My Antigua: Walter Fischer
Walter Fischer talks about his life and work in La Antigua and what 2012 can mean for Guatemala.
Where are you from?
I was born in Guatemala City. But, when I came back to Guatemala, after living in Europe and getting my masters’ degree in tourism in Salzburg, I couldn’t stand Guatemala City. I had to look for a place with quality of life and a place where I could get away from the protocol of the city. La Antigua was perfect for that, and I already had business here, so I moved to La Antigua in 1998, and have been living here ever since.
When did you start working for INGUAT?
I started working for INGUAT, for the first time, in 2000. I had always been in the tourism business. My family had hotels and tourism operations, and I was qualified because I studied business administration and had a master’s degree in tourism product development.
In those days, I was a marketing manager for the country. I had that position for two years. I was really lucky because I was living in the most important tourist destination in Guatemala. It was wonderful because as a marketing manager for the country I got really great ideas all the time. I wasn’t at a desk; I was out in the field connected to the projects, the community, the destinations, and the tourists. It’s a great place to make strategies for the country. La Antigua has been really important for me in that sense – in my professional life.
Then, I was back on another project in 2006 for one year. And then, I returned a year and a half ago to work as Regional Director – that position ended in January. So I’ve been in INGUAT three times and out of INGUAT three times [laughter]. It depends very much on who the authorities are.
Tell me more about your last position as Regional Director.
I was chosen as a Regional Director of La Antigua because I lived here and they knew I was passionate about La Antigua. We started working with the community, and together we created a whole dynamic workforce that combined the Mayor’s office, the private sector, and INGUAT. In La Antigua we are really localistas – we prefer to have people from La Antigua working in La Antigua, not from outside. So, that was a special ingredient for me to have.
What exactly does INGUAT do? What are its responsibilities?
INGUAT’s main responsibility is promoting the country and promoting the country’s brand, which is Corazón del Mundo Maya (Heart of the Mayan World).
Does INGUAT also provide services for tourists once they’re in country?
INGUAT’s policy is that tourist services should be provided by the private sector. So the only real service is PROATUR, which is a program that assists tourists when, for example, they lose their passport, or have an insurance situation, or they’ve had something stolen. PROATUR will help them contact their embassies and take them to the different authorities, like the police or the Ministerio Público. So if a tourist has a problem, they can go to PROATUR for help.
Have you seen INGUAT change since you started working there?
Well, I think INGUAT has changed, but it hasn’t changed in a good sense. It has changed in that it doesn’t have a clear strategy anymore – they have changed it too many times. They haven’t focused on tourism. They spend the money, the taxes that they get from the hotels, on too many different projects. It has become more bureaucratic, bigger, and slower.
How do you think that can be fixed?
First, INGUAT needs to clean up its act. It has to take a lot of people out of the institution and make it more focused on tourism. It should have as its working plan what we call the Política Nacional de Turismo (National Tourism Policy) and that’s it.
Can you explain what that is?
Yes, the Política Nacional de Turismo is a document that was written twelve years ago. It’s specifically about product development, marketing and the decentralization of INGUAT, letting the destinations and municipalities make their own decisions and their own plans for the money that INGUAT gets from the hotels. The idea is that the tourist destinations know best, and the municipality should play a really important role.
So, what now for you after INGUAT?
Right now, I am part of a huge project called Celebre Guatemaya 2012 (Celebrate Guatemaya 2012). With this brand name, my partners and I want to develop an umbrella for all the different activities having to do with the Mayan culture in 2012. There are going to be different events that will be organized by different groups: tourism groups, cultural groups, Mayan groups, groups from La Antigua, groups from Petén. We are trying to make a strategic alliance that can promote all these different events on national and internal levels through multiple media outlets where people can easily find out about them because we want more tourists to come to Guatemala and really appreciate our Mayan culture and our Mayan ancestral history. And most importantly, to let Guatemalans know that we have a really beautiful cultural history – something we can be proud of.
What are your projections for Guatemala for this year?
