'Mayan apocalypse' brings big tourism to Mexico

    8:59 AM, Dec 21, 2012   |    comments
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    UNDATED (CNN) -- The date of what's been called the "Mayan apocalypse" is here. And the world has not come to an end. In fact, some things may be improving. Like Mexico' doomsday tourism.

    Surging crowds of tourists, calendar memorabilia, and countdown clocks in airports around the country are all part of an international marketing campaign geared around one date.

    This is one of the most iconic sites in Mayan culture. Chichen Itza was built more than 1,000 years ago, but today has helped attract more than 50 million people to southeast Mexico. Former tourism minister Gloria Guevara says, "You're here near to a date that's a huge deal for a lot of people so I think it's very interesting. Before we came we thought - according to the Mayans - it is the end of the world."

    Films like 2012 helped have spread the idea of an apocalypse, and Mexico launched a teaset campaign to capitalize on global speculation, it was the brainchild of Gloria Guevara, who has just left office as tourism minister. She says, "We say some people believe it's the end of the world. 21/12/12. We believe and the Mayans believe it's the beginning of a new era and you have to come to Mexico to discover what it is."

    Mel Gonzalez also saw the calendar as an opportunity. He opened a boutique hotel in Merida, the closest city to Chichen Itza. He says, "Judging by the number of hotels being built and tour agencies opening up new offices, we can tell there is a lot of expectation. A few hotels in town are giving discounts because it's the end of the world."

    Meanwhile, some Mayans complain about what they see as the exploitation of their culture, but Guevara says they're in a minority. She says, "In Mexico what I have seen is that they are very happy. They see the benefit because the nice thing about the tourism is that it shares the benefit with everyone."

    Others disagree. Alfonso Escobedo runs tours to Mayan communities and says the tourist dollars are going elsewhere. He says, "Most of the money is spent in transportation and they don't own taxis. Or transportation, hotels, or restaurants. Here they don't have those services yet."

    Yet may be the word. Hotels across the five Mayan states are nearly sold out ahead of the big date. The hope is interest in the culture is long-term, assuming everyone survives doomsday.

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