Airlines Betting on ‘Destination-Guatemala’

Guatemala is the talk of the
industry as the new tourist destination, thanks to recent agreements
between the Guatemala Tourist Commission (INGUAT) and North American,
European and Latin American airlines. Adding to the excitement are newly
reached alliances with wholesalers in the United States, who are betting
on the beauty, the warmth and the magic Guatemala has to offer.
Spanish airline Iberia, the national airline of Spain and one of the
largest in the world, was the first to recognize the potential of
Guatemala as a tourist destination. Starting October 2, 2004, Iberia will
offer three- times-a-week round trip direct flights between Guatemala City
and Madrid using an Airbus A-340. “We believe in Guatemala’s potential,
and the current strong political will in the country,” asserted Fernando
Conte, President of the Spanish airline.

With the arrival of Iberia, Guatemala increases its airline seat capacity
from 46,000 to 78,000 per year. It also increases the intensity of its
promotional efforts in Europe, since the Iberia agreement includes
marketing Guatemala on the European continent. “Iberia will cover the
priority European tourism markets for Guatemala: Germany, France, the
United Kingdom, Italy and Spain. Iberia’s investment in our country
confirms European interest in visiting Guatemala, which already includes
61,030 European visitors in the first semester of 2004,” indicated
Alejandro Sinibaldi, Minister of Tourism from INGUAT.

US Airways, the seventh largest airline in the United States, is also
betting strongly on Guatemala, with positive forecasts for both tourism
and business travel. US Airways has identified great potential in the
United States market for customers not only interested in the
archaeological attractions of Guatemala, but also Guatemala’s magic,
Guatemala’s adventure, and the unique diversity found in every corner of
the country.

In February 2005, US Airways will begin daily flights to and from
Guatemala from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, using an Airbus 319 with a
capacity of 120 passengers, increasing the amount of seats offered to
Guatemala by 43,000 per annum.

“One of the goals established by INGUAT management is to strengthen the
tourism industry of the country by increasing the number of arrivals from
priority markets such as the United States, presently Guatemala’s second
most important tourism partner. In order to achieve this goal, it will be
necessary not only to increase the amount, but also the variety of
available seats, as well as options for actual flights to the country. We
are pleased to confirm that US Airways has decided to invest in our
country, recognizing Guatemala’s growth potential as a vacation
destination for American tourists,” Sinibaldi explained.

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Official statistics support US Airways’ Guatemala initiative since 139,255
visitors have arrived from the United States in the first six months of
2004 - - 33.7% more than in the corresponding period of 2003. “Our
investment in Guatemala forms part of our corporate expansion strategy,
which will involve destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America. Our
flights to Guatemala can connect seamlessly with more than 12 US cities
and three in Canada,” indicated Doug Leo, US Airways’ International Vice
President for Sales for the Caribbean and Latin America.

Perhaps the most important aspect of these alliances is that INGUAT has
made the cost of travel to Guatemala more affordable for tourists from
Europe and North America. In the case of Iberia, tickets will be offered
at an average cost of 400 euros ($484) from Madrid to Guatemala. For its
part, US Airways has announced the least expensive fares in the market,
with a $298 fare from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Guatemala. Both fare
structures represent a reduction on the order of 40% from previously
existing levels.

In addition to these alliances, INGUAT has signed a number of cooperation
agreements with Latin America airlines COPA, TACA, and Mexicana, who
already serve Guatemala. They include promoting Guatemala’s destinations
in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, the United States, Puerto Rico, Brazil
and Mexico, as well as orientation trips for the press and travel
agencies; destination presentations; and the distribution of promotional
material on Guatemala.

“This joint effort will encourage a greater flow of tourists to Guatemala,
a destination with a broad and interesting range of tourism attractions,
with the subsequent economic benefits to the country, and especially to
the communities that host tourism. Together with INGUAT, we are proud to
stimulate tourist activity in Guatemala,” asserted Roberto Carbone, Vice
President for Marketing for TACA.

For his part, Moises Veliz, Vice President for Government Relations for
COPA Airlines, Panama, evidenced great satisfaction with the signed
agreement, saying, “The exchanges between the countries in which we
operate contribute to a strengthening of tourism, as a force for economic
development within our countries.”

According to Alejandro Sinibaldi, Director of INGUAT, “These agreements
confirm that the country is a first class tourist product. They also allow
us to promote Guatemala in the more than 30 destinations on the American
continent and the Caribbean where TACA, COPA and Mexicana fly.”

To support these airline agreements and to work on increasing demand, the
INGUAT strategic plan also includes expanding the number of wholesalers
and travel agencies in the United States that promote Guatemala as a
tourist destination. At present there are 30 U.S. wholesalers who offer
travel packages to US tourists. INGUAT has now doubled this number.

“In the second week of September, 30 new wholesalers from Los Angeles, San
Francisco, New York, Chicago, Florida and Montreal are coming to
Guatemala. In addition to visiting different Guatemalan attractions, they
will have the opportunity to meet with local hotel operators in
negotiating sessions, to put together their packages and include them in
their vacation programs,” Sinibaldi said.

According to Daniel Taramona, manager of Tara tours, a Miami-based
wholesaler, who has promoted Guatemala as a tourist destination for more
than 20 years, “The country is very attractive, it is rich in culture and
no one has the archaeological and historical heritages of Guatemala. We
have sold Guatemala all these years because of its proximity to the United
States, and its people make visitors feel at home. It’s a destination at a
completely different level, since it is visited by more educated tourists,
more cultural. It’s not surprising that now there are so many people
interesting in promoting Guatemala.”

The growing interest in Guatemala has also put the government of Guatemala
to work to improve the tourist infrastructure and security environment for
the tourist. “The world is looking at us and we must respond. So the
government is talking about awarding a concession for the management of
the La Aurora International Airport in the next three months, with the aim
of improving the services in the terminal,” said Alejandro Sinibaldi,
Minister of Tourism from INGUAT.

With regard to security, Sinibaldi announced the strengthening of the
tourism police (POLITUR) a specialized group belonging to Guatemala’s
national civilian police, responsible for protection of and attention to
both national and foreign tourists. The POLITUR officers are being trained
by INGUAT staff to provide information to tourists, from places to see to
recommended wearing apparel, to necessary precautions.

POLITUR patrols tourist zones, which has resulted in a record reduction of
incidents involving tourists. Today the latter represent just 0.006% of
the total of visitors who entered the country during the first six months
of the year.

With all of these successes safely tucked away, INGUAT is confident that
it will meet the goal of a million tourists this year. “According to the
immigration authorities, 563,516 visitors entered the country in the first
six months of 2004, a full 34.1% more than the corresponding period in the
prior year. These figures show that Guatemala is, today more than ever, in
the eye of the international tourist hurricane, and that we will continue
to surge ahead as a preferred destination among world travelers,”
Sinibaldi asserted.
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