 2012.
Guatemala… has cultural tourism that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, and we want to put it at everyone’s fingertips. —Walter Fischer, INGUAT
This year has already seen an increase in tourism compared with last year and it’s hoped the numbers will keep rising. Promotional television advertisements for Guatemala have started appearing in various nations around the world as well as on popular channels like CNN and National Geographic.
In addition to pushing the country in places far afield like Germany, Spain and the UK, INGUAT is also canvassing at a more local level and encouraging neighbors to visit.
Central America has Guatemala at its fingertips; residents of these countries don’t require a visa to visit and many unique destinations are just a bus ride away.
With the recent increase in air travel across the region, INGUAT hopes tourists will be persuaded to extend their vacation and visit a chain of popular attractions throughout the area.
“Rather than someone coming just to visit Mexico, why not go from Palenque to Tikal, on to Antigua and fly back?” asks Fischer.
Internal tourism is also very important to INGUAT. Viaja a Guatemala sin salir de Guatemala (Travel to Guatemala without leaving Guatemala) is a new project that encourages residents to go beyond the tourist hot spots of Antigua and Panajachel and visit lesser-known archaeological towns around the country like Uaxactun.
While Fischer admits the level of in-country violence is a challenge to the country’s tourism industry, he insists the international perception of Guatemala remains its biggest barrier to development.
“There’s a lot of negative publicity about Guatemala,” he says. “But there’s also a lot of positive things to say about the country, which rarely gets mentioned.”