Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2017. 10:49 am CST.
By Richard Harrison:In early 1998, I went to a CAYO BTIA meeting at Windy Hill Resort….there they spoke about events-based marketing and creation of richer travel experiences….which helped give birth to my first community-based project “La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge”.
Tomorrow I will be attending another such meeting, now as a direct stakeholder in the tourism sector.
The Cayo district was once a major metropolis of the Maya civilization….within short distances, there is the Cahal Pech temples in San Ignacio, the Pilar temples near Bullet Tree, the Xunantunich temples near San Jose Succotz and the Caracol temples in the Maya Mountains. Nowhere else in the world are four significant, yet unique, Mayan temples so close to each other!
The stage has been set….excavation of these sites is well advanced….and excavations at other sites are ongoing. Yet all we have done is give some of our resorts, tour companies and hotel rooms Mayan names….not much else.
We need to harvest the richness of this history and culture….and create all kinds of humanly rewarding experiences from it….real, surreal and fantasy…..Cayo should bring Mayan history and culture to life.
I have coined a term “The Dipper” to describe the shape that appear if straight lines are drawn between these four temples…using the name of a well-known astrologic arrangement.
The Dipper will form the basis of our story for the Cayo travel experiences….such that visitors will want to visit each of these sites, in order to capture the whole story.
The rivers, caves, waterfalls, sink holes, hiking mountains, significant monuments, cultural community living and events, and other natural history assets will be ancillary to this core story…..creating 4-day and 7-day packages to take in one temple site each day, together with options of its surrounding ancillary experiences. Our professional tour guides must become the best story tellers the world ever saw.
Our story must speak about architecture and engineering, sustainable livelihoods, community and political structures, environment, climate, production and astrology, and of course Maya culture….beliefs, behaviors, morals, values, attitudes, rituals, myths, etc…..with dress, cuisine, dance and music to enhance the understanding of these….not an end in themselves.
Why are the families from San Jose Succotz primarily of the surnames Puc, Itza, Chan, Panti? Why are those of Bullet Tree primarily Balan, Teck, Hob? Why are those of San Antonio primarily Canto, Mesh, Howe, Tzib, Tut? How are these families related to the temples of Xunantunich, Pilar, Cahal Pech and Caracol respectively? What similarities and differences exist between them….in terms of physical features, attitudes, style of building, style of cooking, language/dialect, myths, etc.?
Our story must principally establish the linkages between these four sites and their relationship to the ancillary experiences…..including, if time permits, an explanation of the relationships to other sites….especially Altun Ha, Lamanai, Lubantun…and Tikal, Chichen Itza, Campeche and Copan…always establishing the fact that Cayo is the most highly concentrated in terms of substantial Mayan temples that evidence a high level of development and advanced significant population.
We should launch a pilot project of a Maya community-based tourism experience….starting with Bullet Tree, San Jose Succotz and San Antonio….where individual Mayan families are encouraged and facilitated to invest in single quality integral cabins on their plot of land near their own homes….built mostly from local materials with enhanced architecture….such that a person, couple or family can live with them on their land for 4 to 7 days….staying in their own separate secured cabin….but having access to the kitchens, living rooms, verandas, gardens, farms, hunting grounds, swimming areas, horses, etc. These cabins must meet minimum standards….and be marketed in the same way as fair-trade products….to increase their value. Participating investors must also meet minimum requirements in terms of the quality of experiences they are able to provide….excluding situations where addiction, violence, illegal activity or social misfit may occur.
Tikal focuses on its physical structures and natural history….Chichen Itza on its physical structures in highly commercialized format…we will be the only ones that build upon the living Mayan history and culture that still exist in close proximity to our substantial physical temples.
This will bring Maya history and culture to life for travelers who desire that kind of intimate experience…..especially if we can establish 30 such units within the next five years….and integrate them with one another, and with other community entrepreneurship, in ways that enhance value for everyone.
The access routes to Pilar, Cahal Pech, Xunantunich and Caracol must be significantly upgraded to facilitate this plan.
When travelers discover Cayo as a destination….a great Mayan World of experience should be top of mind…..we will have created a highly differentiated and unique experience of great value to visitors and of significant competitive advantage to all investors in the area….as well as benefit to individual households within a living Mayan community setting.
Our story should be colorful and complex….yet simple and with key points that are easy to remember….it should allow for breath-taking photo-ops that make it easy for visitors to share their own experiences and impressions.
We should bring together our archeologists, a cross section of community leaders, elders, tour guides and investors to create this story….and produce videos, documentaries, photo albums, booklets, and a wide range of memorabilia paraphernalia that accentuate this community-based story.
Cayo should be known worldwide as the cradle of a living Mayan civilization.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Master’s in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.
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