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To some doomsday interpreters, completion of the Maya calendar cycle today is a sign of an impending apocalypse. For Mexico’s tourism industry, it’s hardly the end of the world.
Curiosity about the ancient Maya culture sparked by predictions for the end of days helped draw a record of at least 23 million visitors to Mexico this year, said Deputy Tourism Minister Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez. Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste SAB, the airport operator, said Maya-fueled travel boosted passenger traffic to Cancun to an all-time high in 2012, and hotelier Grupo Posadas SAB says it helped spur a 40 percent jump in net income at beach destinations.
The Maya flourished in Mexico and Central America in cities with tens of thousands of people until about 1,000 AD. Their calendar’s 394-year count, known as a baktun, ends its 13th cycle today, sparking doomsday theories. Much like interpreters of the calendar who say today marks the beginning of a new era rather than an apocalypse, Mexican companies say they’re seeing a revival in tourism nationwide.
“Mexico is on a roll,” Ruben Camiro, chief financial officer of Mexico City-based Posadas, said in a telephone interview from London. Hotel bookings “really started to pick up by the second quarter and now we see a whole machine coming our way.”
Tourism is one of the biggest sources of foreign currency for Mexico’s $1.16 trillion economy after auto exports, oil production and remittances, bringing in $11.7 billion in 2011. Gonzalez said that while visitor numbers have climbed to a record this year, spending by tourists still ranks below a high of $13.3 billion in 2008, before the global recession and financial crisis.
More than 35 million international and domestic passengers will arrive this year at airports in the five Maya-area states of Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Chiapas, Tabasco and Campeche, an increase of about 12 percent from 2011, Gonzalez estimated in a telephone interview.
Visits from abroad will climb to 23 million or 24 million by year-end, he said, topping a previous record 22.6 million in 2008.
“Worldwide there’s a special interest in Mexico and in the Mayan world that means many more people are coming,” said Gonzalez, a former tourism minister in the state of Quintana Roo, whose beaches includes Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen.
Rather than playing up the apocalypse predictions, which Gonzalez said he doesn’t believe, “we’ve been promoting the cultural and historic importance this event has for the world,” he said.
Events to mark the calendar’s end include the release of dozens of macaws, birds that the Mayans saw as representing the sun, as well as a floating candle ceremony at tourist venues, according to the Cancun Tourism Board.
Hotels in Cancun are booked at up to 100 percent capacity, compared with a maximum 98 percent last year, said Ximena de Cordoba, a public relations manager at the Cancun Tourism Board.
Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste, known as Asur, celebrated this year’s 14 millionth passenger to Cancun yesterday, surpassing last year’s 13 million record, with a Mariachi band, Eduardo Rivadeneyra, a public relations director for the Mexico City-based company, said in a telephone interview.
“The Mayas had no idea they were giving us a marketing tool when they stopped writing their calendar,” Rivadeneyra said.
Editors: Robert Jameson and Philip Sanders.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nacha Cattan in Mexico City at email@example.com; Eric Martin in Mexico City at firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at email@example.com.