Dispatch, Guatemala: A wonderful selling challenge


Travel Weekly’s Michelle Baran was in Guatemala for the ASTA Young Professional Society’s spring retreat. Her second dispatch follows. Click to read Michelle’s first dispatch.

As I traveled around Guatemala with a dynamic group of members of the ASTA Young Professional Society (YPS), I couldn’t help but wonder how and whether these youthful agents would sell the destination when they returned home.

Previous YPS retreats have taken place in more established and more familiar tourism destinations such as Hawaii and Jamaica. An emerging destination such as Guatemala is a challenge, as clients are less inclined to request it simply because less is known about it.

So I asked the YPS group how they decided upon Guatemala as the location for their 2013 spring retreat. The response was that it came down to Guatemala and Costa Rica, and that Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo (INGUAT), Guatemala’s tourism marketing organization, ended up presenting a more attractive program.

The itinerary was diverse and engaging. It included a pre-tour visit to the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal, a stay in a convent turned luxury hotel in the charming colonial city of Antigua, and meandering through the endless textile stalls at the bustling market of Chichicastenango.

Toward the end of the retreat, I inquired agents if they would be able to successfully sell the destination, and responses were mixed.

And not because of anything Guatemala lacked in terms of intrigue.

As we toured the country, it became obvious that Guatemala is not just an extremely vibrant and colorful place but one that is full of potential. Its contrasts — poverty and wealth, highlands and lowlands, ancient history and current politics — are what make it equal parts complex and fascinating.

The fact that its tourism industry is not as developed or saturated as Costa Rica’s is a strong selling point. Guatemala does not yet feel overrun by tourism, which is a big plus for many travelers. It still has the air of authenticity that many travelers hunger for.

But as an up-and-coming destination, Guatemala’s accommodations and infrastructure are a work in progress. Depending on the client, that could be seen as slightly disappointing or wonderfully refreshing (I found it to be the latter).

Throughout the YPS retreat, we stayed at properties that were nothing short of extremely charming, relaxing and, yes ,quite luxurious. But they had a sort of vintage appeal, with classic Central American details and accents some might find dated. I loved the quaintness of Hotel Atitlan and the old-world grace and romance of Casa Santo Domingo.

Whether YPS agents will be able to successfully sell Guatemala will be determined by whether they can zero in on the right clients — perhaps travelers looking for something a little more exotic, a little more taxing but also more rewarding.

It might take agents and clients a bit out of their comfort zone, but isn’t that the point?

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly. 

Photos by Michelle Baran. 

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