While some predict that the world will catastrophically end on December 21, 2012, Guatemala’s tourism industry is hoping the date provides a different type of explosion – a boom of visitors enjoying the Mayan ruins and soaking up the country’s rich culture.

In anticipation of an onslaught of domestic and international tourists – in part hyped by movies, TV programs and water-cooler discussions – Counterpart International’s Community Tourism Alliance project has created workshops that provide scientifically based information about the Mayan culture in general and the 2012 phenomenon in particular.

“Since so much has been made of this single date, and most of it is either sensational or incorrect, we felt the real story of the region’s rich history should be told,” says Rony Mejía, Director of Counterpart’s Community Tourism Alliance in Guatemala City.

Counterpart’s workshops present in-depth analysis of the 2012 topic from an archaeological perspective. Though they are based on the latest science, they are designed for a non-scientific audience, including community-run tourism operators in rural areas, government ministries, media outlets and international donors.

A February 10 workshop was organized for the nonprofit’s primary donor, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), that provided an introduction to the mythical date, the science behind it and how it relates to today’s tourism. It drew 35 USAID representatives.

Led by Guatemalan archaeologists Tomás Barrientos and Ernesto Arredondo, the four-part workshop is an example of what is using to raise awareness around the region.

The first module explores how the Mayans designed and constructed portions of their city based on astronomical observations. The second part summarizes and compares the main calendars used in ancient and modern times in the Mesoamerica region. Since the precise calculations of time and astronomic events were an important part of their lives, this segment presents the basic principles that help to understanding the main calendars and the significance of cycle changes.

On the third module is a quick inventory of structures, inscriptions and relevance of the Oxlajuj B’aq’tun (B’aq’tun Number 13). The final part explores the main cosmic events commonly associated with the end of the world, including galaxy alignments, solar storms and others. Some of the Mesoamerican prophecies found in the codices and other ancient inscriptions are reviewed.

“The ultimate purpose of the workshop is to share how the scientific evidence shows that 2012 should be understood as an era of change, rather than a fatalistic date,” Mejía says.

Meanwhile, tourism guides and others on the frontlines of working with visitors receive a more in-depth, 16-hour workshop that includes specialized manuals developed for these trainings.

Previous workshops have been developed in Guatemala City, Tecpan, Quetzaltenango, Solola, Peten, Tikal National Park and Antigua Guatemala.

Despite the juicy storyline associated with the end of world, visitors will enjoy what Guatemala has to offer. “Fortunately, Mayan history is fascinating and it will not be a letdown for any visitor,” says Mejía.

Protecting environmentally sensitive areas

In addition to the training sessions, Counterpart’s ongoing efforts include helping to direct investments for public use and visitor management in protected areas and developing contingency plans for select sites that will be popular with 2012-related activities.

Working with Guatemala’s Protected Areas Council and Ministry of Culture and Sports, Counterpart is also creating methodologies detect and manage any impact of tourism on environmentally sensitive areas.

A pilot project was launched in mid-February in the Yaxhá-Nakum-Naranjo National Park in Petén and Chikabal Volcano and Lagoon in Quetzaltenang to test a tool that will detect and prevent any adverse effect of tourism on protected areas. Counterpart led a training seminar at the Yaxhá-Nakum-Naranjo National Park for officials and nearby communities associated with the park.

About the Community Tourism Alliance

Counterpart’s Community Tourism Alliance creates and supports in economic development through tourism development.

Since tourism can be a lucrative industry, Counterpart works with Guatemalan tourism enterprises to conserve their natural resources, while attracting travelers to the beauties of the country and ultimately rebuilding and advancing the country’s economy. With the right tools to avoid habitat destruction and displacement of local wildlife, Guatemala can break into the rewarding tourism industry and improve its long-term stability.

To ensure sustainability, Counterpart focuses on a number of actors. For example, it focuses on connecting small and medium-sized tourism enterprises to a larger value chain.

The project works to improve access to marketing, product design and financial services for tourism these enterprises, while strengthening local community support for and participation in the conservation of biological diversity in the regions around program tourism sites.

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