Indigenous groups say they’ve been largely left out of tourism plans

El Castillo

Photo of Chichen-Itza/Flickr


As the end of the Mayan long count calendar approaches, countries such as Mexico, Guatemala and Belize have launched tourism campaigns aimed at promoting travel to renowned Mayan cultural sites. The interpretation of the calendar has led to the belief among some that Dec 21, 2012 marks the end of civilisation.

Mexico, for example, is planning to spend millions of dollars in states that make up parts of the Mayan world and host hundreds of cultural events. But will the tourism boom benefit the Mayan people?

Indigenous Mayan claim they have not been entirely included in these plans and that their communities will benefit minimally. There are also concerns that their culture is being misrepresented.

In this episode of The Stream, we speak to Quetzil Castañeda, professor of anthropology at Indiana University, and Alejandra Garcia Quintanilla, senior researcher at the Autonomous University of Yucatan.

Seven million Mayans live in various regions of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and five states in Mexico. Mayan culture is hailed for its rich history, and several Central American countries with Mayan populations have focused their tourism agenda to reflect the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar<b>.</b>  

This map shows Mayan archaeological sites in Central America:

Mexico's tourism agency is organising over 500 Mayan-themed events this year and anticipates 52 million visitors in its southeastern region. Mayan ruins, a key attraction for international tourists in Mexico, are pictured below.

Chacchoben Mayan Ruins

Government and tourism industry officials have said that cultural awareness and development are the core of their new tourism objectives. 

"The celebration of the end of the Mayan calendar's cycle is an extraordinary opportunity to promote the great cultural, historical and human heritage that we posses," said Mexico's Secretary of Tourism Gloria Guevara Manzo. "We are so excited to share the unique Mayan culture with the world."

Mon, Jan 30 2012 17:03:11

This video is from Mexico's "Mundo Maya" tourism campaign:

In Belize, airline carriers are preparing for the arrival of thousands of last-minute tourists. Travel packages including visits to Mayan communities reference the end of the Mayan calendar.

Guatemalan officials said their country is expecting a 10 per cent increase in tourism. President Otto Perez Molina emphasised 2012 as an important year for the nation: 

“We believe that 2012 is an opportunity for Guatemala to become one of the favorite destinations of the world. For that we will work on promoting and improving security conditions.”

Mon, Jan 30 2012 17:03:06

<i>2012, </i>a major Hollywood film, draws from the so-called 2012 Mayan prophecy, and shows how deeply these beliefs have permeated Western popular culture.

Mayan academics and community leaders have been vocal in dispelling the 2012 apocalypse myth and its relation to Mayan culture. Critics say Westerners have misrepresented the Mayans and that the alleged prophecy has become nothing more than a marketing tool. <div><br></div><div>The infographic below shows various doomsday scenarios, which Mayan scholars say are misguided and inaccurate.  </div>

In this video, Don Alejandro Cirilo Perez Oxlaj, a leader of the Mayan Council in Guatemala, refutes theories that link apocalypse predictions to the Mayan calendar. Oxlaj also calls for a more nurturing relationship between humankind and Mother Earth.

Many have found humour in the 2012 apocalypse theory.

<div>Some Mayans say they have been left out of nationwide tourism plans and are wary of the programmes scheduled this year. Common criticisms include environmental concerns as well as whether the tourism revenue will benefit indigenous communities.<br></div>

"Our members from central and southern Mexico report that they know nothing of the official events planned for their regions. We don't want this to be treated like Hollywood entertainment or a local-colour attraction. It has to do with history and the passage of generations; it's part of our spiritual heritage," Cecilio Solís, president of the Mexican Indigenous Tourism Network (RITA)

Mon, Jan 30 2012 17:03:12

Mayans have long been considered a marginalised underclass in many Central American countries. Below, Mayans in Guatemala: 

The video below documents how the Maya in Belize developed their own ecotourism programme without government support in order to preserve their customs and environment. 

Mayan communities in Momostenango, a Guatemalan municipality, plan to honor their traditions by celebrating the end of Mayan calendar cycle with a nine-day event.

Al Jazeera