The View from Guatemala
We got in touch with one of our wonderful guides in Guatemala, Alejandro, to check in on how things are going in his country, how he's been doing during the pandemic and to find out how it might affect the way he leads tours in the future.
The pandemic seems to have affected some countries in more severe ways than others, how has it been in Guatemala?
Guatemala has been affected by the pandemic in different ways, but the tourism economy has been one the most affected. Tourism represents the second biggest source of income for Guatemala. My country is blessed with a rich legacy of history, archaeology, and dynamic indigenous culture; not to mention the splendor and importance of nature and biodiversity.
Approximately 70% of Guatemala’s economy is non-formal, businesses or individuals that provide a service and/or sell their products out on the streets. Most of them depend on a daily income to move forward, to make ends meet. Thousands of families are being directly affected by the pandemic since they depend directly on tourism, a business chain at all levels.
How have you stayed positive during this time? Have you taken up any new hobbies or projects?
Being positive has been one of my strengths. I've seen Covid as an opportunity to grow in many other areas. I´ve taken the time to study and prepare myself in other fields, such as:
· Biblical archaeology – online classes from Moriah College in Israel
· I´ve started a master’s degree in the Catholic faith at UNIS University in Guatemala
· French lessons granted by the French Alliance in Guatemala
What do you miss most about welcoming travellers to your country?
What I miss the most is the excitement of embarking on a new journey around Guatemala; sharing the excitement and the emotion that each destination generates for the traveler.
Have you been vaccinated? Has most of your community?
Yes, I've been vaccinated with the first dose, in three weeks I´ll get the second one. The vaccination process has been slow, the government and health system are doing it in phases defined by ages. This week age 25+ are being signed. Younger segments are more enthusiastic about vaccination, but our elders are more reluctant. Misinformation from social media has had a negative effect on people’s perceptions. As of today, approximately 28% of the population has received, at minimum, one dose.
How do you see the pandemic changing the way you lead tours?
Trust and confidence should be always projected by the tour leader, always. We will take more precautions and there will be more logistics involved. We´ll need to prepare in advance prior to visiting the next location and keep in mind all logistics involved: time frames, good hygiene practices, as well as keeping social distance. I really like the concept I've seen online used by the Australian government: COVIDSafe. I think it’s a mindset we all should possess.
Where or who are you most excited to see again on your tours once things return to normal?
What excites me the most is seeing tourist groups again, in significant numbers!
Is there anything you’d like to see foreign travellers do when they return – wear masks, not shake hands, stay outside of your community?
First, I think the most important thing is to not forget the reason why they're travelling, that is, the upcoming experience of a new country! I'm excited and looking forward to once again seeing the emotion and enthusiasm that the traveler shows as they visit Guatemala. At the same time, I would like to see the traveler following and showing respect for the basics: always wearing a mask, keep social distancing (1.50m minimum), not shaking hands with anyone and the constant use of hand cleaning gel and hand washing.
When do you predict that foreign travellers - in any significant numbers - will be able to start returning to your country?
We're progressively starting to see an increase in tourism in Guatemala, just a small number of tourists traveling around the country. I predict tourism in significant numbers in no less than a year. Nevertheless, it's worth mentioning that the strongest and most important tour operators in the country are ready to operate under strict and efficient hygiene security measures.
If people want to help, are there any local projects that you're aware of - or perhaps work with - that you could recommend for people to support?
Different segments of the population have been affected by the pandemic and there are economic difficulties throughout the country. I think one of the most affected groups are older people since they depend on a daily income to survive (feed, rent, etc.). They go out seeking a way to generate money, sometimes by themselves, since they don’t have a family or someone that takes care of them.
Last week I heard on the news about a project that helps a group of older people, seniors that have dedicated their lives to selling ice cream on the street. They´re called Abuelitos Heladeros (ice cream grandpas). This activity is their only income. One of them gave testimony that sometimes sales are very low, with them earning only four dollars a day. The project's purpose is to help these seniors with food, water, donations and even help to sell ice creams online, so they won’t go out on the streets and be at risk.
I was impressed by the news and the situation in which they´re living, so I’m starting to collaborate with this institution. I know it's hard since we would like to help a lot more, but I'm positive that with a small contribution we´re making a difference. I'm sharing two links in case you´re interested, if I can help in any other way, please let me know.