I expect tourism to become the number one industry in Guatemala over the next few years. Our government isn’t perfect, but they’ve slowly been protecting more historical sites, trying to encourage investment in tourism, and there are a lot of stories that are really encouraging. For the last few years, I’ve been working on Intrepid’s Indigenous Action Plan in Central America. It’s our roadmap for bringing Indigenous communities into tourism and educating our customers about Indigenous history and culture. We want to reach the point where young Indigenous kids feel like travel is a legitimate career choice. We want to help them get into the industry with vocational training. Most of all, we want to offer people a different path.
I know one teenager, for example, Juanito, who lives in the highland communities and speaks at least eight languages—French, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish and many Mayan dialects. He learns by meeting travelers and selling goods to them. Now this kid can leave his community and become an interpreter, or a tour guide. Stories like that are repeating all over the country. Boys and girls who become amazing leaders, and improve their quality of life by moving from agriculture into tourism.
It’s something that changed my own life. After being a park ranger, my father became a taxi driver, shuttling foreigners from Flores to Tikal. That taxi paid for my sister’s education, paid for my brothers’ and mine. My father only had a first-grade education, and my mother never got past the sixth grade, but that’s the beauty of tourism. Anyone can do it. There are no restrictions in your way. My family made their way into travel, and it changed our lives for the better.