Since Guatemala reopened its borders in September, tourism has remained anemic. But are arriving tourists getting a bad first impression with the La Aurora Airport protocols? And is that impression harming Guatemalan tourism at a time when it needs to look its very best?
A little over a month after Guatemala’s La Aurora Airport reopened, airlines and passengers have begun to trickle in. Most of those passengers, though, have been returning Guatemalans and residents. Meanwhile, tourism itself is taking its time to gain traction.
Experts have already predicted 2024 as the year Guatemalan tourism will reach pre-COVID numbers. This doesn’t bode well for Central America’s largest economy.
Guatemala doesn’t rely on tourism to the same extent as neighbors Costa Rica and Belize, but it’s still important. Tourism is still the lifeline for many rural communities in Guatemala. Not only that, it also injects a significant amount of dollars into an economy that has failed to produce jobs elsewhere, or improve poverty numbers.
As the #Guatemala airport reopens to international tourists after over six months, Nestor Quixtan looks at the situation and explains why the news is decidedly muted amid the rumblings of more political storm clouds.https://t.co/oUD7SwTIbW
— CentralAmericaLiving (@VidaAmerica) September 19, 2020
With tourism sector in dire straits, it appears little is being done to make Guatemala a tourist-friendly destination.
Going through La Aurora airport right now is a maze of temperature checks, security clearances, and empty gel containers.
Despite significant effort to get La Aurora airport compliant with biosafety regulations, it seems like much has failed. Large gatherings of people are visible at various points at the airport. For instance, gates are often crowded by passengers waiting to get board. The same is evident at the arrivals gate where crowds often gather to wait for passengers.
Una lectora compartió con La Hora un video sobre lo que ocurre en el Aeropuerto Internacional La Aurora en donde se observa que las personas se aglomeran en el área de salida de pasajeros.
Video. Cortesía pic.twitter.com/cEd9jDBxzw
— Diario La Hora (@lahoragt) October 25, 2020
Mark Rogers, the Director of Guatemala’s Guild of Tour Operators Association has already voiced concern.
Speaking to La Prensa Libre, he said the first impression travelers receive upon arrival frightens them.
“Imagine the image we’re giving tourists. They’re scared, they’ve already told us,” he said.
In short, Roger’s point of view is clear; a crowded and out-of-control airport is not a welcoming sight to already nervous tourists.
Despite these concerns, civil aviation authorities insist La Aurora airport is following guidelines and doing the same thing as other Central American airports. Footage shot on cellphones and posted on social media paints a different picture, though.
Operadores de turismo mencionan que las autoridades de la DGAC no atender las aglomeraciones que se dan en el aeropuerto La Aurora, todos los días a la misma hora. https://t.co/nkRiuPYSFf
— Prensa Libre (@prensa_libre) October 25, 2020
According to protocols, passengers must go through various temperature checkpoints, produce a negative COVID test, and/or take a quick COVID test.
Outside the airport, passenger pickup rules state drivers must remain remain in their vehicles in the parking lot. Yet, footage showing crowds waiting outside speaks for itself.
In an atmosphere where safety is a huge concern for anyone traveling, Guatemala is not cutting it. With jobs and livelihoods at stake, it’s truly alarming to see safety protocols disregarded.
In the end, it’s not about fearing the dreaded virus. It’s about creating a welcoming environment where foreign travelers can find a safe haven. And it’s about creating a good impression so those travelers can go home and tell people how great Guatemala was and how safe they felt.
As more airlines arrive (Volaris returns in November), La Aurora airport has its work cut out. If Guatemala wants to become a go-to destination for tourists, it needs to get its act together and show the world it can handle pandemic protocols.
Nestor Quixtan is a Canadian/Guatemalan economist, linguist, and writer. He lives in Guatemala City.