Mayan Countdown to 2012 Spurs Mexican Tourism Industry

Mayan Countdown to 2012 Spurs Mexican Tourism Industry

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MEXICO CITY -- For 20 minutes, Mexican President Felipe Calderón transformed himself into an experienced Mayan tour guide, taking advantage of the highly publicized end of the Mayan 400-year cycle, called the baktún. The end of the Mayan cycle, which has been interpreted as the end of the world, actually marks the beginning of a new era.

“As Mexicans, we want to share with the world the unparalleled grandeur of the Mayan civilization,” he said during an announcement of the Maya World Program, launched June 21 with a countdown to Dec. 21, 2012, when the baktún ends.

The goal is to create a new experience that will attract the greatest possible number of tourists and increase the tourism potential of the region. Guatemala launched a similar campaign last month.

Mexico will host international expositions, conferences and events featuring specialists and researchers as part of the promotion of the Mayan archaeological areas, which can be found in five states: Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo and Yucatán.

Through this campaign, the Mexican government hopes to elevate the country’s status from the tenth most popular tourist destination in the world to a spot in the top five.

Among the new attractions is a tourist hotel in the ecological reserve of Calakmul in the state of Campeche and a new archaeology museum in Cancún. Several new archaeological areas will also be open to the public, including Lagartero and Plan de Ayutla in Chiapas, and Ichkabal in Quintana Roo.

These new sites add to the six sites in the Maya region that are already UNESCO World Heritage sites: Palenque, Chichén Itzaá, Calakmul, Uxmal, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, and the city of Amurrada de Campache. Together, these six sites receive a total of 250,000 tourists monthly, both Mexican and foreign.

With facts and figures, Calderón styled himself as the region’s chief promotor.

“The Mayan pyramids symbolically represent [the civilization’s] knowledge: For example, the solar year has 365 days, and each of the four sides of the Pyramid of Kukulkán has 91 steps, which multiplied by four is 364, plus the roof, equals 365 days of the year,” he said.

“Chichén Itzá is a testament to the grandeur of the Mayans, in the pyramid of Kukulkán, with its perfect measurement of time, in the observatory, the temple of warriors, the ball court, and the sacred cenote (waterhole), which was considered to be the entrance to the Mayan underworld.

“And the ceiba (sacred Mayan tree), that is present in each of the Mayan sites, from La Venta to Tikal,” he continued, “is the great millennial tree of the Maya, and their branches touch the sky, which we might call heaven, while its roots are in the underworld.”

Jorge Hernandez, president of the Mexican Association of Travel Agencies (AMAV in Spanish), hopes that the project will help the regional economy, which has not recovered from the hit it took during the swine flu crisis in 2009.

“The health issue, the economic recession and instability have hurt tourism,” Hernandez said, “but with the Maya project, we can return to the numbers we had in 2008.”

In that year, income from tourism came to $13.5 billion. That number dropped to $10 billion in 2010.