The projections look really positive; tourism will probably grow five to eight percent. I think we have a great opportunity to let the world know we exist. Peru has indigenous cultures, and Mexico also has indigenous cultures, but the Mayan culture is in Guatemala and that is unique. I think we have a great opportunity to promote the country, and we have a great opportunity as Guatemalans to feel proud of our Mayan history. Unfortunately, INGUAT didn’t do much about 2012, and that’s why this group from the private sector developed Celebre Guatemaya 2012, and we are doing our best.
I wanted to ask you about that because I’ve had a bit of my own personal frustration with this. Being here, I know Guatemala is the center of the Mayan world – sure there are parts that extended up into Mexico and farther down south – but I haven’t received any publicity promoting Guatemala as a destination for 2012. I have received stuff from Honduras and Mexico with slogans like “Come to the center of the Mayan world.” But, nothing from Guatemala. Now, I don’t know if that’s because I’m not on the right mailing lists, or perhaps if I were in the States more often, I would be seeing publicity for Guatemala… I don’t know.
What’s your view on this?
Frustrating! Because I was in INGUAT! But, INGUAT has different departments and different groups working on different projects. I was working in La Antigua in the regional office. INGUAT as a whole didn’t get prepared for 2012. They should have started eight or ten years ago. It’s really frustrating. INGUAT does many things, but it should only do one or two projects. Period.
Would you go back to work for INGUAT?
Sure, it’s great working there. It has a lot of great resources to work with, and it’s really important for the tourist industry, but I’d also like to see some major changes.
How do you think 2012 will affect La Antigua?
I think we’re going to have more tourists. Maybe INGUAT didn’t do enough, but I know the private sector has. I know CAMTUR did its own promotion. I know Jades, S.A. has been doing a lot of work. I know Rosendo Morales Producciones has been doing a lot of work with the archeologists. Guatemala has been on NatGeo, the Discovery Channel, Travel and Living, and CNN so we should see something coming back.
What’s something that you love about this town?
I chose to live here for the beautiful architecture, the beautiful surroundings with Acatenango, Fuego and Agua volcanoes and all these beautiful mountains with natural springs and places to go trekking, and of course its people. I love La Antigua because it’s a melting pot. It’s a cosmopolitan city. It’s really small, but we have people from around the world and from around Guatemala. It’s an explosion of different faces everyday – I love that. I love having conversations with people from around the world and from around Guatemala. We have good coffee, good restaurants, and there is a sense of security here. We also don’t have as much structure as a normal city; we don’t have to wear a tie here. I think La Antigua is the best place to live in Guatemala for its quality of life. That’s what I love about this place.
Do you have any advice for someone who has just arrived in La Antigua?
Yes, experience our coffee. Have a good coffee in a good coffee place. Guatemala is known for many things, but we are world famous for our coffee. So, I would recommend enjoying a good coffee – every day! I also like the market. Go inside and see the colors of the fruits and vegetables and the different clothes, smell the aromas, see all the different faces from the different parts of the country. That is Guatemala.
What would you change if you could change something?
OK… Well, what I’d like to change is the traffic. Traffic is something that has gotten out of control in the past twelve years that I’ve been here. And I say this because it can be changed, and it’s an easy change. I think in the next four years we’ll see a lot more parking lots around La Antigua and we’re going to see a walking city, finally.
What other changes have you seen in La Antigua since you moved here?
La Antigua has become more organized; everyone is trying to work together nowadays because we want to keep La Antigua as it is: a beautiful colonial city with beautiful surroundings. That’s something about us Guatemalans: we’re not good at teamwork. But in La Antigua, we’ve been able to work together, probably because we’ve been influenced by foreign cultures, and we’ve learned from people who have come from the US and Europe. So, I’ve seen that now when there is a project on the table, everyone pushes for the project, and the important thing is that the project is pushed, not who pushed the project. I like that. And it’s something new; ten years ago, it wasn’t like that.
What are your hopes for La Antigua’s future?
That we conserve this live museum and that we control the development around La Antigua so that we preserve this jewel.